Online sales grew by more than 30% in the fourth quarter, but store sales slid by 6.1% year over year.
The new BN.com will take on Amazon and other online marketplaces.
BarnesandNoble.com Inc. plans to expand the merchandise it offers online by allowing some 200 retailers in other categories to sell on BN.com, the retailer says.
“When somebody is buying a cookbook on BN.com, offering them cooking utensils around that category just makes sense,” says BarnesandNoble.com president John Foley. “We want to be a one-stop shop online.”
In about a week the retailer will debut the marketplace with one million new products from 20 retailers in the home, gift, electronics, baby and toys categories, and then expand in phases throughout this year and next.
Barnes & Noble is the latest retailer to enter the online marketplace arena, which is dominated by Amazon.com Inc. (No. 1 in Internet Retailer’s Top 500 Guide, Buy.com (No. 32), Sears (No. 7), Wal-Mart (No. 6) and eBay Inc. Just last month Best Buy Co. launched its own marketplace with eight retailers that mostly sell electronics that Best Buy does not carry.
To stand out among the crowd of marketplaces, the retailer plans to position itself as offering shoppers products from a more personalized, curated selection of retailers, as opposed to Amazon and eBay, which list items from tens of thousands of retailers.
“With Amazon, it’s an all-out throwdown of 26 retailers who are selling the same exact thing,” Foley says. “A lot of consumers haven’t heard of these 26 retailers and you don’t really need 26 people selling the same product. We are going to partner with a couple hundred select retailers that are best at their category.”
The retailer says it hopes to build upon its strong brand reputation among shoppers, and Foley says he believes product and retailer recommendations will resonate with customers, as they trust Barnes & Noble. He gives the example of his wife who may be shopping for a baby stroller. “She would never go to eBay to buy a stroller based on their brand reputation,” he says. “She wants a little bit more of a curated experience. Even with Amazon, which is now selling everything under the sun from spark plugs to vitamins, shoppers are feeling like they are moving more down market to an eBay-type company.”
Some retailers included in the initial launch are baby products merchant Right Start, a unit of Liberty Media Corp., (No. 8 in Internet Retailer’s Top 500 Guide); discount web-only mass merchant UnbeatableSale.com Inc. (No. 287); educational products retailer School Specialty Online (No. 130); Wayfair.com, the new online face of CSN Stores LLC (No. 51); and photography products retailer Abe’s of Maine (No. 613 in Internet Retailer’s Second 500 Guide).
The Barnes & Noble customer demographic, which trends toward women who are avid online shoppers, melds well with Wayfair.com, says Wayfair’s vice president of business development Michael O’Hanlon. And while Wayfair lists its products on several marketplaces, including Amazon, Best Buy and WalMart.com, the retailer believes the Barnes & Noble shopping portal will offer consumers a different kind of experience.
“If you spend time on the Barnes & Noble site, you get a different feel than you do on Amazon,” O’Hanlon says. “Amazon is a transaction powerhouse and is great at what they do, but the relationship with the customer and brand affinity on BN.com is special. We are excited to get started with that ecosystem.”