This past weekend’s US release of the final Harry Potter novel was a major event in publishing. News reports indicate that 8.3 copies were sold in the first 24 hours generating over $250 million in revenue. That’s more than triple the weekend take of the latest Harry Potter movie which just opened on July 10. The book, which unlike recent video game console releases, was never in short supply and could be picked up virtually anywhere this past weekend. My local grocery store had it. So did Costco, mass merchants like Target and Wal-Mart, and even the Amtrak regional train from Boston to
Richmond. The only place I couldn’t get it was my neighborhood Barnes & Noble store.
Barnes & Noble is the world’s largest bookseller with almost 800 stores in all 50 states. With books being their primary business, the Harry Potter release is as important to them as Wiis and PS3 were to the CE and Gaming chains last Christmas. Barnes & Noble did a number of things to make its release a big deal. They began taking pre-orders for the book back in February, ’07. You could reserve for in-store pickup or to have it sent to your home for free. A week before the book’s July 21 street date, Barnes & Noble had received a record-breaking number of more than 1.2 million pre-orders, the largest number of pre-orders for any book in its history. More than 700 Barnes & Noble stores across the country hosted “Midnight Magic Costume Parties” on Friday, July 20th. Stores stayed open late to sell Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows at the stroke of midnight. Barnes & Noble was also selling the book at 40% off list plus an additional discount if you are a member of their loyalty program.
These are all good things in the customer experience department. Of course, the most important thing from a customer experience standpoint would have been to actually have the book available for sale, which was not the case at my local store. I stopped by at 9:00am Sunday morning, to pick up a copy. I looked around the store and saw evidence that there had been some sort of magical event two nights before, but the book itself was apparently wearing a cloak of invisibility. At the information desk, I noticed a sign that said I could pick up my pre-ordered book at the register.
“Do you have the new Harry Potter book?”, I asked.
“Only if you pre-ordered it”, the information desk guy answered.
“Can’t you wave your wand and make some more copies appear?”, I quipped. Information desk guy was not amused
OK what’s wrong with this picture? The world’s largest bookseller does not have any copies of the world’s hottest book to sell to it’s customers; not even those who have paid to join their loyalty club. Yet, I can get it at the grocery store next door. One could argue that the significantly discounted price at Barnes & Noble could be to blame for the out-of-stock situation and that I should have just stood in line with everyone else. Of course, Barnes & Noble weren’t the only retailers to sell at a substantial discount. I got my copy at Costco for less than my Barnes & Noble “member price” and they weren’t in any danger of running out.
Barnes & Noble did a great job in all of their marketing efforts: the pre-orders, the parties, the pricing. With 1.2 million copies sold before the book even came out, I’m sure that company execs were very happy with their performance. But at the end of the day, how many customers came into my local store on Sunday only to have to have to take their business somewhere else? How many sales did Barnes & Noble lose? Was this problem an isolated case or was it fairly common? That question really doesn’t matter because one way or another, some customers were disappointed.
What else could Barnes & Noble have done to either prevent the out of stock situation or save the experience for the customer? A couple of things come to mind:
- Better Planning: Perhaps they should have sent more inventory to their stores. As a retailer, you never want to carry too much inventory, but in this case, a short term overstock to get you through the first week wouldn’t hurt. They obviously had inventory in a warehouse or on a truck because they were back in stock today.
- In-Store Web Orders: For customers who did not pre-order, Barnes and Noble associates could have offered to order on-line from B&N.com with free shipping to the customer’s home. For customers wanting the book immediately, this would not have been an option, but for others, it would have worked just fine.
What do you think? Am I being a whiner here or is this a legitimate opportunity missed? What else could Barnes & Noble done to minimize disappointment?