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B&N Education’s New Cosmetics Dept is the Death Knell for the College Bookstore

barnes noble education cosmetics sectionOver 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.

barnes noble education cosmetics section

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.

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Frank May 16, 2016 um 12:20 pm

If adding cosmetics keeps the education bookstore in business, I think it is a good idea.

Elaine Normandy May 16, 2016 um 1:06 pm

What do you think would sell well in a former college bookstore? Amazon return mailing boxes and tape?

That’s just mean.

Syn May 16, 2016 um 1:15 pm

Maybe they need to figure out what is wrong and fix that. Pressure publishers, to lower prices so they can look attractive to students. Or, add a bar to their store, sell medical marijuana, and hope their customers are to high to notice the prices by the time they stumble out of their store?

Fjtorres May 16, 2016 um 5:41 pm

College students are notoriously frugal, which is what drives their online buys. That and reduced-priced Prime subscriptions and same day deliveries at the unstores.

One challenge for B&N education: Amazon got there firstest with the mostest. Their college bookstores don’t just reduce shelf space for books–they took them all out:


Nate Hoffelder May 16, 2016 um 5:50 pm


That store is no different from the half-dozen before it. I do not understand why everyone is so amazed at a year-old story.

Oh, and the story is wrong.

Fjtorres May 16, 2016 um 8:30 pm

That was my point. Amazon got there first and is doing it better.
They have seven now and more coming.
While B&N education takes baby steps, Amazon is barreling ahead.

Nate Hoffelder May 16, 2016 um 9:05 pm

Except that isn’t a bookstore. It’s a pickup location like Mailboxes etc.

Fjtorres May 17, 2016 um 7:33 am

Yes. That is where the money is.
Not in stacking books on shelves hoping a captive audience will be forced to buy and in the process pick up cosmetics to boost the profit margin.
Instead, Amazon looks to sell them everything, everyday, and if that includes textbooks, fine. If not, no biggie.
What the amazon unstores tell us is the day of college based textbook stores is winding down. What college students need and value is a general store. And it doesn’t even need to be on campus. It’s not as if colleges are isolated islands.

By the way, my very first thought at "B&N Education selling cosmetics"?
Lipstick on a pig.

DavidW May 16, 2016 um 7:47 pm

It seems that whenever stores are in financial straits they start branching out, which only brings on bankruptcy faster. Desperately branching out with no clear plan in mind (like carrying cosmetics in a bookstore) will not work.

MD May 17, 2016 um 2:05 am

College bookstores have evolved and many have dropped "books" from their name, even those large college stores that still sell $10 million or more in books annually (mostly textbooks), more book sales than most general or trade bookstore’s could ever imagine.

MD May 17, 2016 um 2:16 am

Also, many of the large college stores have long sold cosmetics. The largest of these stores were more like department stores than bookstores. I remember BYU’s stores always sold a lot of cosmetics. Here is a link to an article about one of them.

MD May 17, 2016 um 2:28 am

Please edit to take out the extra "d" and two "o’s" that seem to have come from nowhere…

Nate Hoffelder May 17, 2016 um 7:58 am

Fixed it.

Michele May 17, 2016 um 10:01 am

Clearly, you are not a female college student if you don’t think cosmetics will sell in this market. College women are one of the biggest market demographics for high end cosmetics. Now they don’t even have to find a ride to the mall to purchase what they would go there for! They’ll pick up some books too while they are buying their lipstick. I say it’s brilliant.

Nate Hoffelder May 17, 2016 um 10:19 am

I think I flubbed that sentence.

What I meant was that I don’t think it will do well in the on-campus retail market. In that market you’re effectively paying convenience store prices for goods, and I was thinking that college students were frugal enough and smart enough to shop around for the best value.

I think students will find cheaper prices elsewhere, and so B&N Ed’s idea won’t work.

Caleb Mason May 19, 2016 um 4:39 pm

One word applies here: diworsification. It’s always the path to Chapter 7. (No, not a chapter in a book, but a chapter in a court.)

Nate Hoffelder May 19, 2016 um 4:45 pm

Heh. That’s a new one for me, but it’s a real word.

Caleb Mason May 19, 2016 um 4:54 pm

Peter Lynch coined it back when big companies did really stupid things in the early 1990s (which by the way was when the term "job security" and "worker loyalty" vanished). Kodak bought Sterling Drug in 1992 or so as one prime example. Photo and drugs? Huh? Kmart walked away from their core blue collar customer with Martha Stewart (really?) and here we are today, the remaining stores are hanging "Blue Light Special" banners out front again. Round trip to nowhere. The slow painful route. The other thing I loved about Lynch was he said he would never "buy a company expanding their corporate headquarters" as a leading indicator of decline to come. Often true in my observations.

Moriah July 14, 2016 um 10:40 am

Another former BYU student here, although, riddled with ADD as I am, it took me a few colleges to get a degree. Every school I’ve been to or visited (two different statrs) (varying sizes) has a cosmetics department in its bookstore. I don’t know why B&N shouldn’t act like a college bookstore, which includes cosmetics, even if only a small pocket of them tucked away in a corner. Also, if it’s on a college campus and they sell the college’s logo stuff, it’s still a college bookstore. Also, the college bookstore is often the most convenient place to shop for a majority of students. Also, unless you know *exactly* what you want, you’re not going to buy makeup online. That’s what sample packs and subscription sample packs are for. They don’t sell Smashbox at Walmart or Target, it’s a status brand (especially if you don’t have a Sephora nearby, a subscription’s too expensive to find out what looks good, and a sample subscription is not worth it if you only need a tube of lipstick or a shade of eye color.

I find it amusing that you GUYS don’t a) know this is a longstanding thing in many campus bookstores and b) think it’s dumb.

john July 14, 2016 um 4:25 pm

you go, girl!

MD July 14, 2016 um 1:23 pm

Hey, I’m a GUY and I did know "a", and didn’t think "b"

Moriah Jovan July 14, 2016 um 10:39 pm

This is true. BYU’s cosmetics section’s hard to miss, though. 😉

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