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Books, Culture, Life

Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and my need for customer service

I am conflicted.

A while back I wrote a post on how, in an effort to keep bookstores in business, I was going to stop buying books from Amazon. If I was buying a book on line it was going to be from Barnes & Noble. I like going into bookstores. I can spend hours there. So the idea of physical, brick and mortar stores going out of business entirely makes me very sad.

So I have my B&N membership which gives me 10% off in stores (I rarely ever use it) and free 2-3 day shipping from barnesandnoble.com. Great I not only have incentive to go into a bookstore but also an added bonus of getting things quickly if I have to order them online. To be honest, the expedited shipping was the real draw for the membership. And for more than a year it’s been great.

However in the last two and a half weeks I’ve placed two orders online. Somehow each one of those orders (which should have 2-3 day shipping) took a week to get to my door. When I inquired as to why both of these orders had been delayed long enough at the warehouse to cause this, I was given excuses, half-truths, and outright lies. One associate even suggested I contact UPS about the delivery date. When I asked if he was suggesting I pay UPS to get the order quicker he never answered the question.

Then in an email response B&N “customer service” told me that, because of the issues, they would issue me a credit for free expedited shipping. I already have free expedited shipping with my membership. So they very nicely gave me nothing.

I honestly think they are trying to keep their brand profitable. That’s why they’re breaking their NOOK brand into its own company. I think they’ve cut back on shipping (staff and expenses). And it shows. They are trying to prop up lagging bottom lines by cutting corners in customer service/experience and that’s a sure why to drive sales down. They are confusing the lean, no frills service of Amazon with lowered service. Amazon isn’t a pretty website, but it makes it very easy to buy stuff. It doesn’t have to be pretty because it works. And if you pay for fast shipping and they tell you it will be at your door in 2 days, it will be at your door in 2 days or they find a way to make it right.

So here’s my dilemma. I want to do business with B&N but honestly I think they don’t believe that their level of service matters. They think that because I’ve already paid into them and their ecosystem I’m trapped. They may be overplaying their hand. I know that if I didn’t want to do business with B&N to keep bookstores open, this would be enough to stop me. I know Prime is more expensive but it also offers more.

I actually am beginning to think they are starting down the path to bankruptcy. It may not look like it as they had a fairly strong fiscal year but they’ve abandoned NOOK hardware almost entirely, choosing to farm out devices to Samsung. Nothing against Samsung but we all remember Borders and Kobo right? That may be why they are breaking NOOK free of B&N. Kobo still exists, Borders does not. If they’re cutting corners in their online retail presence that might be enough to signal the end. They have a reputation as the more expensive online book retailer (undeserved as sometimes they’re even cheaper than Amazon). What you don’t want is a reputation as the expensive, unresponsive online retailer.

I haven’t decided to cut them off yet. I hope I don’t ever. I hope that this was just a temporary glitch that will never happen again. I hope I am wrong about all of this and B&N will be around after I’m gone. There are many indicators that I am. Most of this is based on my perception of not only how they handled my orders but also how they responded to my inquires about it.

But if I’m not I guess I will have to get used to buying my books at the Walmart of the internet.

Please B&N prove me wrong.



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