Home  › Marketing › Strategies

Lessons From Borders: Evolve or Perish

  |  August 26, 2011   |  Comments   |  

Consider these three takeaways from the demise of Borders and the future of book-retailing.

In February, the second largest bookstore in U.S., Borders went into liquidation. Borders was started by Tom and Louis Borders 40 years ago in Michigan. Their business model was to offer a rich assortment of books across the U.S. that rivals couldn't match. This business model stood the test of time for 25 years till Amazon.com entered the scene in 1995. Amazon.com disrupted the book-retailing model twice. Firstly, by making an unlimited inventory of books available at customer's doorsteps and secondly, introducing a new channel for selling books.

The Borders case is not unique. Similar disruptions have been seen in the field of photography, mobile communications, and music, to name a few. All these disruptions provide us with valuable lessons for our professional and personal lives. Some of them might seem quite intuitive, but in my humble opinion are still worth a mention:

1. Success is transient. The Borders case gives us enough evidence of the fact that what worked yesterday may not work tomorrow. It is easy to get complacent with the adage 'if it ain't broken, don't fix it' mentality, especially when an organisation has been very successful. The challenge lies in how quickly you can cannibalise your existing products to meet the customer's said and unsaid needs. Like many retailers, Borders may be hoping that e-commerce and e-books were a phenomenon that would just go away. Therefore, it launched its e-commerce website in 2008 and e-book reader in 2010, but by then it was too late.

2. Business models evolve. Borders invested in the business model that it thought would work best, i.e., physical retailing. Therefore, it expanded the offering in its stores by adding CDs and DVDs to its product offerings. At the same time, it outsourced its online operations to Amazon. These two bets were proven wrong and led to the ultimate demise of Borders. With the advent of iTunes, the music industry went digital and at the same time Amazon grew into the biggest online retailer on the planet. Borders was not able to match the range, convenience, and prices that Amazon offered. Many people including myself would go to Borders to find a book then buy it off Amazon, a trend that got accelerated with the launch of e-books. In just four years, Amazon has started selling more e-books than physical books, both hardcover and paperbacks combined.

3. Clear brand positioning is key. In my last column "What Does Your Brand Stand For?" I mentioned that it is important for a brand to have a clear positioning that consumers can relate to. In my mind, Borders never had that clearly defined positioning platform that customers could relate to. Borders came across as being all things to all people (books, music, movies, stationery shop, hang-out place, etc.). In sharp contrast, Barnes & Noble has created a clear positioning for itself as the cool store (online presence, e-books) and a great place to hang out (through its tie-up with Starbucks).

As an avid book reader, I am sad to see the demise of a bookstore that I loved. However, I am glad that Borders' case has reaffirmed my belief in evolution and the quote 'those who don't evolve will perish'.

Subscribe to ClickZ Asia to receive your weekly dose of the region's latest trends, tips, and insights straight to your inbox.

ClickZ Live San Francisco This Year's Premier Digital Marketing Event is #CZLSF
ClickZ Live San Francisco (Aug 11-14) brings together the industry's leading practitioners and marketing strategists to deliver 4 days of educational sessions and training workshops. From Data-Driven Marketing to Social, Mobile, Display, Search and Email, this year's comprehensive agenda will help you maximize your marketing efforts and ROI. Register today!


Mandeep Grover

Mandeep has over thirteen years experience of building brands with blue-chip organizations like Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer across FMCG & Medical Device categories. His latest assignment is to launch a newly acquired medical technology start-up business across Asia-Pacific.

Mandeep is a recognized expert in integrating emerging media to drive business results. In 2007, he led the launch of one of the first branded apps on Facebook. The app was a finalist at Cannes and won the highest recognition for marketing excellence in J&J. In 2009, he pioneered the launch of the first iPhone app in J&J, which was featured in the Sydney Morning Herald as an example of innovation.

Mandeep has spoken widely on social media, mobile marketing & multichannel marketing at conferences across Asia-Pacific. He writes regularly for ClickZ and has been a judge for the Australian Marketing Institute (AMI) Awards for Marketing Excellence.

COMMENTSCommenting policy

comments powered by Disqus

Get the ClickZ Marketing newsletter delivered to you. Subscribe today!



Featured White Papers

BigDoor: The Marketers Guide to Customer Loyalty

The Marketer's Guide to Customer Loyalty
Customer loyalty is imperative to success, but fostering and maintaining loyalty takes a lot of work. This guide is here to help marketers build, execute, and maintain a successful loyalty initiative.

Marin Software: The Multiplier Effect of Integrating Search & Social Advertising

The Multiplier Effect of Integrating Search & Social Advertising
Latest research reveals 68% higher revenue per conversion for marketers who integrate their search & social advertising. In addition to the research results, this whitepaper also outlines 5 strategies and 15 tactics you can use to better integrate your search and social campaigns.


    Information currently unavailable


    • Internet Marketing Campaign Manager
      Internet Marketing Campaign Manager (Straight North, LLC) - Fort MillWe are looking for a talented Internet Marketing Campaign Manager to join the...
    • Online Marketing Coordinator
      Online Marketing Coordinator (NewMarket Health) - BaltimoreWant to learn marketing from the best minds in the business? NewMarket Health, a subsidiary...
    • Call Center Manager
      Call Center Manager (Common Sense Publishing) - Delray BeachWanted: Dynamic Call Center Manager with a Proven Track Record of Improving Response...