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Flailing Barnes & Noble Turns to Google to Help Fend Off Amazon

Flailing Barnes & Noble Turns to Google to Help Fend Off Amazon

It will take a good deal more than a same-day book delivery deal with Google to shelter Barnes & Noble from the rising Amazon. Rather than try to play Amazon's game, it might be wiser for the company to focus on its main differentiator: providing a physical space for book lovers to browse, read and socialize. "This might turn out to be a colossal mistake for B&N," said tech analyst Rob Enderle.

By Richard Adhikari E-Commerce Times ECT News Network
08/08/14 6:44 AM PT

Some Barnes & Noble customers in Manhattan, West Los Angeles, and the San Francisco Bay Area will be able to get same-day delivery of their purchases through Google Shopping Express, according to media reports that surfaced Thursday.

Barnes & Noble CEO Michael Huseby described the teamup as a test and a way to increase book sales both online and from its brick-and-mortar stores.

B&N is floundering, having closed 63 stores in the past five years, and "could use any additional sales they could garner," Scott Strawn, a program director at IDC, told the E-Commerce Times.

"But I don't think this will save them," Strawn added. "If they're looking to this to fend off Amazon, they're going to be very surprised."

Barnes & Noble did not respond to our request to comment for this story.

How the Partnership Will Work

B&N stores participating in the program reportedly include the Union Square store in Manhattan; the Marina del Rey store near Los Angeles; and a store on Stevens Creek Boulevard in San Jose. They will have someone on site to handle online orders for items including books, toys, games and magazines.

Google will collate the orders and hand over the items to a courier for delivery.

B&N will not process Google Shopping orders on its website; the idea is for the bookseller to pick up incremental sales from Google Shopping customers.

Google spokesperson Anaik Weid provided a canned statement for the media about Google being "excited" that B&N is "joining our existing retail partners like Target, Costco and Staples," in response to a request for comment by the E-Commerce Times.

And there's the rub: B&N is just another partner for Google.

"This is actually B&N being added to the really long list of companies that are partnering with Google to a certain degree to allow customers to buy certain items and have them delivered the same day," IDC's Strawn remarked.

What's in It for Google?

It's generally acknowledged that Google is trying to get a piece of the online marketing action, which is dominated by Amazon and other giants such as eBay.

"Amazon is facilitating the sale of goods and services online, and that's what Google does," Strawn said.

From Google's perspective, the partnerships with B&N and other companies "may be the beginning of a service to match Amazon more broadly," suggested Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

It's All About the Search

However, the real threat to Google is Amazon's introduction of its Firefly visual search feature, available on the Fire Phone the company launched in June, Enderle said.

Firefly's product recognition function lets users identify and get price checks on more than 70 million items and order them directly from Amazon. It can scan barcodes. It lets users scan and tag songs, films and TV programs. It also lets users identify text and phone numbers printed on paper.

"Effectively, [Firefly] is a technology that bypasses search, rendering it invisible," Enderle told the E-Commerce Times. "At some point, it could eliminate a significant amount from Google Search if it spreads more broadly."

That could cut sharply into Google's online advertising revenue, which already is threatened by Facebook.

The Possible Effect of the Partnership

Google Shopping Express "is not operating at a large enough scale to have any meaningful impact on B&N, but it's certainly Google's ambition to have the service operating on a larger scale, at which point it will have a significant impact on all Google's partners," IDC's Strawn said.

On the other hand, "part of what keeps B&N around is that people like going into their stores to browse, read and socialize," Enderle pointed out.

"Once you get people to instead focus on fast delivery, where e-books have a huge advantage, you are effectively blowing away your major advantage and fighting Amazon's fight," Enderle continued. "This might turn out to be a colossal mistake for B&N."


Richard Adhikari has written about high-tech for leading industry publications since the 1990s and wonders where it's all leading to. Will implanted RFID chips in humans be the Mark of the Beast? Will nanotech solve our coming food crisis? Does Sturgeon's Law still hold true? You can connect with Richard on Google+.


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