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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Book sellers turn a page (should other retailers take heed?)

An old axiom suggests, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” That proverb has never been more true as now, in the age of electronic books. In a story from last Friday’s Wall Street Journal, Mike Shatzkin of Idea Logical Co. offered this assertion: I think that there will be a 50% reduction in bricks-and-mortar shelf space for books within five years, and 90% within 10 years." Shatzkin went on to say, bluntly, "Book stores are going away."

To read the full WSJ story, click here.

Implications: The further we go into the age of i-Pads, Kindles and Nooks, the less likely it will be that books have covers that we might judge them by. They may not even have stores from which we can buy them… at least, not in the numbers we enjoy now. They are more likely to have free chapters one can download as a PDF, few books.

Could the same thing happen to clothing or hardware stores? At first thought, one might say, “No.” After all, books are a form of information, and all information is moving toward electronic production and online distribution, right? That's what happened to book stores, right?

It might be more accurate to say that, "We all sell information," in one way or another.

I was recently frustrated by the process of shopping for a coat at a local clothing store. So irritating was the in-store experience that I gave up, went home, and ordered a similar garment online. The first retailer had mistakenly assumed that what they offered was apparel… but what they were really providing was information, in the form of their inventory (the coat) and an experience (the chance to try-on and compare several garments, look in the mirror, etc.) The inventory and experience were forms of information that would have helped me make a decision. (Translation: A purchase.)

Sadly, the frustrating shopping visit rendered their advantage—inventory and my shopping experience—irrelevant. Instead of a couple of local stores, this retailer was now forced to compete with thousands of online alternatives… and they lost.

In atmosphere, salesmanship and service, this retailer had the chance to give me a free chapter (try it one, see how it looked in the mirror, ask my wife her opinion, etc.) Instead, though, they were content to have me judge the clothing by its appearance.

Mike Anderson, for the Elm Street Economics consumer trends blog. A service of The Center for Sales Strategy, Inc.

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