Idea #4 – The Future of Retail

by Byron on January 5, 2012

The Problem: Independent bookstores are basically a dying animal, if not dead already.  The mega bookstores are too.  Amazon, and to a lesser extent Wal-Mart and Target, ate their lunch.  But people like the indy bookstore atmosphere.  People like to sip coffee and read and feel comfortable.  Where will they go?  Starbucks is too crowded.

The Business: Create the software that allows Indy bookstores to sell books digitally.  The customer comes in.  They buy some coffee.  They grab a tablet.  The store is branded on the tablet experience.  You can read first chapters, or back covers, or excerpts, or reviews by the bookstore or by other customers.  When you make purchases, the bookstore gets a cut.

The bookstores were only ever Amazon affiliates anyway.  They might have been publishing industry affiliates, but make no mistake, they were affiliates.   They can remain affiliates – digital affiliates.  People need a place to hang out and to be around other people.  A place where they can sample and browse and they aren’t hunched over in front of their laptop on their kitchen table.

Technology is saving us soo much time.  But what’s all this time savings for anyway?  To work more?  Make more money?  Cram more shit into a day so your kid is a professional in six different things before the age of 12?  For a lot of people, the time savings is for sitting in an Indy bookstore.

The key to the software is giving the customer his own experience that is store branded.  What’s on the screen when he turns on the tablet?  How does he flow through?  Is their a logical beginning and end?  (The end is a sale.)  Does the software acknowledge the physical experience he is having?

You might even keep a few dead trees in the store.

Nah.  Why bother?

Doableness: It’s relatively doable assuming you could strike a deal with Amazon or the publishing industry.  The software isn’t simple, but it’s not years worth of person hours in programming.  A small team could do it.  A lot of Indy shops would embrace it.  It’s a relatively concentrated hive that could spread quickly.

Doableness, for this one, doesn’t come down to buildability or marketability.  It comes down to: Is this the future of retail?

Ask yourself:  what does a Target look like in 50 years?  Why wouldn’t they get it online?

But people need a place to hang out.  A place to be social.  A place to take a few minutes for themselves.  Corporate America knows this.  Starbucks has become iconic off of this concept.

My Thoughts:

I’m a bookstore guy.  On a day when Barnes and Noble gives terrible guidance, scaring investors about the future of their company, you can’t help but wonder what the future holds for bookstores large or small.  Or any store for that matter.

I love destruction.  If a business model doesn’t need to exist, kill it.  If someone can make a better mousetrap, then by all means.  But the better mousetrap, in this case, leaves a void.  And that void is an opportunity.

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