img_0454The economy is doing what the Republican party only wishes it could: closing the Borders. Or at least some of them, including the Borders store in my hometown of Springfield, Missouri. I stopped by there out of curiosity to see if there were any bargain prices worth having. Found most things were marked 20% off of MSRP (the signs outside claimed discounts of “20-40%”, but I didn’t see any 40% discounts), and there was a line going halfway to the back of the store.

longlineI didn’t stick around long (and a good thing, as it turned out I’d left my lights on again), but they were doing a booming business. There didn’t appear to be many cashiers on hand (a friend who checked out an Austin store told me that there were only two on duty in that store, and the line was considerably longer), and the lines reminded me of similar lines I’d seen a couple of years before during the local Circuit City’s liquidation sale. As I walked by the end of the line, I overheard a man telling his wife, “I’ll text you when we get near the front of the line.”

A metaphor?longline2I was a little surprised that so many people were willing to stand in line for so long for prices that were not as good as what you could find online at Amazon. As an example, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was marked as 20% off its $14.99 list price. The Amazon version seems to be a slightly different edition (it has a different cover, and has a $12.99 MSRP), but it is available for $7.58 as a paperback. Who would want to stand in a line to pay $4.41 more than he has to?

I did encounter one of my table-mates from the con—one of the other members of the con committee for the convention I help run in October—buying a couple of DVDs. I didn’t have the heart to tell him they were probably cheaper online, as well. It’s symptomatic of the problems these bookstores have been having, really—the reason why Borders crashed, and Barnes & Noble is on the rocks. For the most part, they sell books at full bookstore price—and on-line stores like Amazon or deep discounters like Wal*Mart have bigger inventories and much lower prices. Even without the added pressure from e-books, smart shoppers were going to go somewhere else.


  1. It’s a shame that so many Borders are closing, but with the passive business model of large chain stores, it’s a long time coming. It is too easy to spend the whole day inside one of these places and not buy a thing, or only buy a coffee or tea or soda, enjoy the magazines and books, and then walk right out. Libraries get public funding, and are not reliant on paying customers, but bookstores have no such alternative. The only solution is to reduce the number of stores to concentrate the buyers to fewer and busier locations. The freeloaders will still be there, but the buyers will be there too.

  2. I am with you on this one Chris. I was expecting a company that has to liquidate $350 million in assets to actually offer significant discounts. I was sadly mistaken after I saw prices at my Borders which seemed to not only fail to beat Amazon’s prices, but were also at times more expensive than the pre-liquidation prices.

  3. It’s not too surprising, actually. I saw the same phenomenon when Circuit City closed: long lines but not that great prices or selection. The liquidation isn’t actually being run by Borders itself but by another company, and standard practice is to price everything back up to MSRP before knocking discounts off. I think there’s something psychological about it: people are trained to assume that a going-out-of-business sale automatically means the prices are good, and once enough people get to standing in line for something other people assume that it’s something worth standing in line for.

  4. alex s: Don’t expect huge discounts on anything like “current and popular” merchandise. Those items can be sold at the stores that are remaining open. In the case of books, they can be returned to the publisher for credit (at wholesale rates, probably around 50%). The approved liquidators, a partnership of Gordon Brothers and Hilco Merchant Resources, have guaranteed the bankruptcy court a return of 85.3% of inventory.

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