Barnes & Noble Product Managers Rediscover Books

The Barnes & Noble product managers realize that they have lost their way
The Barnes & Noble product managers realize that they have lost their way
Image Credit: Mike Kalasnik

Quick question for you: when was the last time that you were in a Barnes & Noble bookstore? When I tried to answer this question, I had to think about it for awhile. I think that the last time I actually entered one of their stores was around Christmas when I had whittled my list down to the last few people who are always hard to shop for. Since then, I haven’t been back. The Barnes & Noble product managers know that I have not been back – that’s a problem for them. Clearly they need to make some changes in order to get people like me to both visit their stores more often and, of course, buy more stuff!

What Went Wrong At Barnes & Noble

The Barnes & Noble product managers knew that they had a problem when their CEO told them that they had a problem. The CEO had gone over the book seller’s numbers in preparation for an earnings call with the company’s investors. As a part of this process, he took the time to visit various Barns & Noble stores. He didn’t like what the product managers had stocked those stores with. His statement was “There’s too much stuff in the stores.” What he was referring to was that Barnes & Noble stores were being filled with non-book items.

When the CEO visited the Barnes & Noble stores, what he discovered was that the stores were filled with gift items and collectibles. When he saw this he stated that he wanted to draw a line in the sand and reduce the numbers of these items that each store was carrying. A good example of what he meant was evidenced by the journals that the stores were carrying. Yes, they had journals, but the CEO pointed out that they had way too many different types of journals. The Barnes & Noble product managers now have a new mission: declutter their stores of all of the gifts and games that are currently taking up room. Going forward the company wants to focus on what really makes it money: books. Barnes & Noble is going to be refocusing on books.

The CEO’s motivation for making this kind of change in the types of products that Barnes & Noble carries has its roots in money. In a recent quarter, Barnes & Noble had to report a steeper net loss. Things have to change. Going forward, the Barnes & Noble product managers plan on placing their bets on smaller stores that contain a much smaller selection of products that are not books. The plan is to get rid of as many gifts as possible. The company is coming under financial pressure to turn things around because an investor has stated that he’d like to take the company private. However, right now the company’s chairman and largest shareholder has no interest in doing that.

How The Barnes & Noble Product Managers Are Going To Fix Things

So when the boss says that things have to change, product managers have to make changes to their product development definition. What will the Barnes & Noble product managers do now? The product managers are looking for a real shift in the company’s strategy that they can add to their product manager resume. Changes like this don’t just happen. At Barnes & Noble, their sales have not been what they’ve needed to be for the past 10 quarters. The current state of the stores is not something that has just happened overnight. Instead, Barnes & Noble decided to get into the games and educational toys space way back in 2010. This was roughly the same time that digital books had just started to become a growing part of the market. From this point, the stores went ahead and continued to broaden their gift selection.

In all honesty, Barnes & Noble current sells a lot of gifts. Because of this, some of the gift merchandise is going to remain in the stores. However, the product managers are going to be responsible for making sure that there is less of it as the stores move forward. This change has been caused by Barnes & Noble customers. They had requested that the stores start to carry more books. The company has recently opened some prototype stores in order to show their customers what the stores of the future will look like. In these stores, books are the primary products being sold and all other offerings have been significantly scaled back.

The company will be showing off their renewed focus on books at a series of smaller stores that they will be opening soon. Additionally, several stores that are in the process of being remodeled will soon be opened and will be roughly half of their original size and will have more of a focus on books. The Barnes & Noble product managers have come to realize that the Barnes & Noble stores which are approximately 26,000 feet in size are simply too large to be able to compete with Barnes & Nobel has to deal with falling sales. They can have successful quarters, but in the past those often were associated with the release of the next Harry Potter book. The Barnes & Noble product managers are going to have to figure out how to once again make Barnes & Noble become a book store.

What All Of This Means For You

As product managers we are always looking for ways to use our product manager job description to extend our brand. When we have customers interested in what we have to sell to them, we’d also like to be able to get them to buy other things from us. The Barnes & Noble product managers have been trying to do this by adding gifts and games to their book stores. However, now their CEO has decided that they have gone too far. Things need to change.

As the Barnes & Noble CEO was preparing for an earnings call with investors, he visited several Barnes & Noble stores and discovered just how many non-book products they were selling. He decided that there was too much of this stuff. The Barnes & Noble product managers now have a new mission: declutter their stores of all of the gifts and games that are currently taking up room. Going forward the company wants to focus on what really makes it money: books. The company’s future plan is to create smaller stores that focus more on selling books. Barnes & Nobles sales have been off for the past 10 quarters. They have been selling games and gifts since 2010. Not all of the gifts will be removed from the stores. The change from gifts to books is happening because Barnes & Noble customers have requested it. The new focus on books will be evident as the Barnes & Nobles starts to open a series of new smaller stores.

Barnes & Noble has always had a challenge in competing with the online book selling giant Their attempt to broaden what they offered by adding games and gifts was a natural step. However, what their CEO has discovered is that it appears as though they have taken this move just a bit too far. It will now be up to the Barnes & Noble product managers to change things and start to once again focus on books.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: What do you think is the right mix for Barnes & Noble product managers when it comes to books and gifts?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

So if you are running a business and you’d like to keep your customers aware and informed about what products you are offering, what’s the best way to go about doing this? In our modern age, a lot of product managers would look at their product development definition and say that you need to update your web site and they’d be correct. However, what more and more store owners are discovering is that one of the oldest retailing tricks has somehow survived the arrival of the e-commerce wave – the paper circular.