Over the past five years B&N has been replacing more and more of the books in its retail stores with pasta, 3d printers, alcohol, and other merchandise. It's gotten to the point where I'm not sure if you can call B&N a bookstore chain any longer, and now the college bookstores run by B&N Education are heading down the same path.
Spun off from B&N last year,B&N Education runs about 700 college bookstores, and now two retail stores. It announced today that it has ripped out part of two stores and replaced the books with a new cosmetics department. It's calling its on-campus beauty concept The Glossary, and describes it as a "distinct store within select Barnes & Noble College bookstores". They're saying its the first of its kind dynamic shopping environment which lets students explore, sample and purchase a wide variety of mass-market and prestige beauty products on a growing number of college campuses nationwide.
Maybe in college bookstores, but not elsewhere. What with drug stores, big box retailers, and even grocery stores now carrying cosmetics, it's not exactly a new idea.
Furthermore, it's not a new idea in college bookstores, either, because once you add a cosmetics section we're no longer talking about a college bookstore. It's still a store, but now it's just a retail operation rather than a bookstore.
It's one thing to have Nook displays; one can read ebooks on them. But cosmetics have nothing to do with a bookstore, and once they've been added to a store it is a sign that the store management's focus has shifted from being a bookstore to simply being a retailer of whatever sells the best.
So do you think this is going to spread?
I have doubts that cosmetics will work well in this market, but if it's not this then it will be something else. B&N Ed is signalling that they want to shift the stores and sell different products which are more profitable than books.
What do you think would sell well in a former college bookstore? Amazon return mailing boxes and tape?
Joking aside, B&N Ed is being affected by the same forces that have lead several universities to replace their bookstore with an Amazon unstore, and why an even larger number are leasing space to Amazon.
College retail isn't the sinecure some analysts would claim; it is just as much in flux as the broader retail industry, only with the added pressure of college students being more inclined to shop online in pursuit of a good deal.
You can expect to hear of other concept pilot tests in B&N Education stores in the not too distant future, I would bet.