What the End of Borders Can Teach Jewelers

With the giant Borders bookstore chain liquidating, some interesting articles have
appeared about how it might have avoided this fate. Which got me thinking about
how some of these lessons might apply to the jewelry industry. Here are some of
the more pertinent points:

– As has been widely noted, Borders didn’t see the impact of
technology. As a writer for US News and
World Report
(another greatly diminished brand) put

[T]he company treated the Internet
like a passing trend rather than a transformative phenomenon. The company
outsourced its Web operation to Amazon—which obviously became a tough
competitor—waiting until 2008 to develop a meaningful Web strategy of its own.

Borders might have survived if it
continued to focus on its core competency as a retail bookseller, while
developing new core competencies as an online merchant, and perhaps expanding
into other online markets such as music. Borders realized this, but it came too
late—when the company was too deeply in debt, and a vicious recession was just
beginning. The takeaway for individuals and other companies is that being good
at one thing often isn’t enough these days. What’s better is remaining good at
one thing, while becoming good at something else—and making sure your entire
skill set is something that’s in demand.

 … The obvious lesson is that
upstarts can enter your business and quickly become formidable, especially if
they have a technology advantage you don’t. Arrogant companies make the errant
assumption that a comfortable slice of market share is theirs to keep indefinitely.
Successful ones operate with a healthy sense of fear, knowing that dominance is
transitory and they can be knocked from their perch by a pipsqueak, if they get
too complacent.

– At the same time, another writer notes, it
didn’t make better use of the one undeniable advantage it had over the
Internet: Physical space …

So they had these vast bookstores
— but what happened in
them? Borders could have made them a livelier place with book-group
discussions, maybe issue-focused debates, or late-night bands playing in those
coffee bars. Perhaps cooking demonstrations surrounding cookbook releases? They
had all that room. But not enough was done to make Borders a must-visit
destination that was entertaining rather than just a big cavern full of books.

– And finally, it didn’t take advantage of its other great
asset: Its employees’ passion for, and knowledge of, books. A third
suggests that other bookstores should use this episode as a chance
to innovate …

 Bookstores can reposition themselves as trusted sources of
information, stocking quality publications, some new to newcomers, and unique
titles with real depth and scope, understood by intelligent, engaged buyers and
salespeople …

..  One of the reasons Apple’s stores are popular with Mac
lovers is that they provide information and knowledge that is useful; customers
can learn from staff. Bookstores could make sure to be a source of guidance to
the reading public, taking back that role from distributors and advertisers and
being more pro-active about deciding what they stock. 

Or as blog commenter put

Discovery, helping customers find
things they didn’t know they were looking for, in my opinion, is really the one
thing that brick and mortar stores can do to set themselves apart from online
retailers as it’s something that, for the time being, e-commerce sites aren’t
particularly good at.  The web is great if you already know what you’re
looking for but it’s not great if you’re just “window shopping”, in
many ways due to the nearly unlimited abundance of choice online.

It’s clear that if you’re a retailer with a significant investment into
physical assets (stores, stock, people) you’re not only going to have to figure
out your digital strategy but also ask yourself how and where you can actually
add value. 

All worth considering, by jewelers, or any business ..

JCK News Director