How Barnes & Noble lost me as an in-store customer.

8 April 2011

I started school on Monday.  It’s been crazy and intense, but also very awesome.  And now that I’ve had almost all of my courses once, I need to go out and get my books and supplies.  I was in by no means excited to buy fancy art markers just yet.  Luckily I found a brand at Blick that’s good and only $0.89 per pen.  My books however… that’s a different story.

I only have one required book (Graphic Design: The New Basics – Ellen Lupton), but others that are very strongly recommended.  Rather than waiting on shipping and such, I decided to see if Barnes & Noble had any of the books.  Kind of surprisingly, they did.  They didn’t have the Lupton book, but they had two others that were recommended by instructors and peers.

They were each $25…  Online, at the B&N site, you can find them for about $16 each… And there’s a “request to pick up at your local store in less than 60 minutes!” button.  So I approach an employee and ask if I can cut out the internet-middleman and just show the cashier the B&N online price and get the discount.  Well, I wasn’t paying attention because I asked a going-on-break cafe employee.  But she sought out others who could help.  However, each time I got a resounding NO.

Barnes & Noble will not honor their own online price for this reason: the warehouse is big, and thus they can store lots and lots of books, and charge a smaller overhead.  Apparently when you click to reserve the book you found online at a store, you have to then pay the in-store price.  Which was a $10 difference on each book.  It’s so much cheaper to order it online even with shipping.  So that’s what I’m going to do.  But I’m going to use Amazon because I want the free shipping.  So for the price of the two books I could get in-store, I’m going to be able to get 3 books online with free shipping.

I completely get why B&N has lower online prices.  I just think it’s dumb that they won’t honor their own store’s online prices for those who’ve taken the time to find them.  And I think it’s even stupider that the online price disappears once you request the book to be picked up at your local store and you’re forced to pay the in-store price for an item you’re still buying online (just doing different “shipping”).

I love book stores.  I like to be able to actually flip through the pages and know what I’m getting myself into.  But at this point, I feel like I just want to use the book store to preview what I’ll end up buying online.  I’m not calling for a ban or saying I’m never going to buy something in-store from Barnes & Noble ever again…  I just think that if they want to stay competitive with online shopping, maybe they need to do a little more.  I mean, we all know what’s happening to Borders right now.

So. Hey. The major reason why the in-store price inflates is because that extra cost is going towards paying for stocking and for the store employees… Do I still think it sucks that the prices increase that much? Yeah. I do. I think the book store model needs to be revisited to keep them up-to-date with online sellers and eBooks. Times are changing and those who can’t keep up… well, like I said, look at Borders.

AGAIN:  It makes sense why the price changes, it just sort of sucks that it does. It’s the cost of using brick & mortar establishments, something we should not lose. Should the bookstore model be revisited? Yes. Was I frustrated when I wrote this post not quite 2 years ago? Yes. I still shop in bookstores, B&N included. Things will change in their own time. It’s not bait & switch.

  • Um. Wow. My B&N has always been fantastically helpful! Technically you can’t process a Nook warranty exchange in-store, but they did mine for me when my first one acted up. It saved me SO much trouble and was just able to walk right out with a new one in hand.

    That being said, most people are idiots and most store policies are crap.

    • Erini

      Yeah, some stores are super great… The lady who helped me was super nice and friendly, but she was stuck by all the management and couldn’t actually help. … Even when I contacted their support (because their twitter told me to)…. nothing.

      I think they’re truly missing out on a great opportunity to keep customers in-store. Hell, even Walmart does free ship-to-store. It takes like a day or so, but it’s an option.

  • dude! that’s ridiculous. it’s been awhile since i’ve bought in store, but i had no idea the pricing was different. duly noted for the future

    • Erini

      It’s completely understandable why it’s cheaper on the site… but they shouldn’t do the bait & switch crap for picking up in store. That’s just not cool.

      • yea. it’d be nice if that was noted on the website. i know other places have similar policies, but it’s stated clearly online during the purchase process

  • Ugh, I hate Barnes and Noble. I have been a Borders fan for years and I am so sad about what’s happening. But lately I have pretty much been doing what you said, previewing the book at the store and then buying on Amazon. It’s just SO much cheaper.

    • Erini

      I was sad about Borders too. I switch between the two, but I can generally find a Borders in the city quicker than a B&N.
      Amazon’s going to win this war if book stores don’t think of new things!

  • elsie

    I wonder where you’ll do your high street browsing when B&N join Borders on the trash heap due to an inability to rapidly respond to todays plummetting market. Oh! I’m overlookig the obvious Amazon, for the love o Pete. We can all hang in their well lit heated staffed conservatively decorated comfortable high st stores & coffee shops.

  • Jason Thomas

    The additional cost is indeed due to the additional fixed and verifiable cost of maintaining a retail footprint. That picking up at the store, that pursuing in the store is the additional value you get ( and admit to liking) that comes at a cost, which is passed on to you in the form of a (higher) “retail price.”

    You can indeed just browse in store, buy online and them have to wait for the book to arrive. Then again, the more people do that, the more bookstores will disapear (like Borders) and most likely there will just remain Amazon selling mostly ebooks, and local specialty shops selling at full retail price…if even. And if that becomes the case, or if the retail outlets remain, it will all be the result of the aggregate of consumer decisions . However, enjoying the retail experience and expecting the online price end up being an unsustainable expection, as the business model won’t make any sense for BandN. It’s not unreasonable to try and extract maximum value and convince as a consumer, you should…just don’t expect the retail outlets to remain there long.


  • Ben

    I came up against this today, and it really bothered me for some reason. Yes, I understand there are costs to running a brick and mortar store. I just thought that the 5 dollar slice of cake and the ghastly overpriced cds and dvd sets were the way to recoup those costs, or at least some of them. I too am the type who likes to hold books in my hand, both when buying and reading. Plus, I’ve had issues with ordering online and not getting the printing I wanted, or getting a copy that has corner wear or a bad cut. (Ever try to exchange a paperback because the top of the book is cut at an angle and not straight? The look I got from the manager was….interesting.) I’m just a bit put out by the notion that I have to pay for the privilege of coming into your store. I’m willing to spend money. I’m willing to save you the trouble of shipping it to me and come get it myself. I’ll likely buy something else while I’m there. And all I am asking, in the end, is that as a regular, in person customer, I get the same deal as a faceless stranger. Moving entire industries out of b&m stores and exclusively onto web purchase or e-readers will NOT be good for anyone. Sadly, it doesn’t seem like those in power will see or care about that until it’s too late.

  • Mike

    A little higher is one thing, but when I found the book to be about 55% higher, I walked out the door of the BN! What a crappy way to operate. They would be better off to scrap their in-store pickup as it creates a lot of ill will. And for the record, many stores (like Northern Tool) will honor the online price – it is a good way to build good will and get you in the store – and that has value in itself.

  • Rick

    Came across the same issue today. A book I wanted to purchase was $28 in store, but only $16 online. And with Amazon I get the free shipping. It’s just got to be a killer to brick & mortar stores when online options, and even their own store, is selling the same product for significantly less. I’d be willing to pay $18 or maybe even $20 to bring the book home with me right away, but when I can have it in two days for $16 or the next day for $19.99 from ordering online it cuts out any convenience factor of the actual store.

  • Arie

    lol I googled to see if I was the only one who was upset about this. Online book is $73 on amazon it’s 72. I decided to drive to a BN to help out the local store and then saw the book was $89. $16 is what a lot of people make an hour. I’m not just going to throw it away. And hey, if I’m going to be forced to order online, I’ll stick to the brand I am familiar with and that’s amazon…even if they do charge a sales tax now.

  • PolishSpring

    B&N sucks. Amazon is so much better.
    Exactly what happened to you, happened to me.
    Online price for a book 11.15, but to reserve it for pick up at the store? Jumps up to 19.99
    Well, Amazon has the same book for 11.05, so I’m still saving a penny or two – LOL
    B&N does this purposefully to compete with Amazon online. What they do not realize, is that they are losing customers by not honoring their own prices. Is that even legal?

  • angryshortguy

    This is pure bait and switch on the pricing.
    Just happened to me today.
    Advertised price online of $15.98, but when I try to reserve it at the store it jumps to $27.95!
    Hmmm, I wonder why brick and mortar stores are becoming extinct?
    Stock is stock, and shipping costs are shipping costs.
    It doesn’t matter if I pick it up or have it shipped to me.
    I’m still laying out cash for the item. Unless they pull this kind of crap and force me to purchase it through Amazon.
    Now how much do they make?

  • average joe

    It’s not bait and switch. Amazon and have very close pricing and free shipping over $25. Amazon does not have brick and morter stores, therefore it is unreasonable to compare Barnes and Noble store prices to prices. Getting the book TODAY will always cost more money than getting it shipped to you in 1 to 2 days. Why is it that people cannot understand this? Savy customers use the coupons BN sends every week to get cheaper prices instore TODAY. Customers who pay $25 for a membership, get 10% pff in store prices on top of the discount with coupons; this usually gets the price very close to the online price. And yes you pay $25 for a BN membership, but Amazoncharges $79 for theirs. Funny, no one complains about Amazon’s membership cost; probably too embarrassed to admit it………

    • Angryshortguy

      I go to Barnes and Nobles web site and find the hard cover for $15.98.
      I then click on the “Pick Up In Store” button and enter my zip code.
      I find my store and click on “Pick Me Up”.
      Now it’s $27.95.

      Bait and switch.
      Lure me in for the $15.98 price, then hit me with the $27.95 price after finding my store and clicking “Pick Me Up”.

      Why not show both the in store and online prices side by side?
      Why all the games?

      I planned on buying the hard copy the day it came out.
      Only after going through their lengthy “Pick Me Up” process, on the day it came out, did I get to see the much higher price.

      Had I known this was the case, I would have ordered it online and had it delivered.
      I was trying to support the local brick and mortar, but that’s just not gonna happen with the games their playing.

      • Sure

        That isn’t bait and switch. That was a company showing you how much an item would cost depending on your method of purchasing it. You were buying it online and having it shipped to your house. Of course it would show you the online price. Then you decided to pick it up in store. Of course it would show yoi the instore price.

    • jon

      Who in their right mind cant wait a couple of days. Barnes and Noble charges”list price” in store for almost every dvd. Why would I possibly pay $30 for a dvd when I can get it for $10 on Amazon? Seriously, except if I’ve forgotten a birthday and need it right this second, why spend double or even triple for a couple of days wait. as far as the difference in membership, Amazon gives you streaming videos with their and two day ups service. Barnes and Noble gives you a paltry 10 percent discount on list prices. Again, there is NO reason to ever buy anything at Barnes and Noble’s stores unless you need something immediately or just want to throw your money away.

  • Justin

    The same thing happened to me yesterday. I had found a book at Marshalls the day before for 12.98. I told a coworker about it, and she really wanted a copy for herself and her best friend. I was running errands, so I offered to pick it up for her. I did some browsing online while shopping, saw it for the same price, so I did the In Store pickup option, as I had to run near there anyways. I received the confirmation, and I noticed it was now saying 15.99 each. I showed up, and asked the girl, and she acted like I was crazy and how dare I ask that. Then I go to get in line, they have 1 cashier working… the line was so long. I will not shop there again.

    • Sure

      You are accustomed to shopping at stores with identical prices in store and online. That does not mean that everyone else is accustomed to that same thing. Not every store has the same policies. It also is not the store’a fault that you came in when they coincidentally happened to be busy.

  • SoCalDude

    A book on BN site sells for $29.00, when I click on “Pick Me Up” to have it held for me at a local BN store, the price shown was $55.00. I understand the physical store needs to charge more because of their overhead expenses, but a 90% markup? Comon’!!

    I ended up ordering from Amazon, using my Prime membership and free tw0-day shipping.

  • Sorry B&N

    Sad to see Barnes and Noble doing this. I love going there to the cafe to sit and read their books. A few months ago I went in to purchase a $30 book that B&N (and Amazon) had listed online. In store it jumped to $45. Tonight I found another book with a similar in store markup. I am not going to pay a 50% markup for in store convenience.

    Guess what I am going to do? I’m going to buy it on Amazon, and while I wait for it, I’ll go to B&N to read it for free. All the while knowing that one day B&N will probably head towards extinction like Borders did. If B&N would match their online prices I would buy it at the store.

    • Sure

      And then one day you will regret your hand in forcing a physical bookstore to go out of business when you can no longer exploit it and treat it like a library. Do you think Amazon won’t raise their book prices when they have no one left to compete with? Of course they will. Do you think authors and publishing companies get paid as much from Amazon as they do from B&N? Of course they don’t. Small publishing companies suffer greatly when people choose to shop at Amazon.

      • Hooray for people commenting on SUPER old posts and going all crazy with it.

      • LED

        If B&N ever decides to offer customer service I will gladly support them again. The stores are ok. Their online support is non existent, rude, and accusatory. Just Google barnes and nobel customer service and you will see that the vast majority of customers feel they were treated poorly.

  • M Jackson

    Had the same thing happen today in Raleigh, NC-it was compounded by the fact that person who helped me made no sense and told me that on top of the online advertised price I should add $4.00 for them to mail it to me at home. So a movie advertised for $10.49 with the shipping and handling fee would only by 4or 5 dollars more. Highway robbery!!! Got home and movies ship for $1.98 . I too love book stores but this is bordering on fraud.

    • Sure

      It is to motivate people to sign up for a membership card in order to get free shipping and promote brand loyalty. It isn’t fraud, it’s a customer loyalty move. Amazon does it all the time.

  • phong tran

    B&N will close down soon if they don’t change their in-store pricing policy. Look at other retailers such as Macy’s , Williams-Sonoma, Crate & Barrel, The Container Store, etc… their online prices are the same as the in-store.

  • steve

    to be honest, I’ve worked at a B+N a short while ago so I see the inside. If you buy online the margins are low as they have to be to complete with amazon. The stock comes bulk shipped, and gets reshipped with little handling, and YOU have to pay the shipping to your house.

    If you buy in a store there are any number of hands that have to be put on that same book, shipped in a non bulk way tot he store, processed, etc., AND you are also paying for people who don’t pick up books and they have to be returned. You are also paying for having a warm lit place to look at other books, sit down and read, and talk to some (generally) pretty good book experts on other books and such. This all costs money.

    Do not think about them adding a fee to buy the book in the store, it is really they give you a discount to shop online as it saves them a lot of money because the warehouse stiff can be done with automation 24 hours a day by machines.

    B+N online is essentially a different shop from B+N brick and mortar. You can go to a McDonalds drive in window, or eat similar food at a sit down restaurant with waiters and actual plates. A book bought sight unseen through the mail is a different item than one you can look at in a store.

    Granted, it does suck and everyone knows it, but the overhead has to be paid, and trust me- no one is making much money in the book world these days except amazon, and that only due to the massive quantity they sell.

    But keep in mind that not many years ago almost ALL bookstores sold at list price, sometimes charged extra for special orders, and no one complained about it.

    • Jason

      It’s OK to charge a convenience fee or only match the price if requested, but the way Barnes & Noble goes about it made me decide to no longer shop there period (in-store or online).

      I found a book I wanted that was about $18 online, my girlfriend picked it up for me at the store and I noticed it was $29 – I was understandably confused. I then proceeded to go back into the store to get a price match (against their own site nonetheless) only to get strange looks, and comments about how it costs more to run a brick-and-mortar business and websites will always be cheaper. I get that. The problem is, we’re not just talking about ANY website – this is THEIR website.

      In their attempt to match Amazon’s prices they seem to have forgotten that they have actual stores and people might…um…associate the two – especially when they have the pick-up in-store option on their site. I can’t think of ANY other business that operates this way, because it is…well…asinine.

  • Alex

    Here is what I do… I go to B&N and look at the books. If I find one that I really like, I go online to amazon and B&N and see how much difference there is between in-store + tax vs online+shipping. 9 times out of 10, I just order the book online right there in the store from my smartphone.

    I suspect I’m not the only one. In this case B&N gets NOTHING for the store, employees, etc. I would think it would be better to get SOMETHING. If the in-store price was roughly equal to the online price + shipping (e.g book lists for $26, sells on Amazon for $18+$4 s/h, so if in-store price were around $22 + tax) I would get it in-store. The extra $2 is worth it to have it right away. Even if it were slightly more. Again, I’m sure I’m not the only one here. They should at the very least do 2 things:
    1) Offer, for the online, pick-up in store buyers, this happy medium
    2) Clearly inform the online buyer that the pick-up in store price is NOT the online price.

    But hey, it’s their store. I guess they still have the mentality that since Borders is gone there is little competition for brick and mortar. But in days of 3-day shipping, for many waiting is no big deal.

  • Tom

    I need to be able to access in-store pricing on-line. Only way now is a phone call to store, wasting everyone’s time. Wake up, Mr. Barnes and/or Mr. Noble!

    • John Doe

      I think you should wake up. They already have that feature available on there website. You can go there now reserve a book and pick it up within minutes. You really need to pay attention to there site.

      • Erini

        Have you not even noticed how OLD this post is? Or any of the comments I’ve made here?

      • Erini

        I already knew about that feature. But the price goes up when you select pick it up in store from their website. And you should wake up and read the edits on this post before being rude here.

  • John Doe

    Look Barnes and noble is no longer the leading book seller it once was. With that being said I understand the frustration you must have when you see a price online and a different price in store. Heres where I do understand Barnes and nobles logic. You want a book you look it up online but you want it now (CONVENIENCE FEE). There are tons of stores that charge a convenience fee but some are not advertised. Barnes doesn’t charge a convenience fee but it does have overhead for the employees that work there. So if you want a bookstore to survive you must understand there reasoning for having overhead included in the books in store. Plus they have the same exact spend over 25 and your shipping is free feature just like amazon. Pay the price so the book stores can live.

    • Jason

      A 5-10% markup is a convenience fee, 30%+ is downright ridiculous.

    • Angryshortguy

      You’re kidding, right?

      Remind me,
      Is B&N a business or a charity?

      Pay the price so they can live?


  • Russ Maine

    It is time for a clsss action bait and switch law case. No auto dealership in American could get away with same action.

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