Programmatic

In the wake of last week’s announcement of a new strategic plan for the Borders Group, that entity has revamped its Rewards program, effective April 12.

The most significant change seems to be the end of Personal Shopping Days and Holiday Savings Rewards in favor of “Borders Bucks”:

“For every $150 spent on Qualifying Purchases at Borders, Borders Express, or Waldenbooks in a calendar year, you’ll receive $5 in Borders Bucks. Borders Bucks are issued the first week of the month following the month in which they are earned, and are valid until the end of the month issued. Plus, any amount you spend on Qualifying Purchases in a calendar year that exceeds $150 rolls over until you reach your next cumulative total of $150. There is no limit to how many Borders Bucks you can earn.”

I wonder if that modification is a concession to the smaller number of retail outlets, with close to half of the Waldenbooks outlets slated for closure. The Bucks system does seem less complicated than the Personal Shopping Days, and the promised revamp of on-line shopping might make obtaining them easier. Still, you don’t have any more of a window to use the Bucks than you did with the Personal Shopping Days, and with fewer outlets within a users range because of the closures, maybe the level of outlay on discounts and rewards will stay the same, even though the perceived level of complication in earning them is lower.

But it’s the earn-but-maybe-don’t-use nature of the program that probably keeps it free. Since you continually get a discount via the Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million discount programs, it makes economic sense that users have to make an initial expenditure. Both probably hope that savings reaped by users will generally be equal to or less than the income of memberships purchased.

14 Responses to Programmatic

  1. Lyle says:

    Semi-related story, when I worked in food service one of the chains we ran had a loyalty card program that required a buy-in but offered a pretty deep discount (you could save the amount you spent on the card with one large-but-not-atypical purchase… or two average-sized purchases). The card was created as a way to compete with a new competitor in the area which focused on low prices, in their market research they realized they couldn’t react by lowering prices because people would convince themselves that the food was also a lower quality. However, if the discount were wrapped in a loyalty card that customers had to purchase, customers were able to rationalize that the buy-in offset the costs of the discount. It gave them an advantage of being able to compete on value and quality.

    (A few years later when I started, another value-focused competitor prompted them to lower prices and despite heavy advertising that emphasized “Same great product, new lower price” people were convinced they weren’t getting as food as good as they once did, even though nothing in the kitchens had changed, so there was good reason behind that program.)

    Anyway, books are a totally different product from food (since you don’t risk customers saying “The volumes of Death Note I buy at Borders have more interesting characters than the ones I buy from B&N” but sometimes asking customers to buy into a loyalty card discount isn’t so much about the revenue as much as the way a customer’s attitude changes when they buy into a loyalty card program as opposed to a discount available to anyone.

  2. davidpwelsh says:

    Those are really excellent points, Lyle. I feel like I should have some more substantial rejoinder than that, but…

  3. John Jakala says:

    I decided to get a B&N membership when I was buying my wife a bunch of books in the store and realized the additional discount would almost pay for the membership cost. Plus, I signed up for a B&N MasterCard, which got me a $25 gift card, plus an additional 5% off anything from B&N I paid for with the card.

    It’s just about to expire and I was wondering whether to keep it when I got a statement from B&N showing how much I’d saved with the membership. I decided to keep the card.

    And I realize you’re not paying anything for Borders’ rewards program, but getting $5 for spending $150 doesn’t seem like much of a reward. That works out to about a 3% discount, effectively. Weren’t the Personal Shopping Days a better deal?

  4. davidpwelsh says:

    I think the PSDs were marginally better, depending on how you managed them. You’d earn one with a total of $50 of purchases, then get a day of 10% off. So if you tended to buy a lot on a regular basis, you could make out pretty well by saving up a big bunch of purchases for the discount. I never got to a Borders or Waldenbooks often enough to test the theory, but I’m pretty sure I’ve heard people say they’ve made out like bandits.

    But yeah, with the 10% discount being standard at B&N, with additional discounts and semi-regular coupons that compound on top of the 10%, it’s pretty easy to make out like a bandit there, too. And their on-line prices aren’t as good as Amazon, but it’s not hard to get free shipping.

  5. John Jakala says:

    B&N’s listed online prices are generally more expensive than Amazon’s, but many times it works out to be cheaper with the member discount and additional coupons. For example, I preordered Akira Club from B&N for $15.57 after all my member discounts, and at Amazon it sells for $19.77. And B&N’s free shipping is fast, esp. compared to Amazon’s “we’ll pack it a week from now, and then maybe ship it the following week” service.

  6. Chloe says:

    Having Amazon Prime-d myself into a corner as far as retail goes, I’m still stupefied that this is the best Borders can offer for a card program. Even their occasional 4-for-3 holiday promos vastly outweigh the long term benefits of their rewards program- that you’d need $300 worth of sales in full priced books to afford even one freeb manga is…less than enticing.

  7. Lyle says:

    IIRC, Borders also offered e-mail coupons that clerks would often have an extra copy they’d scan when I gave them my card, those coupons had a nice discount that could be combined with other discounts. I don’t remember all the discounts they let me combine but I recall stopping into a Borders after Christmas (or was it right around Christmas?) looking for the latest Death Note and paying only $2.50 for it… though my discount would have been lower if they had more books I wanted. (Since, IIRC, the coupon was only good for one purchase.)

  8. ChunHyang72 says:

    I find this discussion interesting because my manga-buying habits so seldom bring me into either Borders or Barnes & Noble. To some extent, that’s a function of living in NYC. I do have many alternatives, from used bookstores to Kinokuniya. But it’s also a reflection of the fact that I find online manga shopping a more satisfying experience than visiting a crowded megastore.

    When I want to combine manga and book-buying, I usually go to amazon or Buy.com. (Though buyer be warned: the customer service at Buy.com rivals only Pop Copy’s.) If I just want a few manga, I visit the comic book store because they have a great customer loyalty program: 20-30% off most new titles, no money up front. Plus I don’t feel compelled to, say, throw in an Umberto Eco novel to divert attention from my other purchases.

  9. davidpwelsh says:

    It would be cool if Amazon could come up with some kind of “series reminder” functionality. I know they’re able to intermittently send out an e-mail to let buyers know that new books by authors whose work they’ve bought previously is on the way, and they’ve got a “special occasions” reminder functionality, which I suppose one could use for that purpose. (“Mom’s Birthday.” “New Fruits Basket.” Etc.) But if they could make it a one-button, “notify me” deal, that would be really customer friendly.

  10. ChunHyang72 says:

    It would be cool if Amazon could come up with some kind of “series reminder” functionality.

    But then I’d go broke.

  11. John Jakala says:

    I would love it if online retailers had a “notify me” feature for specific books. Currently I throw things on my Wish List and periodically check to see if the items are in-stock, but even that’s not perfect as Amazon will show things with the “Add to Cart” button even if the actual availability is “Usually ships in 1 to 2 months.” (Yes, Mail v3, I’m looking at you.)

    I tried using Dark Horse’s “Alert Me” feature but it appears to be useless: Alerts are sent out based on the on-sale date in their system, regardless of whether or not the book is actually out yet. Case in point: I just got an alert that Akira Club is on sale but I preordered it via B&N last week and today the status there was updated to “Out of Stock – A new copy is not available from Barnes & Noble.com at this time.” Apparently DH’s alert went out today because DH’s site still shows 3/28 as the release date. (I feel another angry post complaining about DH’s scheduling problems coming on…)

  12. Chloe says:

    It would be cool if Amazon could come up with some kind of “series reminder” functionality. I know they’re able to intermittently send out an e-mail to let buyers know that new books by authors whose work they’ve bought previously is on the way, and they’ve got a “special occasions” reminder functionality, which I suppose one could use for that purpose. (”Mom’s Birthday.” “New Fruits Basket.” Etc.) But if they could make it a one-button, “notify me” deal, that would be really customer friendly.

    I actually find Amazon’s “New Releases” and “Upcoming releases” tab under “Your Recommendations” to be pretty useful; sure, it requires a period of box checking and past purchases to narrow the field to what you haven’t already read/are interested in, but once your tastes are in the system, the recommendations can be pretty dead-on.

  13. davidpwelsh says:

    “But then I’d go broke.”

    Yeah, good point. Dibs on the cardboard box!

    Oh, and to update on my Kurosagi woes, it was, not surprisingly, all my fault. I thought I’d added it to my “ongoing reserves,” but apparently I was doing volume by volume. Because I’m dumb.

    And John, I feel your Mail pain, having just ordered it myself.

    But hey, 300 is the best-selling graphic novel, so they must have got copies of that in stock!

  14. […] shopping news: David Welsh looks over the revamped Borders Rewards program, which doesn’t seem to be as good as the old un-revamped […]

%d bloggers like this: