Can Barnes & Noble’s in-store experts beat algorithms?
Once upon a time visiting a chain bookstore meant having the chance to chat up an associate that could tell you about what was happening inside the books on the shelf. Some stores even tested incoming staff on their literary knowledge to make sure they could manage customer questions on the floor. Recent years have seen working at a big box bookstore become more of a plain old retail job than a reader’s dream job. But supported by a new ad campaign, Barnes & Noble is using its associate expertise as a prime selling point for the holidays.
The “Nobody Knows Books Like We Do” advertising campaign consists of a few different types of spots.
The “Bookseller” commercials, the ones most geared toward selling employee expertise, consist of eight 15-second spots in which a customer asks a Barnes & Noble employee about a gift item (a thriller, for instance). The employee then humorously guides them through a barrage of in-depth questions on the product to guide them to the ideal product.
Harry Bernstein, CCO of Havas, the agency that created the spots, told Adweek that engaging with an expert who shares your interests can often provide a better recommendation than an online algorithm.
Barnes & Nobles’ YouTube page also features another series of recent spots that depict real employees giving their top picks for holiday gifts.
Promoting the expertise of its associates and its superiority over impersonal, data-driven recommendations is a move that seems geared at both offering an alternative to the experience of book buying on Amazon and making Barnes & Noble feel more akin to the mom-and-pops which have experienced a recent wave of revival.
Barnes & Noble isn’t the only retailer that has begun to tout employee expertise as a virtue. Earlier this year, Target’s CEO Brian Cornell announced that the chain was making it a priority to have trained experts staffing the store in specific categories. And such a strategy may be playing a role in Target’s fairly steady turnaround throughout the year.
- Barnes & Noble Announces New Holiday Ad Campaign – Barnes & Noble
- Barnes & Noble Promotes Booksellers Over Algorithms to Get Shoppers In Stores – Adweek
- Thrill Seekers – YouTube
- B&N Bookseller Bill’s Gift Recommendations – YouTube
- How personal can Target’s customer service get? – RetailWire
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Will the message of in-store experts resonate with the new consumer that trusts data-driven recommendations? Can Barnes & Noble attract and hire the kind of book enthusiasts that will deliver on the advertising’s promise?