Borders just announced it is letting go 20 percent of its corporate staff and may put itself up for sale. Its archrival Barnes and Noble is said to be interested. A combined company would have about twice the market share as online retailer Amazon.
Part of the reason to consider selling is of course that in a tight economy consumers cut back on discretionary expenditures. Arguably the most discretionary categories of all is books. Although people do continue to buy them, fewer and fewer seem to actually read them. Partly too, an activist investor is pushing Borders management to sell
But let’s look deeper. When’s the last time you visited a Borders store? I can tell you mine, Christmas, and it was a disappointing experience. The suburban Chicago Borders looked shabby, thinned out, and unrefreshed. The local B&N, where I went next, felt spacious and happening. I couldn’t tell if Borders had lost the money to invest or just the will. Can a chain whose face-to-the-public is obviously on the way down stay open?
I can’t tell you whether Borders will survive. But I can tell you that it has no future if it can’t find its way back to the kind of exciting customer experiences it created, routinely, in its hayday.