Flailing Barnes & Noble Turns to Google to Help Fend Off Amazon

Some Barnes & Noble customers in Manhattan, West Los Angeles, and the San Francisco Bay Area will be able to get same-day delivery of their purchases through Google Shopping Express, according to media reports that surfaced Thursday.

Barnes & Noble CEO Michael Huseby described the teamup as a test and a way to increase book sales both online and from its brick-and-mortar stores.

B&N is floundering, having closed 63 stores in the past five years, and “could use any additional sales they could garner,” Scott Strawn, a program director at IDC, told the E-Commerce Times.

“But I don’t think this will save them,” Strawn added. “If they’re looking to this to fend off Amazon, they’re going to be very surprised.”

Barnes & Noble did not respond to our request to comment for this story.

How the Partnership Will Work

B&N stores participating in the program reportedly include the Union Square store in Manhattan; the Marina del Rey store near Los Angeles; and a store on Stevens Creek Boulevard in San Jose. They will have someone on site to handle online orders for items including books, toys, games and magazines.

Google will collate the orders and hand over the items to a courier for delivery.

B&N will not process Google Shopping orders on its website; the idea is for the bookseller to pick up incremental sales from Google Shopping customers.

Google spokesperson Anaik Weid provided a canned statement for the media about Google being “excited” that B&N is “joining our existing retail partners like Target, Costco and Staples,” in response to a request for comment by the E-Commerce Times.

And there’s the rub: B&N is just another partner for Google.

“This is actually B&N being added to the really long list of companies that are partnering with Google to a certain degree to allow customers to buy certain items and have them delivered the same day,” IDC’s Strawn remarked.

What’s in It for Google?

It’s generally acknowledged that Google is trying to get a piece of the online marketing action, which is dominated by Amazon and other giants such as eBay.

“Amazon is facilitating the sale of goods and services online, and that’s what Google does,” Strawn said.

From Google’s perspective, the partnerships with B&N and other companies “may be the beginning of a service to match Amazon more broadly,” suggested Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

It’s All About the Search

However, the real threat to Google is Amazon’s introduction of its Firefly visual search feature, available on the Fire Phone the company launched in June, Enderle said.

Firefly’s product recognition function lets users identify and get price checks on more than 70 million items and order them directly from Amazon. It can scan barcodes. It lets users scan and tag songs, films and TV programs. It also lets users identify text and phone numbers printed on paper.

“Effectively, [Firefly] is a technology that bypasses search, rendering it invisible,” Enderle told the E-Commerce Times. “At some point, it could eliminate a significant amount from Google Search if it spreads more broadly.”

That could cut sharply into Google’s online advertising revenue, which already is threatened by Facebook.

The Possible Effect of the Partnership

Google Shopping Express “is not operating at a large enough scale to have any meaningful impact on B&N, but it’s certainly Google’s ambition to have the service operating on a larger scale, at which point it will have a significant impact on all Google’s partners,” IDC’s Strawn said.

On the other hand, “part of what keeps B&N around is that people like going into their stores to browse, read and socialize,” Enderle pointed out.

“Once you get people to instead focus on fast delivery, where e-books have a huge advantage, you are effectively blowing away your major advantage and fighting Amazon’s fight,” Enderle continued. “This might turn out to be a colossal mistake for B&N.”

Richard Adhikari has written about high-tech for leading industry publications since the 1990s and wonders where it's all leading to. Will implanted RFID chips in humans be the Mark of the Beast? Will nanotech solve our coming food crisis? Does Sturgeon's Law still hold true? You can connect with Richard on Google+.

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VENDOR WATCH

Zoho Consolidates Marketing Functions

The CRM vendor community seems to be trying to welcome us back to normalcy by priming the selling pump with new marketing tools. It makes sense. Marketing is the beginning of the pipeline that brings in revenue, so why not?

One vendor with plenty to say is Zoho.  The company just announced Zoho Marketing Plus — a suite of tools and integrations for the whole marketing team in companies with 25-to-1,000-member marketing organizations.

That’s like saying everybody — and at only $25 per seat/month, it won’t break the bank. The strategy is to integrate a lot of third-party apps and replace one-off tools which will enable some to reduce their single use marketing subscriptions and save money.

Independent research I’ve been conducting shows that the users themselves are drowning in too many single-use apps, so the Zoho approach might have legs for that alone.

Marketing is a tough task with no end and taking it on with advanced capabilities is a heavy lift. It’s a tough job because it requires constant data management, and it is endless because the more you do the more data there is to manage. There’s customer data and there’s marketing generated data — or more precisely content. There’s also management to contemplate.

Shared View of Data

Zoho Marketing Plus goes after both classes of data. However, it is more focused on what’s internal to the business because that’s what needs management most.

Conceptually, it’s a platform for the entire marketing organization that supports collaboration across marketing activities from first idea, through creation, execution, and management — ending with measurement.

It gives all of marketing’s stakeholders a shared view of marketing information to form a basis for collaboration, and it integrates with other CRM tools like Microsoft, HubSpot and Salesforce, as well as Zoho CRM.

The platform cuts down on redundancies and exposes marketers to deeper understanding of customers and marketing processes. At the same time it reduces the management overhead of collaborating through multiple tools.

Integrations help Zoho Marketing Plus to shine by giving it a central role in many businesses’ marketing deployments.

For instance, CRM integration gives users feedback on revenue generation from marketing spend. Data integration with Google Ads, Facebook Ads, Google Analytics, Google Search Console, YouTube, and Survey Monkey helps marketers to target their prospects. To support finance it integrates with QuickBooks, Xero, and Stripe; WooCommerce and Shopify take care of commerce and Eventbrite brings in marketing events.

The result is a single view of the business so that teams can collaborate across campaigns regardless of the chosen channels while automated AI-powered data analysis helps marketers to understand the results of their efforts.

Zoho Marketing Plus Dashboard, Analytics

Zoho Marketing Plus Dashboard (Credit: Zoho)


A long time ago we believed that subscription apps had leveled the playing field between large and small companies and to a degree it did. Subscriptions enabled any company that could pony up the monthly per-seat price to use the same tools as the big guys. That was true as far as it went but overlooked the effort implied.

We’ve now reached a point where there is so much good, cheap product that larger companies again have a relative advantage simply because they can afford to hire the souls needed to man all the battle stations.

Democratizing Information

Zoho Marketing Plus is an attempt to bring things back into focus so that smaller companies can do the same things in marketing that larger companies do with more labor. You might call this the second democratization of information.

My research shows that the pandemic exposed many shortcomings in marketing and sales that had accumulated over the years. Too many single use apps that don’t communicate well is one big issue.

A bigger problem with those single use apps is that they are largely systems of record, which means it’s up to the user to make sense of the data. But the proliferation of so many systems of record makes this nearly impossible for the average user. That’s why Zoho’s announcement resonates.

With good integration between the parts of marketing and feedback from the real world that can be further analyzed, users have a good chance of refilling their pipelines and getting back to revenue generation in a world reconfigured for working from anywhere.

Denis Pombriant is a well-known CRM industry analyst, strategist, writer and speaker. His new book, You Can't Buy Customer Loyalty, But You Can Earn It, is now available on Amazon. His 2015 book, Solve for the Customer, is also available there. Email Denis.

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