Live from eTail: Taking a Page From Barnes&Noble.com

Palm Desert, CA—What does New York bookseller Barnes&Noble.com have that rival Amazon.com doesn’t? About 700 Barnes & Noble stores across all 50 states. The $4.9 billion company, which also operates150 B. Dalton bookstores, keeps the organizational structure of its channels “separate but integrated,” according to Marie Toulantis, CEO of Barnes&Noble.com, the company’s $450 million direct division.

In her Feb. 23 keynote address at the eTail conference, Toulantis explained that the company’s separate functions include IT, coordinated merchandising, customer service, and Web merchandisers and editors, while distribution, buying, product databases, and marketing are integrated. Barnes & Noble’s stores range from anchor tenants in upscale malls to locations in free-standing strip centers to stand-alone buildings designed to fit in with regional architecture. “We don’t have a cookie-cutter approach—all stores look a little different, and I think that sets us apart,” Toulantis said.

In addition to the physical look of the locations, Toulantis noted that Barnes & Noble stores also set the company apart with a vast product offering—the largest in-store selection of any bookseller–and by providing superior service. Through a partnership with coffee shop chain Starbucks, the stores house cafes to create an inviting atmosphere. A key challenge, she said, is extending offline core attributes to create online differentiation. “How do we translate all this to the computer screen?”

For one, Barnes&Noble.com’s warehouses makes it easy for the site to provide an enormous selection—about 1 million titles are available for immediate delivery, as well as more than 30 million listings stocked by its nationwide network of out-of-print, rare, and used book dealers. Easy navigation and rich content help replicate the store ambiance online, Toulantis said, while powerful search engines and quick checkout mimic store service. Both channels offer proprietary products and customer loyalty programs, and gift cards can be purchased and redeemed in any channel. Last year the company sold more than 14 million gift cards.

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