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Summertime, and the Retailing Is Lousy

June 25, 2011

Today I want to talk about my recent experiences checking out ereaders at several national brick and mortar retailers. It was not a pretty sight.

First, my local WalMart, where there is a circular kiosk displaying phones, digital cameras, the IPAD2, and ereaders. The ereader display includes a large poster touting the Nook and Nook Color (no sign for the new Nook Touch). There are only two units actually on display: a Nook Color, which is nonfunctioning and has been so for at least six weeks, and a functioning Kobo Wifi (not the new Kobo Touch). Here’s the worst part: no sign or display unit for the Kindle KSO despite the fact that there is a whole stack of them hidden behind the kiosk, where they have been languishing unpromoted for at least a month. Why bother stocking a product you have no intention of even trying to sell? By the way, there is rarely someone manning the kiosk.

On to Best Buy. Things were only slightly better here. The following units were on display: Sony PRS350 and 950, Nook1, Nook Color, both Kindle KSOs, Kobo Wifi. The two Sony models were not working, which is too bad because I really wanted to check them out. Although there were a few boxed Nook Touchs, there wasn’t one on display. When I asked a salesperson about that, she said maybe in a few weeks they would put a Nook Touch on display. The Nook Color was working okay, but I already have one, so I didn’t play with it much. Other customers were looking at the Kindles. Overall a slightly better experience than at WalMart, but the nonfunctioning Sonys and the lack of a display Nook Touch really put me off.

Next up, Barnes & Noble. This is the same store where I purchased my Nook Color a couple of months ago and had a positive experience with a good sales rep. Not so positive this time. First, I give B&N credit for having the Nook kiosk front and center when you first walk in the store. I went straight to the new Nook Touch to have a look. I kid you not, the first thing the sales rep (someone new to me) said was “That one doesn’t really do much.” I don’t know if the idea was to promote the Nook Color as doing more, but I thought that was an awfully strange introduction to their brand new e-ink device. Next, when I started using the physical page-turn ridges on the side, the rep said, “Oh, I didn’t know it could do that.” Are you kidding me? With regard to the device itself, it’s light, attractive, fun to use, but the display model I used had horrible ghosting, to the point that I lost interest. I hope B&N fixes that soon with a firmware upgrade.

The only positive experience of the day was viewing a Kindle DX at Staples. It was the first time I had my hands on one, and it was very impressive. Fortunately for my wallet, I couldn’t justify the cost, but I really liked it and the display unit was functioning.

The irony in all this is that the only retail establishment relevant to these e-reading devices that I’ve enjoyed spending time in is Borders; the one where I bought my Kobo is one of the ones that was closed. Obviously Borders has had (and still does) lots of problems, but the one I frequented was staffed by knowledgeable, friendly people; the store had a good atmosphere, much more lively than the B&N a short distance away.

I realize that this little sampling of retail experiences hardly constitutes a thorough critique of brick and mortar practices, but perhaps if Walmart, Best Buy, and B&N would focus more on their products and customers and less on whining about how Amazon doesn’t have to collect sales tax, we would all be a lot better off. I know this: the next time I buy an ereader, whichever model it is, I will purchase it online.

Public Domain Pick of the Day

Today’s recommendation is John Muir’s My First Summer in the Sierra. A great nature writer, Muir is a good companion for armchair nature travels, whether they be in California or Alaska. A good summer read.

Android App Pick of the Day

This Bike Repair app is useful for learning the essentials of bicycle maintenance and repair. Not for the advanced perhaps, but if you are new to maintaining your bicycle, this is a useful tool. Normally $3.99, it’s on sale right now for $0.99 in the Amazon App Store for Android.

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