Borders Bets on Pop Up Shops to Boost Holiday SalesBy Lydia Dishman One store (make that 200) closes and another (pop up shop) opens. At least that’s what Borders (BGP) is planning as it bets on a temporary retail strategy to boost sales for the holidays. The beleaguered bookseller will open 25 pop up shops in malls across the country starting on October 25 and operating through January.
There isn’t much to inspire confidence in the country’s second largest bookseller these days. Sales for the second quarter were down 11.5 percent to $526 million; comps were down 6.8 percent due mostly to the sale of its stationary business, Paperchase, and a push for more promotional discounting to lure customers back to physical stores. Add that to five rounds of layoffs, CFO Mark Bierley washing his hands of the mess, and stock price just barely over a buck and you have to wonder what it’s going to take to get Borders to put more into the one thing that’s working — e-commerce — which posted a hefty gain of 56 percent.
But Borders is continuing to beat the brick-and-mortar drum. And though these Borders Express shops won’t have any trouble snagging seasonal staff as unemployment flirts with double digits, it’s questionable whether the initiative will make much of a bottom line impact. Here’s why:
No Commitment –- Pop ups are meant to be a low cost way for retailers to build temporary excitement along with more long-term brand loyalty. While this works handily in fashion (think Target’s hotly anticipated Liberty of London pop up in NYC ravaged in just 48 hours), that doesn’t exactly translate to books –- digital or paper -– unless there’s to be some sort of Harry Potter or Twilight revival in December. Borders Express therefore, would be more likely to evoke the, “Huh, maybe I’ll browse there for a quick gift for Uncle Joe,” from customers who also stumble on holiday Hickory Farms kiosks, than a “Gee, I love Borders, I’m going to buy all my books from them” conversion.
Needs Qualified Staff –- Borders won’t be hard pressed to get scores of applicants willing to shelve, ring up or wrap e-readers, teddy bears, or anything else the retailer decides to stock. But can they really sell books? Remember, part of the reason shoppers still purchase books from brick and mortar booksellers are the recommendations. Signage and shelves labeled “Staff Picks” only go so far when trying to decide on gifts for family and friends. A good bookseller knows their stuff and can pull a “you may also like” without the aid of e-commerce algorithms. It’s hard to believe Borders Express’ store managers will find more than a handful of bookselling experts amid the hordes of potential temporary employees. Such inexperienced staff can erode brand equity.
Competition –- Though Borders Express shops are small (2,500) square feet, those Build A Bear teddy bear kits Borders recently began peddling are likely to be in the product mix. The good news is that Borders won’t be competing directly with Build A Bear Workshops as the 25 selected malls don’t have a Bear presence. Still, Borders will have to fight to grab the spotlight away from the apparel chains — a teen favorite come holiday time — especially as forecasts for apparel retail look rosier than ever.