NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- I miss several things about living in San Francisco, including the fog, the cold and the local bookstores.
I love my current residence, Santa Monica, as much, if not more than San Francisco. But I do wish our local scene was homier and more captivating, particularly when it comes to bookshops. Other than locally owned stores focused on somewhat narrow topics,
Barnes & Noble
is the only one within walking distance of where I live.
Despite a supposed shift in strategy, Barnes & Noble is still soulless, cosmetically and otherwise. I'm not sure how long the current iteration can last.
I 'Showroomed.' And It Felt Good
I often get reading suggestions by eavesdropping in bookstores. Over the weekend at the Santa Monica Barnes & Noble, I heard a woman tell the person she was with how great the book
is. Their conversation led me to pick up the book and browse the jacket.
Before seeing the price, I decided to buy it. After deciding $24.95 was bit too steep, I was going to move on. But then it hit me: I'll look for it on
Given my interests, line of work and the frequency with which I use my smartphone to do all sorts of things, it's surprising that, up to then, I had never,
in the moment
, looked something up on my phone while in a store with the sole purpose of buying it. I have researched items that I had no intention of buying, but have never made a purchase decision, balked at the in-store price and gone mobile to buy.
For whatever reason, I felt strange doing this. I looked around as I did it to make sure nobody was watching. If a store employee or security guard discovered what I was doing, I sensed they would treat me like a shoplifter. To top it off, I was in a Barnes & Noble store, cheating on Barnes & Noble with Amazon.com, using, of all things, a free in-store Wi-Fi connection.
Is this a form of stealing in 2012?
Long story short. I got the book for $14.39 with free shipping. If I had to pay sales tax, it would have only been about $1.45 more. It makes zero sense to use anything but Amazon in that situation.
I feel bad, like some sort of hypocrite, for contributing to the slow road to extinction for local stores. I support my fair share, but, let's face it, I participate in collective behavior that makes entities like local booksellers go out of business. Most of us do.
But I feel no remorse whatsoever for taking my turn at pounding the nail into Barnes & Noble's coffin. Simply put, it's a terrible company that has done absolutely nothing to innovate itself out of the mess it's in.
Practically every company in the world can learn something from
. That includes Barnes & Noble, as well as companies like
, who are trotting out feeble imitations of Apple's retail concept.
The latter two attempt to carbon copy the entire look and feel of an Apple Store. They both fail. Barnes & Noble ridiculously organizes the center of its main floor in what I presume is supposed to be Apple-like fashion. It's a disaster.
Barnes & Noble mounts a few Nooks on a couple of tables with a rent-a-cop and sometimes poorly dressed employee manning the area. There's never a crowd around the Nooks because nobody cares. They have removed books from much of the rest of this main section of the store, replacing them with accessories for your "gadgets," reading lights and other assorted, cheap-looking plastic crap. It's a complete embarrassment.
Somebody somewhere in retail has to do something, and soon. I'm not exactly sure what, but I've got a better beat on it than the current crew of executives who lead companies like Barnes & Noble.
Take a cue from professional sports. At many venues across the country, you can pay the price of admission, never watch a second of a baseball or hockey game and get two or three hours' worth of quality entertainment. For goodness sake, the Arizona Diamondbacks have a swimming pool situated 415 feet from home plate at their stadium.
Endless possibilities exist. Simply put, work other activities and attractions that interest people into the shopping experience. Marry them. Create a sustainable spectacle.
As it stands, the retail environment induces the type of boredom that makes so many of us reach for our smartphones to start killing time. That's the last thing Barnes & Noble should encourage you to do after you walk through the door. It simply cannot end well.
At the time of publication, the author was long MSFT
This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.
Rocco Pendola is a private investor with nearly 20 years experience in various forms of media, ranging from radio to print. His work has appeared in academic journals as well as dozens of online and offline publications. He uses his broad experience to help inform his coverage of the stock market, primarily in the technology, Internet and new media spaces. He has taken a long-term approach to investing, focusing on dividend-paying stocks, since he opened his first account as a teenager. Pendola, 37, is based in Santa Monica, Calif., where he lives with his wife and child.