Tracking the slow, sad death of Barnes & Noble via data

6 months ago by Joshua Fruhlinger in Facts, Trends

[This story originally appeared on February 19, 2018. Because of recent news of CEO Demos Parneros' sudden dismissal, we thought this story may shed some light on what led up to current events.]

At one point in time, Barnes & Noble Bookseller was celebrated by a retail book industry that had lost its focus. Reading areas, coffee shops, events, large, comfortable spaces: it all added up to a renewed 1990s book culture that appeared to have saved a struggling industry and - in many ways - saved reading.

Until now.

Just last Monday, the company laid off 1,800 workers. This quote from a former employee describes the depth of the layoffs:

On Monday morning, every single Barnes & Noble location – that’s 781 stores – told their full-time employees to pack up and leave. The eliminated positions were as follows: the head cashiers (those are the people responsible for handling the money), the receiving managers (the people responsible for bringing in product and making sure it goes where it should), the digital leads (the people responsible for solving Nook problems), the newsstand leads (the people responsible for distributing the magazines), and the bargain leads (the people responsible for keeping up the massive discount sections).

This all happened despite the fact that the workers were reportedly assured this would not take place.

That said, the layoffs are not totally surprising, as Barnes & Noble CEO Demos Parneros said recently that the new strategy will focus on efficiency: smaller stores, fewer products, and, ultimately, profitability. Certainly, dropping 1,800 workers looks like step one of a shrinking retail spend.

So how is this working out for Parneros? Not so good. His Glassdoor rankings tanked so hard that it appears the job ratings site took the data offline to make sure this wasn’t an anomaly. But now the data is back online, and it looks a little someting like this:

So what can the company do? One would be tempted to suggest that the company go back in time, to a time when the company still had the hearts and minds of millions of shoppers. But the company never really took to digital sales. For years - much like Toys R Us who followed a similar story arc - Barnes & Noble never really got its digital marketing straight. A poorly executed digital reader ecosystem never took off, and bizarre attempts to expand its e-commerce operation all add to a company that's as confusing to its investors as it is to its customer.

As recently as 2015, then-CEO Ron Boire told investors that poor online sales were the result of poor e-commerce (namely search and checkout) experiences. By then Amazon was already selling millions of physical and digital books to millions of consumers worldwide. It was already too late - to be talking about search functionality in 2015 borders on the absurd.

As for what employees feel about the future? The numbers aren't surprising:

So are those 1,800 jobs just the beginning? A quick look at store locations (of which there are about 780) doesn't paint a pretty picture:

Joshua Fruhlinger

Joshua has been writing about technology, lifestyle, and business for over 20 years. He's one of the original writers and editors for Engadget, and still writes a...

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