Monday, June 1, 2009

Can a little magic help Borders Rewards?

I’m a card-carrying member of Borders Rewards, the program run by book, music and movie seller Borders, who recently announced their rewards program had grown 23 percent over the past year and now totaled 32 million members.

I first discovered Borders via their bricks-and-mortar stores in the early 90’s and still love their open store layout and laid-back vibe. I generally find their salespeople to be well-informed and helpful. I’ve been to their Web site many times and opted in to their e-mail list years ago.

Yet I may be one of Borders’ worst customers.

You see, not long after launched in 1995, I became a regular there. As fans of Amazon know, they have the world’s best selection. Nine times out of 10, they have the lowest prices. And there’s plenty of customer commentary to peruse should I be on the fence about a specific book, CD or other product.

So it’s tough for either the Borders stores or to measure up to market leader Amazon. Sure, I still visit my local Borders every now and then—but only after they send me a promotional e-mails with a coupon good for 40% off any purchase. (As I said, I’m not a good customer.)

Still, even with Amazon’s superiority in so many areas, Borders now possesses a potential game changer. If they can figure out what to do with it.

It’s called the “Magic Shelf” and it was launched by Borders just about a year ago, with little fanfare. This nifty feature enables registered customers like me to turn the Borders’ home page into my own virtual bookshelf. Through an attractive wooden shelf interface, I can quickly scan music, book and movie recommendations in several categories.

Importantly, it shows me selections based on my preferences, per an online survey I filled out, so the titles on my virtual shelf are personalized just for me. It’s a different approach than Amazon whose less attractive home page shows me items based on my past purchases, not my preferences.

So will the Magic Shelf make me more likely to shop at Borders or

Well, not yet. Old habits die hard and Borders needs to find a way to compel me to become a regular customer by better leveraging the benefits of the Magic Shelf. For starters, it would help if Borders both told and reminded customers about this very cool feature.

It also means Borders will have to move away from their current e-mail strategy, where it’s all about the discounts and latest money-saving offer. Currently, fully 75% of the e-mails Borders sends out are offer or price-based while most of the balance are for perks unrelated to their core business.

The solution seems simple: start sending personal, relevant e-mails, using information culled from each customer’s Magic Shelf selections. By filling e-mails with content that has real value—like info on new products I might be interested in—Borders stands a better chance of building a real (and profitable) relationship with me, because it will be based on my love of music, movies and books, and not my love of saving money.

With the proper use of the data gained from the Magic Shelf, it feels like there may be a small opening for Borders. Will they follow through on it? Or will they continue to beat their heads against the wall by trying to out-discount Amazon? Time will tell. But surely a personalized communications approach is a better way to go than continuing a price war against the mighty Amazon.

This blog entry was previously published May 29, 2009 on Loyalty Truth.

1 comment:

  1. The Kindle is the game changer and trumps anything Borders can do now in a macro move. I carry it into the store with me, if I decide to browse the store, then order books I find that I want. Within in seconds, they're downloaded to my Kindle. I agree that actually knowing more about my preferences and alerting me to items that might be of interest has some slight chance of getting me into the store, but it is only a slight chance. They need a Kindle of their own that's at least as good as Amazon's. I doubt it's possible.