Monday, February 21, 2011

Readers Without Borders

As most of you probably know, Borders filed for bankruptcy protection last week. Although they are closing about 30% of their stores nationwide, the Chicago area was hit harder. Nearly half of the stores in this region will close, including almost all remaining city locations (two were already going/gone and five more were announced, leaving only the State Street store).

As a regular shopper of the entire region, I tried to guess which stores would close, and I was right about most. But I didn't predict that Borders would virtually abandon the city and its neighboring suburbs (I thought Clark St., Lincoln Village, and Norridge would stay open). One might think a compulsive book buyer like me would have a little sway with the company, but apparently not. In fact, the six Borders stores closest to my house are all closing! The nearest surviving suburban location is in Wilmette.

All of this didn't surprise me because Borders has been in and out of financial trouble for years. In general, upper management sucks. They've made one stupid move after another, but two stand out. First, for many years Borders.com was merely an Amazon.com affiliate site. While Amazon and Barnes & Noble were carving the online book shopping pie, Borders wasn't even at the table. By the time they launched their own online store, it was way too late. To make matters worse, they chose not to discount as deeply online as their competitors. The second big mistake was diversifying. Granted, books and music are rough categories for brick & mortar stores in this century, but why add toys, games, and stationery/greeting cards to the mix? Who shops for games or greeting cards at Borders? Who uses stationery anymore? They probably shouldn't have stocked DVDs either. I can't remember the last time I saw someone buy a DVD at Borders.

Borders wasted no time in liquidating; the sale started Saturday. In typical Borders mismanagement fashion, they didn't send out e-mails about store closings until late Friday (though I have to give them credit for sending out an e-mail on Tuesday about the bankruptcy). And my mom's e-mail was for a store 50 miles from home, even though several much nearer stores were also closing. The e-mails only said "20-40% off" without more details. I had some time to kill on Saturday, so I stopped by the Mount Prospect store to check out their discount levels.

People are incredibly stupid. The Borders parking lot was packed, as was a bigger lot across the street. Inside, the cashier lines stretched from the front of the store to the back and around the corner. What were these great deals that everyone was buying? Books, CDs, and DVDs were 20% off. Of course, most of those items are discounted even more every day at Amazon.com, and with no sales tax (for that matter, Borders regularly e-mails coupons for 25-40% off a single item). Why would anyone wait in a ridiculously long line for such non-deals? At least 95% of the store's inventory was only 20% off, so what was 40% off? Greeting cards!

You know I can't resist a good bargain, and if this sale goes on long enough to offer deeper discounts, I'll be hitting every closing Borders in the area. I'll probably need to bring a shopping cart along. Book Challenge 2011 will go out the window; this is a one-time opportunity I don't intend to pass up. But 20% off is no bargain at all.

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