Monday, December 19, 2011

They've got my data: Now Barnes & Noble is trying to get my business.

I’m a former customer of the now defunct U.S. bookseller Borders and a past member of their Rewards Perks program. While I freely admit to moving a lot of my business to over the years, I was sorry to see Borders go.

Maybe it’s nostalgia, but every once in a while I like to walk into a book store, stroll the aisles, and leisurely look for a title or two I may have missed. Just like reading a physical book has a tactile advantage over an e-reader, I also think a physical store has a sensory advantage over a virtual storefront—which for me, unfortunately, ultimately gets trumped by the superior selection and lower prices of an Amazon.

But back to Border’s. When the pieces of the company were sold off, competitor Barnes & Nobel made an important purchase that went beyond the chain’s physical inventory—they bought Borders’ customer contact info and importantly, their purchase history, giving them the data they need to send out personally relevant communications.

The wooing has begun, as B & N is now attempting to turn me from a qualified prospect to a customer. They’ve sent me a few e-mails to date and while I think my scant recent personal history prevents them from sending truly relevant messages, I do appreciate their efforts.

From a communications perspective, I think they’ve made a smart progression from showing sympathy over the loss of Borders, to being transparent when revealing the use of my Borders’ customer data, to being justifiably “retail-y” as they seek my business. See the messaging sequence below:

October 1: Sympathy Over the Break-Up
Dear Borders Customer,
My name is William Lynch, CEO of Barnes & Noble, and I’m writing to you today on behalf of the entire B&N team to make you aware of important information regarding your Borders account. First of all let me say Barnes & Noble uniquely appreciates the importance bookstores play within local communities, and we’re very sorry your Borders store closed.

October 15: Honesty and Transparency
Dear Borders Customer,
As a reminder, on September 30, 2011 Barnes & Noble acquired the Borders customer list. The transferred personally identifiable information in the customer list includes customer e-mail addresses and purchase history. No credit card data was transferred. If you would like to opt out of having your customer data transferred, please go to by November 2, 2011.

November 7: Asking me out on a first date.
Subject line: Let’s get to know each other, starting right now.
You’ll always be welcome here. Nothing says welcome like an extra 30% off your first purchase at Barnes & Noble.

November 26: Attempt at a second date.
Subject line: A convenient 40% off at the always convenient
Your nearest Barnes & Nobel is open 24/7—at Take an Extra 40%off one item.

I think Barnes & Noble is in a tough spot and agree with many that they’ll be the next domino to fall in the radically changing book industry. That said, I do think they’re doing a good job trying to convert prized prospects—former Borders customers like me—to the B & N fold.

In fact, I recently used the 40% off coupon above to make my first purchase. Now the true test will be whether or not they can convert me into a regular customer.

This post is by writer/creative director Tom Rapsas who can be found here.