Sunday, February 20, 2011

Dear Borders - Here's why you're bankrupt.

Dear Borders Marketers Who Made D's in Biz School:

I love Borders bookstores but there isn't one anywhere NEAR me.

However, when I was visiting North Carolina a few years ago, I shopped in a Waldenbooks, and the clerk suggested I get the Borders Rewards card and I figured, Hey, why not? Once in awhile I'm in a town that has one. You get other deals too! he, smiling, said.

So via email, I have been getting "offers" for years. Great stuff. Jewelry (don't care), discounts on cruises! (do not care), wine (who the bleep cares?!), ski equipment (oh please), clothes, but never what I needed when I needed it.

Till today!

My dear light jacket bit the dust this week. I love it. In fact, I still fancy paying to replace the zipper and keeping it, but it's a little worn after about 7-8 years of 3-season wear, so I thought, OK, need a jacket.

All of my mother's clothes are still next door and Dad said recently that it's getting to be time to find them good homes. I would love to just adopt one of her jackets. Only, I went through everything, and she never wore light jackets. Sweatshirt jackets in the yard, and blazers when she went out, but nothing similar to my late lamented jacket.

Next : the shopping dread. I've been wearing a parka and putting off the shopping. Funny how I used to love clothes shopping and now it's a chore. And I have a LOT of things I both need to do and prefer to do these days.

Today, my Borders Rewards email popped up with -- at last! -- 25% off at L. L. Bean!

You complete and utter jerks.

When I went to the offer, I got a message that the offer was "locked" and that a complex set of interlocking rules and requirements sets the rules for actually using these great offers.

People: There is nothing more deeply stupid than complex sets of interlocking rules and requirements. Give a coupon, don't give a coupon, give a smaller coupon, I give not a damn, but when you play manipulative little games with me, I guarantee you I don't play.

In this case, you wanted me to earn 50,000 (yes, I typed that correctly) points in order to have this offer "unlocked" and I needed to spend the last several years accumulating those points by clicking "offers" similar to this one, hundreds of times. Spiked-heel boots, cruises, wine, nose rings, whatever crap has no relevance to my life, just to get (50? or so?) points each time, as I waited like Rapunzel for the point-accumulation to grow like hair, long enough for your stupid Reward to crawl up and reach me.

"Rewards" is an odd term for this.

Motivating buyers by helping them feel like they're working for an actual reward isn't a bad business strategy in itself. I just got two cool Cuisinart cookware thingies by saving stamps at my local Piggly Wiggly, and I did feel like I was doing something smart and thrifty and getting a payoff for the effort.

But the amount of "kiss our ass one more time for a few more crumbs of points" you require....

Let's just say that I kinda know why you just filed Chapter 11.

Meanwhile, a couple years after I got that Borders card, my friend Catherine (Hi, Cath!) forwarded me a better sale-stuff source.

Shop-It-To-Me is quick, it's easy, you tailor to your own detailed preferences the email offers you'll receive, and the frequency with which you receive them.

Via today's email, they had a nice little Eddie Bauer jacket, not only a third off, but with a free shipping offer.

And they didn't make me do anything more than put it in my basket, type the free shipping coupon code in and pay 'em.

So Borders Folks, I hope you keep going, but I really hope you do better, and fire that section of your marketing department.

Thanks awfully (because it was awful),


ronnie said...

This blog post kicks ass.

I only wish/hope some Borders PR person reads it.

Rewards programs with a bunch of hidden conditions should be illegal, particularly in the case of programs you pay for the privilege of participating in.

A couple of years ago my province passed legislation that gift cards sold here could not carry expiry dates, eliminating the scourge of people receiving cards as gifts only to find out a few months later that they've expired - but of course the retailer got to pocket the money regardless. I think it's one of the best little pieces of legislation they ever passed here.

Glad you found a program that works for you - and a jacket through it!

Catherine said...


Excellent post -- you're absolutely right!

Mike said...

Funny -- I kind of expected a rant on how chain stores destroyed the casual "what's interesting?" ambience of the traditional bookstore, then, having turned books into a more generic commodity to be shopped for, were overtaken by Amazon's efficiency.

I was offered a customer loyalty card at K-Mart the other day and declined because, well, I'm not particularly loyal to K-Mart. It just was closer than Wal-Mart, and I'm not loyal to them, either.

Or to Borders, which is much the same thing, only with more books.

southernyankee said...

Interesting interpretation of Corporate America Free Market Economic thinking, or should that be thunking? Or maybe clunking as profits hit rock bottom.

Dann said...

Everything has value.

Everyone has morals.

Bankruptcy brings out the more "interesting" permutations of +/- in both categories.


Nostalgic for the Pleistocene said...

Lots of thinking goes on when i confront this bookselling issue.

We used to be one of those small independent booksellers, and failed. Ambiance is good, but customers want a huge selection and want their book TODAY.

We had about 4x as many books in storage as we could stock in our little store, but every time someone asked for one of them and we said "We've got that! We can bring it in tomorrow!" they'd say "Great!"...
...and never come back. Sometimes they even asked the first shift person (Larry and i split the day) and he'd phone me and i'd bring the book back after lunch. They still never came back. Not one of them.

Frankly, i understand wanting the commodity more than the atmosphere. Megastores managed to stock enough for browsers for a long time, but then online megastores had things they couldn't stock, so they had to start their own, and there are competitors in that, so they need e-books and toys and deodorant and pet food and rewards programs.

If it keeps books themsleves available and accessible, it's OK with me, but Borders did it with a tin ear.

Still local stores are surviving - there are 2 in the area, one for new books and one for used, but when i look at all the programs and finding/marketing to reading groups and schools and that they have to do -- it looks to me impossibly labor-intensive. They do it! I admire them, but they must be a rare group with little else on their plates.