Borders' New Site: You Can't Always Tell A Book By Its IP Address

Borders this week officially stepped out of the shadow of Amazon and re-launched, with an effort that scores points for creativity.

The physical side of Borders (as in brick-and-mortar as opposed to Olivia Newton-John) has been trying to arrange its bookshelves to display more of the covers. This takes up more space and theoretically means that fewer books are displayed. But it also makes a more compelling "sell" for that book.

The dotcom side is trying something similar, but the virtually infinite nature of online means that the Borders site can display as many books as it wants. The ability to drag the shelf to the left or right keeps the cover images flowing.

Called the "magic shelf," that feature "is way more robust than it was before" in beta testing, said Kevin Ertell, the Borders E-Commerce exec who is in charge of the site. "People loved the concept although they didn't love some of the navigational features of it," but the shelf's scroll feature is now more extensive, he said.

Another new capability is a mouse-over information bar, which displays details of the product, including a description.

During the demo, the book descriptions worked for all products from a technical perspective (they showed up), but music and video products often did not show any meaningful description. Ertell seemed surprised and said that would be fixed.

Another drawback is that the site launched without anything equivalent to Amazon's Search Inside feature, which allows readers to search for phrases in the book and to read any page desired. Ertell said his team is working on it and that "it will be coming, hopefully this summer."

A powerful—and powerfully different—part of the Borders site is in multimedia, where the company has created "almost 200" original interviews with book authors. The look and professionalism of the videos is impressive, but it's not clear how many books it will sell.

The site also touts an integrated Borders Reward program and the ability to have the online-selected book set aside for you in a particular Borders store, similar to buy-online-pick-up-in-store, except that the customer must pay for it at the store.

In addition, the site allows customers to access their online wishlists while at the store. Checkout options will include BillMeLater and traditional credit cards, but no PayPal. At least not at launch.