Today Borders – tomorrow Macy’s, BestBuy, Target? You?

Have you started conversations in your organization about what Borders’ downfall might mean to you? If you haven’t, you should. While it may seem like the bookseller’s situation is far removed from your own, I’m here to tell you that you are vulnerable. If your strategic planning activities (which, I’m hoping, are ongoing and not just once a year, or less…) are not considering these types of activities occurring in your external environment, you could be at risk.

Borders may be just the first in what may be a string of bricks and mortar companies about to take a fall.

We’ve been hearing about the demise of print and bookstores for a long time, but I think the pattern that this example sets represents a risk to many other types of bricks and mortar establishments. I can use my own buying behaviors as an example.

I love books. I have long loved going to Borders to look at books while I have a cup of coffee and, sometimes, also listen to music. I’ve been going there with my son since he was in a stroller – now he’s almost 27 and, on occasion we’ll meet for lunch and we’ll still usually stop at Borders after-to browse.

But, I don’t go there as often as I used to. And, most of the time when I do, I *just* look.  I don’t buy much there anymore. Why? A myriad of reasons, but some include: I have a pile of unread books sitting on my  bookshelf, I can now download things to read on my Kindle “real-time” when I need them, I can find a lot more information online when I want it without having to pay for it at all, and I can generally buy the books I find at Borders for less through other channels.

And the music? Honestly I can’t remember the last time I bought an actual “hard copy” CD. Now I just review and download the songs I like on iTunes.

I feel really bad that Borders is closing. I feel bad for the organization, I obviously feel bad for all of Borders’ thousands of employees who will be unemployed in an already tough economy, and I feel bad for customers like me who loved the Borders experience but clearly not enough to keep them afloat.

But, truth be told, right now, I’m also potentially playing a part in the demise of any number of other bricks and mortar retailers – BestBuy, Macy’s, and a myriad of other local and boutique shops that I used to “browse and buy” from.  You’re probably a lot like me. When you “shop” you may often just browse – and then, if you *do* buy, you may well buy from someplace else. In fact, I got back from a trip to Napa Valley not long ago and instead of buying bases of wine from the local vineyards or joining the wine clubs like I did the last time I went, I just made copious notes, came home and researched online for better prices. And I found them.

Borders, I’m afraid, is not the last major retailer to cave to competitive pressures from the wired world.

Think about it. I can go to Macy’s, try on some clothes that I really like, note the label/product code and then go online to find the “best” deal.” I know I’m not the only one that does this. A good friend of mine has shopped frequently for furniture and appliances locally, then searched out better deals online and ordered remotely for less, even considering shipping (which is often waived).

And, recently another friend told me about a new website – – that works like a Target or WalMart on steroids. Order all of the staples you need, have them delivered to your home, even set up a schedule for delivery and/or online notifications that you may be out of something and need to check your supply and they’ll take care of it.

How do bricks and mortar businesses (unless they’re WalMart which may even now be preparing to cut off at the knees) deal with this? I don’t know; clearly every business will have its own answers. But, if I were a bricks and mortar business competing with online influences I’d be putting my strategic planning thinking hat on and coming up with something!

Having both a “real world” and online environment could certainly help. Having phenomenal distribution channels and controlling the supply chain can certainly help. But how many businesses can do these things?

Instead, I think, we will start to see new business models that represent a hybrid of “real” and “virtual” buying experiences. We may seem new collaborations and partnerships emerge between “showrooms” and online ordering sites. Maybe companies like BestBuy will charge a small fee for me to “touch and feel” real-world products. Maybe companies like Macy’s will institute new value-added services that lure me to their store like fashion consultants or personal shoppers or who knows what?

Maybe…well, who knows? Most importantly if you run –or work at – a traditional business I hope you’re thinking strategically about disruptive innovations that may make your business obsolete. It’s happened to Borders; it could happen to you. Adapt—migrate—mutate—or die!

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