Barnes & Noble’s crowdsourcing app engages readers and earns solid reviews

Discussion
Source: Barnes & Noble
Apr 10, 2018
Tom Ryan

Barnes & Noble has launched Browsery, an app that uses crowdsourcing to help readers discover new books.

The app basically features a bunch of questions that support “browsing, community, and conversation.” Customers can “like”, comment on or contribute answers to questions about books posted by the Browsery community. They may also like or comment on the answers of others or ask questions of their own.

For example, the Biography & Memoir section includes questions such as:

  • “Favorite memoirs that include recipes?”
  • “What are some interesting biographies for a film-lover?”
  • “What celebrity made you laugh the hardest?”

Launched in late March, one question has already drawn 84 responses. Clicking through enables users to “agree” with a suggestion and offer the reason why. The authors with the most “agrees” to the “laugh the hardest” question included Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Trevor Noah.

Readers can search across 15 categories (science fiction, self-help, etc.) and can personalize their feed around favorite genres. They can also make purchases or do sampling via the app.

The Browsery initiative will also include a “Question of the Day” and an “Asked By an Author” question of the week posted across Barnes & Noble’s social media accounts with the best responses and recommendations being shared.

The app is being compared to Goodreads, the social book review database, as well as peer-driven book recommendations that can be found on Twitter and Reddit.

Writing for Mobile Marketer, Robert Williams said that while some readers may not trust recommendations from a bookseller’s platform, Barnes & Noble could offer discounts, exclusive offers and VIP access at its stores that Goodreads likely can’t match.

The app has earned high reviews so far on Apple’s App Store and Google Play. One reviewer commented that Browsery’s engagement level was higher than Goodreads. Being able to easily sort by specific interest and the ability to ask questions was highlighted.

One of the negative reviews read, “The app is well made, I just fail to see the point. Crowdsourcing my reading isn’t for me. I’d have preferred B&N had put more effort into the recommendation engine of their main app than whatever this is.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What do you think of B&N’s Browsery app strategy? Will it draw more sales for the retailer? Will Browsery demonstrate how crowdsourcing and mobile can take user-generated-content for retailers to another level?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"With reading being such a solitary activity, many book lovers lack community. Tapping into that needs gap, I think that Browsery will do well."
"I am not sure that an app that consolidates reader opinions and reviews is sufficiently differentiated from Goodreads, an app I frequently use..."
"This looks like a fundamentally smart move — but one that will have incremental advantage without being the “killer app.”"

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16 Comments on "Barnes & Noble’s crowdsourcing app engages readers and earns solid reviews"


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Bob Amster
BrainTrust

Insofar as more of the retail business is taking on an experiential emphasis, the app should generate interest in Barnes & Noble. While it appears that the app does not really guarantee that the readers will purchase from Barnes & Noble, it may create some loyalty to the brand and drive some purchases in its direction.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

This is a neat initiative and if linked to discounts and offers, it might drive customers to Barnes & Noble. That said, there is presumably nothing to stop people from using this app and then going and buying the books elsewhere.

All that said, this is not enough. I was in a Barnes & Noble in Arizona yesterday. The store was a mess and the Starbucks cafe was dirty and unpleasant. Sadly, this is not an uncommon experience.

It’s all well and good messing around with apps, but Barnes & Noble needs to get the retail basics right too!

Phil Masiello
BrainTrust

The app strategy is a great one for Barnes & Noble and all retailers. It can provide a direct and immediate engagement vehicle to the users.

It really depends on how Barnes & Noble uses the app as to whether or not it drives sales. The world of books is very user-involved and has a proven crowdsourcing engagement level. However, this may be too little too late as Goodreads and some other platforms have been in the space for a longer time with better products.

It will be interesting to watch the progress.

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

It would have to be a LOT better than Goodreads to capture most people’s interest. Goodreads is annoying, particularly its announcements that my Facebook friends are now in my network.

I agree with the comment below. There were better things to do with their IT dollars. Maybe create virtual reading clubs to go along with live ones meeting in stores?

If the goal is to create community, this is a bit forced.

Jennifer McDermott
BrainTrust

With reading being such a solitary activity, many book lovers lack community. Tapping into that needs gap, I think that Browsery will do well for Barnes & Noble. I for one would much prefer crowdsourced recommendations from likeminded readers than suggestions direct from the corporation where intentions behind a certain push become murky.

Anne Howe
BrainTrust

I feel like this functionality should be part of the main app, since the core of Barnes & Noble is book sales. It’s s bit late to become the hub of crowdsourced input given the depth and breadth of Goodreads.

Lyle Bunn (Ph.D. Hon)
BrainTrust

Narrowing product selection to viable suggested options is fundamental to improved customer experience, and algorithms based on buyer input are the retailer and customer’s best shopping friend. This app seems to be a natural next level drawing from the best practices of technology applications around them. Bravo Barnes & Noble.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

Barnes & Noble needs to hone its value proposition. If the app helps that effort, I applaud it. If it just is a corporate version of Goodreads, I don’t think it’s going to move the needle. There is a danger in appealing to the common denominator of a shrinking customer base. Just think A&P. The question is, can the app broaden the potential base and reinvigorate it in ways existing apps and sites don’t? Will it build sales? Probably. How many? It’s hard to tell, especially if it starts being a shortcut to the Bestsellers List. Maybe it’s me, but this doesn’t feel like a Wikireads breakthrough idea. To really get to another level you have to tie digital participation to physical and online community building. This just looks like a sales tool, not that it couldn’t be expanded.

Christopher Jordan
BrainTrust

I’m bearish on typical retail mobile strategy — i.e. build a smaller format version of the web, expect people to shop using it, end. It’s not surprising why these apps typically fizzle. There’s generally not a clear incentive/reason for the user to engage.

Barnes & Noble’s approach to mobile does appear to have some logic behind it. With Browsery, they’re carving out a “community” niche that certainly isn’t in the wheelhouse of Amazon.

What I suspect will define whether the app is a difference-maker or just a decent idea is having a seamless user experience between community, transacting and reading. If they’ve got the user in the Nook app reading, they’ve got a number of reasons to direct the user to Browsery other than simply saying “engaging is fun.” Of the users engaging in Browsery, some proportion are doing so to find their next book, which gives reasons to direct to the store, etc.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust

It’s unlikely that this app will create “deeper engagement” with Barnes & Noble. But perhaps a group of people will find books they like and another group will find satisfaction contributing their opinions.

This looks like a fundamentally smart move — but one that will have incremental advantage without being the “killer app.”

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
BrainTrust

Some people may want to read what everyone else likes or what is trending. In that case the crowdsourcing app will appeal to them. Some people would prefer to have personalized recommendations regardless of what is trending so would not find the crowdsourcing app to be the most useful approach.

Harley Feldman
BrainTrust

Browsery is a good strategy for Barnes & Noble. Book readers tend to not just read but share their thoughts on their readings with others. Browsery provides such an outlet. It is similar to product reviews at other retail sites but targeted at Barnes & Noble’s customers. It should generate additional sales as users of Browsery will get exposed to additional titles and content reviews. Browsery should demonstrate successful crowdsourcing for readers of books.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust

While it’s refreshing to see Barnes & Noble taking a more customer-centric position with an app focused on discovery of new books like this, it still feels like playing catch up to the market. Other apps like this exist that are more established so why try and create a new area of competition versus just adding this capability to their main app? It’s a good start and direction and, hopefully, we’ll see more thinking like this at Barnes & Noble. They really need to find ways to tie this experience into the in-store shopping experience whether it’s just discount offers, special events, etc. — something to link it all together to create a unique ecosystem for their customers.

Mark Price
BrainTrust

I am not sure that an app that consolidates reader opinions and reviews is sufficiently differentiated from Goodreads, an app I frequently use to find new books similar to books I love. B&N must seek out other benefits, such as real-time author interviews and exclusive content to be different enough to drive consumer engagement.

David Fannin
Guest
4 months 8 days ago
Definition of crowdsourcing: The practice of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people and especially from the online community rather than from traditional employees or consultants. Let’s not use the opinions of the people that work there everyday. This is a side step to communicating with your customers. Why? Because Barnes & Noble cut their staff too deeply back in late February. You can’t interact with any one customer for too long because they don’t have the staff any more. “Here, buy this book. Get the hell out.” That is where bookselling customer service is going these days. Crowdsourcing is toxic to the retail consulting industry as well. The observations of a consumer in her pajamas, shopping on the internet is vastly different then the frequent customer survey that comes into the store every couple of days to test the feel of community in each store. Faith Popcorn was right: we did “cocoon.” But she added to that premonition: The retail “butterfly effect” after the cocooning. As… Read more »
Sterling Hawkins
BrainTrust

No one thing will work for everyone. Browsery sounds like a good app strategy that has content and engagement for a critical mass to make it worthwhile. It’s a good model for other retailers to look to; however, it shouldn’t be the only play.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"With reading being such a solitary activity, many book lovers lack community. Tapping into that needs gap, I think that Browsery will do well."
"I am not sure that an app that consolidates reader opinions and reviews is sufficiently differentiated from Goodreads, an app I frequently use..."
"This looks like a fundamentally smart move — but one that will have incremental advantage without being the “killer app.”"

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