B&N Draws up Plans for a Prototype Digital Store

In May 2012 B&N CEO Bill Lynch had the tech blogosphere abuzz when he hinted at plans to integrate NFC tech into Nooks and B&N stores so that readers could browse in a store and download a sample to their Nook simply by tapping it against a chip embedded into a book or shelf.

Those plans fell through after the Nook imploded the following holiday season and the CEO was Lynched, and this left B&N with no articulated vision for the future of its stores (aside from selling more pasta and 3d printers, and drowning their sorrows).

But now B&N CEO Ron Boire has revealed that B&N is developing a “digitally influenced prototype bookstore”.

He wouldn’t say where the store was going to be located or when it will open, but InternetRetailer quotes him as saying that digital will play a part. “One of the challenges of that store is going to be the digital experience,” he said at the annual eTail West conference yesterday. “I don’t think until you’re fully connected — mobile, desktop and store — that you’re going to be providing the full experience. That’s our goal.”

That sounds a lot like the store the Amazon launched in Seattle last November (a second store is in the works for San Diego) but Boire won’t confirm the similarity. “We’re not talking specifics about the store right now except we are opening something in calendar 2016 and it will be different than the traditional Barnes & Noble store,” he said.

At 7,500 square feet, Amazon’s first bookstore is smaller than B&N’s stores, which typically run between 30,000 to 40,000 square feet. It also stocks fewer titles than you would find in indie stores its size, and carries only around 5,000 titles (all face out on the shelf) along with Amazon hardware like the Echo, Fire tablets, and Kindle ereaders.

B&N has several prototype stores around the country, including one near me. Those stores have different floor plans and a brighter color scheme than B&N’s 600 plus other stores, but the one I saw had the same general mix of stock (books, toys, magazines, Nook, a cafe, etc). It sounds like the new store might be something different.

Do you suppose B&N had this store in the works before Amazon Books opened, or do you think this is a galvanic response to Amazon?

If this is a response to the 7,400 square foot store Amazon opened last fall, then it’s an example of damned fast turnaround on the part of B&N. Amazon Books has only been open for about four months, and B&N hasn’t moved that fast since, well, ever.

image by Nicholas Eckhart

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