Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Books-A-Million vs. Barnes & Noble (and Borders, Of Course)

Recently, a Books-A-Million (Bookland in smaller malls) opened where I live in Blacksburg, Va., at the new First & Main development. Many stores and restaurants are still being finished at the development and have yet to open at the South Main Street location. No, it's not located at the intersection with First Street, as reported by the ever-ridiculous joke for a newspaper known as the Collegiate Times. (How difficult is it to use Google Maps?) There's no First Street in Blacksburg.

Now, I've been used to Borders (Waldenbooks in smaller malls) for the last five years, as that's the book retailer I became accustomed to while studying at Marshall University. The closest Borders to where I am now is in Bluefield, W.Va., and that's a Borders Express. When I came to Virginia Tech for graduate school, I began shopping for books at Barnes & Noble (B. Dalton in smaller malls) in Christiansburg. So, now that the Virginia-Tech area has Books-A-Million right near campus and the Barnes & Noble just a short distance down the road, which one will come out ahead?

I have been inside the Books-A-Million in Blacksburg twice since it opened. However, I find the store to be disorganized, and it's tough to find books. Some books are completely removed from areas where they should be to be featured elsewhere in the store. While I'm OK with setting up separate displays, some copies of the book should remain in its original location. Also, this location has very few books overall. I have searched the store over for books to which I knew the title and the author's name, and I ended up concluding that the title was not available. Of course, no one ever came over to ask if I needed help finding anything.

On the other hand, just a little farther down the road in Christiansburg is the Barnes & Noble. Every time I go inside, the staff is friendly, and it only takes a few minutes before someone comes over to ask me if I need help finding a product. And, I've never had difficulty finding what I went there for. The store just seems more open and inviting, and there definitely seems to be a larger, more well-organized variety of books. And, of course, Barnes & Noble stores have a Starbucks inside, or at the very least, a Seattle's Best Coffee, which is a subsidiary of Starbucks. As for Books-A-Million, who the heck is Joe Muggs?

Now, let's face it, we can all just order our books on the Internet. But if you don't want to pay for shipping, and if you like the convenience of stopping by your local store (and being able to flip through the book before buying), your choice of bookstore will likely come down to one thing — numbers (if you can find what you're looking for at both, that is).

Barnes & Noble is the top bookstore in the country, followed by Borders. Books-A-Million takes the third-place spot. Aside from sales, though, what about the money that's going to come out of your own pocket? I'll compare the same products from all three (though only two are relevant to customers in the Blacksburg area) here (prices from each store's Web site as of 11/24/08).

Just After Sunset (Collector's Set) by Stephen King
Books-A-Million: $24.16 (members pay $21.74)
Barnes & Noble: $26.25 (members pay $23.62)
Borders: $37.50 (this is the original retail price, Borders does not list a discount for this new release)
Winner: Books-A-Million

Cross Country by James Patterson
Books-A-Million: $18.65 (members pay $16.78)
Barnes & Noble: $19.59 (members pay $16.79)
Borders: $16.79 (here, Borders does offer a discount from the $27.99 original retail price)
Winner: Borders

The Once and Future King (Paperback published by Ace Books) by T. H. White
Books-A-Million: $15.11 (members pay $13.59)
Barnes & Noble: $20 (members pay $18)
Borders: $20
Winner: Books-A-Million

Hamlet (Paperback published by Washington Square Press) by William Shakespeare
Books-A-Million: $9.95 (members pay $8.95)
Barnes & Noble: $5.99 (members pay $5.39)
Borders: $5.99
Winner: Barnes & Noble

The Associated Press Stylebook (2007)
Books-A-Million: $14.31 (members pay $12.87)
Barnes & Noble: $15.16 (members pay $13.64)
Borders: $18.95
Winner: Books-A-Million

So, even though I found Books-A-Million to have a limited selection and worse customer service, they win the overall battle of having cheaper products. Now, I hate these membership programs where you have to pay money to save (which isn't very smart unless you buy a lot of books), but even without including membership benefits, Books-A-Million has the best prices. If you do read enough to buy a membership card, you'll save a ton of cash by shopping with Books-A-Million. If you want to get some rewards without a membership, Borders does offer a rewards program that is free to join and provides some return every $150 you spend. This only a 3 percent return, though, and Books-A-Million's one-year membership ($20) saves you at least 10 percent on your purchases. This means you need to spend more than $200 a year at Books-A-Million to start earning return on your membership. Barnes & Noble's membership is $25 a year with similar savings, meaning even when factoring in rewards programs, Books-A-Million is the best bookstore chain for your buck.

My hopes are that the limited selection and lack of customer service at the Books-A-Million in Blacksburg are a result of the store still being very new because 1) it's closer to my apartment and campus and 2) it's cheaper than Barnes & Noble. However, if aesthetics matter to you, Barnes & Noble has the coolest stores and the best-designed Web site. (And Starbucks!)


GazelleChild said...

I found this article to be an excellent take on the recent opening of Books-A-Million (though I found the staff to be quite welcoming). I just thought I'd compliment you on your investigations and also mention that I hope to soon be opening a used bookstore in Blacksburg called "The Dusty Page."

I'd like your opinion on the feasibility of such a venture, if you wouldn't mind. http://www.squidoo.com/thedustypage
That's my squidoo, which I'll be using as a homebase of sorts until I have http://www.thedustypage.com up and running.

Thank you!


JD said...

Christine, thanks so much for reading and commenting.

I've commented on your Squidoo page, and I believe I found the right person on Facebook to friend. Do let me know if I can be of any assistance.

Thanks again.


jacqueline said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jacqueline said...

as an employee of BAM,i agree that the layout is more Marketing directed(ie: changes WEEKLY),less user friendly & generally requires assistance from an associate to locate PRODUCT(and yes, we struggle with it too).Customer service IS on our lips-but the payroll just doesn't co-operate and store level employees have NO input.However, it would help if customers at ALL bookstores would return books to correct place(where they got them)so next customer could find; realizing that overworked,underpaid store staff cannot always pick up after you(& your offspring)in between REQUIRED :selling,membership pitches,3rd pty vending,cleaning toilets,sometimes making coffees,putting stock out,searching store for OTHER customers books,putting back the 3or 4 zines EACH of you left in cafe & elsewhere. THIS IS CORPORATE AMERIKA'S BOOKSELLER CULTURE- don't need to be too literate-just a pitchman and all at MINIMUM WAGES.Used to be CIVIL,SOCIAlized(oops,bad word NOW)behaviors in public Oh, and these are NOT libraries[which are rapidly disapearing, too] so policies are due to abuses BY the consumers which drive our MARKETplace- hence better prices online(cut overhead, payroll, etc) and memberships which reward READERS for their LOYALTY.and frankly, I don't care who's name is on the coffee cup- "joe muggs" is a better brew- even if I play "20 questions" to get it[and don't think B&N or S'bucks doesn't play the upsells game!]! BAM,like the others went "Big Box" so the "deciders" are the Corp. types: Pres,VP,COO,CFO,CEO and Director(S)RVP,DM of THIS N THAT that play CYA and PLANO-GRAM Lotto constantly [without even conceptualizing if at all physically possible]. Welcome to[insert any name]store!

Joshua A. DeLung said...

Your post is sort of difficult to read. I found it sort of scattered and whiny, but maybe it was just the run-ons and THE UNNEEDED USE OF CAPS LOCK THROUGHOUT THE POST.

I'm not sure your comments really related that much to the post or increased the value, so please keep comments relevant rather than just complaining about your customers on this blog. I suppose this mentality is just another example of the oddities one experiences with workers from BAM....