Borders Made Non-Intuitive Choices For Its Concept Store

When Borders unveiled its first "concept store" this month in Ann Arbor, Mich., it offered a handful of new digital features, all intended to set up the chain's rollout of a merged channel Web site (expected to go live sometime before the end of April). But what was interesting were their choices and some of the rationale behind it.

For example, one of the digital services for their in-store kiosk was from an E-Commerce site called Shutterfly.com. That decision went beyond the attraction of digital photos, said Kevin Ertell, Borders' E-commerce chief. Shutterfly, he said, delivers a product that is much more impressive when examined in hard-copy than what can be seen on a site.

Therefore, he saw that offering as a true merged channel concept, with Borders providing the in-store environments that Shutterfly doesn't have, but needs. (Listen to Ertell discuss merged channel issues at a StorefrontBacktalk audio panel at the NRF show last month.)

Another unexpected choice was a genealogy research site called ancestry.com. Why genealogy? It delivers two desired attributes while avoiding a dreaded one. It is interactive (it needs the consumer to answer questions about relatives) and customized (the results are clearly different for different consumers), but the nature of the answers (being based on public documents, many well more than 100 years old) avoid almost all privacy concerns (Barak Obama and Dick Cheney being cousins notwithstanding).

Another interesting twist: Borders cut a deal to use a Canadian retail technology that uses highly-directional and focused speakers to deliver digital sound to one customer in a way that can't be heard by another customer inches away.

Guess we'll have to wait until April to see if the same creativity materializes online.

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