Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Would You Buy an eBook Reader From This Man? Part 2

Today we have the news that Dixons' stores are to join John Lewis in selling Amazon's Kindle e-book reader in the UK. Dixons will sell Kindles through PC World and Currys outlets and not online. The price will be the same whoever you buy a Kindle from with the Wi-Fi model being £111 and the 3G-equipped version £152. To us this sounds a very logical step by Amazon in selling through trusted and experienced outlets trained to sell technology and spreads the Amazon offer onto the High Street.

So we found ourselves in central London and thought we would check out what the three major book chains were doing in-store in their premier outlets with ebooks and ereaders.

Foyles, Charring Cross Road

There was no reference to ebooks, digital or ereaders on the store directory, but given the placement of their information desk, we went straight there to enquire if they sold ereaders. A very pleasant lady explained, ‘We don’t have any in store but sell them online through our web site.’ When we then asked why and said we thought they sold them in store, she disclosed, ‘We used to sell them but they just didn’t pay their way and where a security problem.’

We left wondering why they didn’t take our name for someone to call us, or offered us some flyer explaining why we should go to their web site and if they were serious about ebooks. The lady was helpful but the store was clearly saying ‘Not sold here!’

Blackwell’s, Charring Cross Road

We crossed the road in search of the elusive ereader. Blackwells again were without any signage or reference to ebooks or readers. So we went passed the stationary, the umbrellas and book cradles, to the information desk. Yes they sold ereaders in store, but not the Sony and did not have a display area. ‘Did we want to see one?’ The assistant went off to a staff area and returned with two boxes containing Elonex readers which were still wrapped in their covers. The lack of knowledge on what they did, or didn’t do, was embarrassing and misleading. He pointed out they played epub files ‘which can be bought from anywhere’ and when pressed this even included Amazon! We pointed out that these were LCD and not eInk screens and it was if we were talking a foreign language. They did have some POS material on a stand on the desk, which he read out loud as if we were a child.

Again he didn’t take or even ask for our details so an expert could help us and allowed a potential £100 sale to just walk away.

Waterstones, Picadilly

We entered the flagship store expecting so much, but soon understood that our previous experience was clearly not an exception, but probably the norm. Again no signage or reference on the extensive directory, but we knew where to go and headed straight to the bank of checkouts, past the information desk that was busy and sure enough we found the same bolted down display and POS we had seen on Bath. This had just four units and two dictionary type gadgets.

We hovered, we started to play with the devices, but two of which appeared to be frozen. We looked around for help, but not an assistant in sight and the two on the checkouts were busy serving customers. We decided to go back and ask for help at the information desk and the lady suggested we ask the checkout operators. We pointed out that they were busy, so she offered to come and help, but explained she knew little about the devices. Bless her, she did try to read out the limited POS and clearly was out of her depth. When we asked about the POS pricing over the shelf which offered a ‘get VAT back’ price and quoted the net price and the VAT back, she had to ask the checkout operator. They said that the offer was an old one that finished at Christmas and the VAT back was done by Sony. We hid our amazement that they openly had misleading and out of date pricing on display and clarified that we had to add the two elements together to get the price! The two Sony readers were stickered as ‘out of stock,’and when we asked about the apparent stock in boxes under the shelf, were told those were all empty and should have been removed. Their admission, not ours!

The checkout assistant took over our enquiry and the information assistant went back to her station. The second assistant knew a little more but it was a little. She recommended the top of the range Sony because 'it does more than just reading and can play MP3 files'. When we asked what the difference between the iRiver and the Sony was she quoted number of files and battery life as two major differentiators. We said why the number of files matters as we don’t expect to buy and read 1.000 let alone 2,000 ebooks! We asked about the battery life which she said was based on page turns and we had to point out that the limited POS next to the device said that the iRiver could in fact do 1,000 more page turns than the Sony. She pointed out the Sony reader had 12 dictionaries included, which nearly prompted us to ask if she always carried a dictionary around when she read a book?

She did try very hard to sell us a Sony top of range ereader. However when we asked why it was in landscape and could we see it displayed in portrait like the cheaper reader she was unable to change the setting and even navigate the basic features.

We asked when the Sony devices would be back in stock and she went off to check. She quickly returned to say that didn’t have any on order, but there appeared to be stock in another store if we were interested and she could ring them. We suggested we needed to think about it and despite spending time with us and obviously keen to sell us the top of range Sony she failed once again to even ask let alone capture even the basic customer details.

As we were leaving she offered a small flyer stating it would tell us more about the devices. The flyer was in our opinion a waste of paper except it did give a 0845 telephone number where we could get help. Now why didn’t she at least tell us that?

The eQuestion we ask

When Amazon is selling its devices through technology and trusted retailers, why are these booksellers not making the effort to train staff, provide informative and accessible literature, capture interest and at least appear serious about digital? Would we buy any ereader from these stores today - no. How are they going to build a digital business when they clearly are sending out at times misleading and disinteresting vibes in-store? Books are books be they digital physical, audio, print on demand, front list, back list used etc.

Ironically, we wrote this piece on the very day the BA (Booksellers Association) emailed a newsletter to all their members provide them with sound advice on a retail strategy to sell ebooks.

We also suggest that bookshops watch Mary Portas's 'Secret Shopper' that was broadcast tonight channel 4 and take on-board some of the sound advice she gave mobile phone sellers .


David D said...

As if you felt the need to follow up your original post???? My word. Extend yourself a little. You are coming at this from a very peculiar angle.

For starters, the tone of this post is ridiculous. Another way to spin your cynicism would be to say that staff and stores on ground level are just not convinced by Ebooks. Is anyone convinced? Is it really the specific members of staff (that you seem to enjoy humiliating) that should know about these products and be excited about them? It comes from above (you've mentioned this) and it is not the individual responsibility of low wage staff to get excited about things they weren't employed to sell and can't afford to buy. Your posts lose all credibility on those terms alone.

In my opinion, a digital product should be sold online. This is where buyers can receive the support they need and where they'll have to return in order to purchase more books and receive updates whatnot. Why does the high-street have to be involved? The eBook buyer is online savvy and capable of navigating the digital world without kind words from uniformed members of staff. Why you feel the need to wander around London writing these things baffles me. It's a cheap trick. Go to HMV and see how much their underpaid staff know about 3D TVs or the aspect ratio on blu ray players.

This is also bogus: 'Walked away from a £100 sale.'

Nah, not really. Do some research. What's the % on an eReader. Is is about the same profit as selling 2 hardback books? The members off staff you are so quick to write-off as being shoddy or half-arsed would not perform so badly if you tested them on what they were employed to sell, BOOKS.

Come on. You've got a lot of readers and these articles are having a significant impact on the growth in digital publishing. You need to be more considerate and produce objective, well-rounded arguments.

Martyn Daniels said...

I appreciate your comments and the objective was not to belittle staff as they are doing what they have been trained to do. The point was to compare Amazon's announced selling of Kindles through Dixons and J lewis to what booksellers were doing on the same day.

Booksellers sell books which must include ebooks and need to be in tune with these things and engage.
Sorry its not good enough to say this online and nothing to do with us unless you want to alienate tomorrow's customers and follow the path trode with online sales.

I personal don't think readers should be sold in stores and probably would follow Foyles route to a point but i do believe staff should be trained about them, POS should be available and engaging and marketing materials should be available to guide customers and staff should take down details and get someone to follow up (its called service).

I think the Blackwell route is probably the worst as it neither here or there and hiding readers in a back room was probably apt given where Charring Cross road is located

Finally, i can't accept misleading POS that refers to deals that no longer are valid and empty sales packs that are not available this ins a flagship store and that just says sloppy and slack management

I hope we can beg to differ and plan to look at the online sales offers

Darrel Ince said...

The truth,of course, is that there is nothing in for the bookshops to sell e-readers. Doing so takes the profits from the paper-based products.

I was a little cynical about the growth of e-readers until I bought an i-Pad. I now get the same feeling that I had when CDs first appeared to supplant vinyl and then MP3s supplanted CDs. I visit Oxford frequently and there are now only two major bookshops (Borders RIP). Got a terrible feeling that in a few years there will only be one or perhaps none at all. To paraphrase Corporal Jones 'They are all doomed'.

The interesting question is how do bookshops adapt to this; is putting up the shutters the only option?

Anonymous said...

A physical High Street bookseller does not have a choice in the short term in a modern High Street.

The cost of paper, decline in physical sales and their market share of book sales will result in pressure on margin rates from publishers, who need to fund their own response to market changes.

The rise of the Chains will turn out to be a relatively short blip in retail, as the bookstores that survive retreat to cheaper locations in all bar those sites where there is strong footfall.

Even here, their future lies in multi-channel bookselling. The customer will be King again and succesful booksellers and publisher partners will develop tailor made content for their customers. This will necessitate direct business capabilities and the ability to price match, or add value to the "book".

The eBook is only the start but physical books will still sell, just in less quantity and less popular books will become print on demand.

This doesn't please me and our culture will be worse for it but if we have lost the will to keep our libraries, are we really going to stand in the way of commercial enterprises contracting?

I would rather see eReaders (which will soon be replaced by something more like the iPad) in the hands of readers that have never held a book than not.

Get (e)Reading should be every booksellers call to action.