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Last year I wanted to buy Thinking in Bets (great book, btw). I was feeling impatient, so I looked it up on Barnes and Noble's website, and saw that a store where I was had it in stock.

I went in to purchase it, and the price in store was a couple bucks higher than the listed price online. I asked the clerk about it, and he kind of shrugged and said he couldn't do anything about it.

I walked out without the book and ordered it from Amazon on my phone in the parking lot.

I still can't fathom the decision-making that led to that pricing strategy.

I can’t fathom the decision-making that led to spending the time to go down to the store for some instant gratification and then leaving over a $2 difference.

Because you don't want to reward bald-faced manipulation. It's not about saving two dollars.

It’s not manipulation. They mention the price difference on their website:


Beyond that, the in-store price is considered to be the “normal” pricing. You are getting a discount on the website.

So instead you reward amazon treating its employees terribly.

No, the reward is for the convenience.

They are both really convenient though.

What do you call the manipulation that amazon does then?

Reliability and sound logic are big for me. Amazon is more consistent in that that are always squeezing.

I don’t like a company that sometimes squeezes and sometimes caresses.

Presumably it was the principle of the matter. Bait and switch generally being seen in a negative light...

probably spent $2 in gas too... but sometimes it's just principles.

Sunk cost fallacy? At the very least he learned to not bother going to that bookstore for future purchases.

Unless he doesn't want to wait for the book... which is the reason he said he went there to begin with. Doesn't Amazon also charge extra to get your stuff faster (Prime subscription)?

It actually costs them a ton of money to physically label the prices on each book. B&N adds their own sticker over the top of the MSRP when they receive the book. Changing the sticker every time the online price is changed would cost them a small fortune.

If you're ever wondering why the online price differs from the in-store price by a significant amount, usually it's not because the retailer is trying to gouge you. It's because they would have to pay to have the shelves re-tagged. Retailers don't use the regular store associates to re-tag shelves. Instead they usually have roving teams of contractors who go around retagging everything on the store shelves periodically.

The only way to really eliminate this is using electronic shelf labels, and that's quite impossible in a bookstore. Much of their inventory is thinner than the tags themselves.

He’s not complaining about the price tag not matching the online price. He’s complaining about the cashier applying the tag price and not the lower price advertised online. I also find it confusing when retailers apply different prices online and at physical stores, unless the fact that the online price is different is very clearly stated.

but would you find it weird if one physical location charges a different price to another store at a different physical location?

For some kinds of retail businesses I do expect one price independent of the location within the country. Not for groceries, of course, but I do expect consistent pricing in Zara or Ikea.

I see no reason to expect people in lower cost locales to subsidize people in higher cost locales.

Companies that apply a nation-wide pricing scheme do see a reason, I guess.

Few retailers selling sufficient quantities of high margin goods might do it, but most need to factor in local costs such as labor, property tax, and rent. Especially once the gap in costs diverge significantly between regions.

And no bats an eye at paying more at a restaurant in SF or Manhattan.

Half price books has solved this in a rather ingenious way: they just sell the book for half of what the MSRP is on the cover. No need to tag anything, decent markup, and the price data is already there/doesn’t need to be created. It’s little efficiencies like this that make HPB one of the most successful brick and mortar bookstores out there.

Selling books for half does not sound lik "decent" markup lol.

Considering they buy the books from people for something like 10% of the MSRP, it is definitely a decent markup for them.

Sounds more like the markup in MSRP is something like 500%. Which is not unexpected in retail.

The longer you have to hold inventory, the more markup you should apply. Books probably have a fantastically long tail if you sort each one by rate of books sold per month or per year. Some books may sit on the shelves for several years before someone comes along and buys it.

B&N doesn’t put their own price stickers over the MSRP / barcode. In certain sections they would have an X% off on the top-right of the front cover like new and best seller hard-covers, and specific prices on the discounted/remaindered looking stuff, but that’s also on the front cover. The main sections divided by topic (which is all full price) don’t have any stickers. They just sell stuff at full price and then apply discounts if you’re a member (only 10%), coupons etc.

Borders did put a sticker on every book. 2nd & Charles does too.

Then at that point paying a couple of dollars for them to maintain inventory at a physical location in a strip mall is probably razor thin. Retail space typically costs significantly more than equivalently sized warehouse space.

Books all have barcode with entries in their POS linked database, why not just have the current price linked to it? When I used to work for BN during my college days, that's how it worked. When a book was on sale, there was no need to re-tag the books, it was just a database update.

Home Depot has solved this in their appliances section. They now have e-ink screens on everything.

What's confusing? Shipping a book from a warehouse is cheaper and maintaining a website is cheaper than setting up and selling from a physical store. If I order a book online, I don't want to subsidize the walk in customers.

What makes it confusing is that you can check local store inventory online, order online at the online price and pickup in an hour from the store. However if you grab the book yourself from the physical store and save them a step, they absolutely won’t honor the online price. You have to order online and wait an hour while they take the book off the shelf for you. Or you get exasperated with the ridiculousness of the whole thing and buy from amazon leaving b&n with no sale.

> However if you grab the book yourself from the physical store and save them a step

The average customer gettibg the book themselves rather than ordering it and picking up at the counter is imposing more cost (and that's even more true of the average in-store customer, who probably hasn't searched online for a particular title and checked inventory and then decided not to do online purchase and pickup; by doing that you are making yourself indistinguishable, from a pricing policy perspective, from a much more expensive to serve class of customer.)

I feel like the response then is to get the manager and do so in front of them.

If you pick it up directly from the store you pay for the convenience of having the item right now.

They should at least be price matching their own website.

They don't want to make to convenient for you to get the online price at the store. They want to force your to the extra step of ordering and waiting.

I can’t think of any other retailer that does this. Best Buy, Walmart, Famous Footwear, Bed Bath and Beyond, etc. all honor the same prices in person as they do online.

Best Buy got in to legal trouble because they'd point 'bestbuy.com' from within the store to a different online store with prices that matched the in-store prices (i.e. higher prices).

No, not all of them.

Over the past few years, products at my local Best Buy are regularly 20-40% more than on their site. (Unless you order through the site for local pickup... then you can get the online price.)

Walgreens is the same. Might be $12 online but $18 in my local store.

Barnes and Noble is pretty par for the course in this.

My experience is that BestBuy will price match bestbuy.com, Newegg and Amazon. Their price match policy says they match: Amazon.com, Crutchfield.com, Dell.com, HP.com, Newegg.com, and TigerDirect.com, but I’ve gotten them to match online.

My experience with the office supply places and Target is that they'll happily match their online price, but the in store price is generally higher on items that aren't specifically on sale - sometimes dramatically so. Not sure about Best Buy, but they'll match a bunch of other online retailers so I'm more likely doing that anyway.

I'm surprised by the experience related here - I'd absolutely expect the store to price match online when asked about it even though I believe they were separate divisions.

Target does this. The price of certain online items sometimes varies in store, but they at least inform you of it on their website.

The Target mobile app is more opaque about this.

If you have accepted location permissions for the Target app, the app will show the in-store price when it can tell you're in a store.

The only way of knowing this is that in smaller/lighter print under the price, it'll either say "Online" or whatever store location.

The most egregious example was an item I bought that cost 40% more in-store versus online, and you'd never know had you looked at the app.

i also noticed the app matching the in-store price based on location. and yup, store employees will match online prices without question, but only if you ask.

i don't shop there much anymore, but i've done bopus (buy online, pick up in store) before to get the online price directly.

On top of the stores others have mentioned, Costco seems to have randomly different prices between their physical stores and their online store. (With the physical store more frequently being the cheaper price.)

They strongly imply that the difference is the shipping being included in the online price. In-store displays often say "May be available on costco.com at a shipped price."

And still, nearly all retailers have adopted a price-matching policy that matches not just their own website, but competitors as well.

There's really not a good reason for their in-store price to be higher than their online price in 2019.

There's really not a good reason for their in-store price to be higher than their online price in 2019.

Think of the price match as a coupon that you have/know about but others don't. The store is content to sell you the item at a discount (they likely still make money and they keep you coming to them) but they'd still prefer to sell to you at the higher price.

Not sure if you are aware, but matching competitor prices is actually anti-consumer. It's counterintuitive but it means that your competitors won't lower the price on the first place. Kinda like implicit price fixing.

It's actually not - if a competitor thinks it can sell more widgets at a lower price and make it up in the increase volume, they will lower the price. If that's the price which maximizes revenue for them, they'll leave it. It's straight forward supply and demand.

I agree it’s anti-consumer in some significant ways. I think of it as not competing as vigorously as you could on price, by publicizing that for the consumers who are willing to do extra work, that you’ll eventually honor the best price they found at a qualifying competitor, but that you’re not going to be the one who initiates the first salvo in the price war.

It's competing as much as you need to to make the sale, not competing as much as you can.

You’re gonna have a bad time in business if you think the objective is to lower the price as much as possible without regard for what the market is paying.

Indeed if I thought that, which I see no evidence to suggest that I do.

I don't think this argument refutes the previous point (which I found surprising, but I think is a good one). Normally, if a competitor lowers prices to undercut me, they will sell more widgets because people will switch to them. But with price matching, they know they won't sell more widgets (because people won't switch), so they keep their price high, which enables me to do so as well.

This is of course a very stylized/idealized argument, but I think it's a good point to consider.

It's deceptive, if you're going to advertise a price make it clear that the price is online only.

That I absolutely agree with. They should do that.

the value of the book doesn't change depending on its distribution channel

Of course the value of a book changes based on the distribution channel.

Immediacy has value, so if you need something _now_ you will be willing to pay for that.

Also, you have to pay in time and money to go to the store, so you _may_ be willing to pay more to have the book delivered.

In both situations, the way the book gets to you changes the price you're willing to pay.

The value of "shipping fees" changes depending on speed, but those are always separate from the cost of the actual item being purchased.

Absolutely does. The experience of going to a bookstore, browsing through the shelves, perhaps reading a few pages while sitting on a comfortable couches, perhaps talking to a knowledgeable salesperson about books (or life or anything), definitely has value. And I believe that value is greater than the convenience of ordering books online and then having to wait a 1-14 days for the book to deliver.

> perhaps talking to a knowledgeable salesperson about books

You aren’t likely to talk to a knowledgeable salesperson at a chain bookseller, as generally they are not big book fans. They just needed a job, and these chains will hire just about anyone who can competently work their POS systems.

I can understand certain independent bookshops having great additional value to customers because their proprietors and the other clerks were voracious readers. However, for Borders/Barnes & Noble/Waldenbooks, and various other US chains, their staff has been generally unable to talk in any depth on books since at least the 1990s when I first visited them.

You aren’t likely to talk to a knowledgeable salesperson at a chain bookseller, as generally they are not big book fans. They just needed a job, and these chains will hire just about anyone who can competently work their POS systems.

As somebody who spends a ridiculous amount of time at my local Barnes & Noble store (I work from their cafe a lot, but also come here to buy books a lot), and who has gotten to know most of the staff here pretty well, I would say that this does not jibe with my (n=1) experience. It doesn't prove anything, but the people who work here (the New Hope Commons store, in Durham, NC) are quite often bibliophiles, and/or are very knowledgeable about books and/or quite a few other things. One of the baristas is a masters student in Data Science and always points out to me if some new techie book has shown up on the shelves that he thinks I might be interested in. Several of the employees are also authors in their own right, and I just finished one of their books which was, if not exactly great, definitely at least worth reading. Another lady ran one of the first ISP's somewhere in the midwest back in the day, and knows all sorts of interesting stuff. Amazingly she didn't know about the show Halt & Catch Fire until I mentioned it to her the other day.

Anyway, I digress... the point is just that at this one store, at least, there is a staff of people who are quite knowledgeable/interesting and make it worth coming in, in order to interact with them.

Barnes & Noble actually used to have pretty knowledgeable and devoted booksellers at least in some areas and despite pretty crappy pay. Those were the people who just love books and they were willing to take the low pay for a job in an industry that they were attached to. From a business standpoint though that meant that you had people who would stay at the store for much longer than is common in a lot of retail settings.

That really changed after a disappointing 2017 holiday season when they laid off close to 2000 mostly long term employees in February 2018. They basically dumped a lot of long-term employees and hired much less experienced basic retail workers if they hired anyone at all. There was actually a fair amount of angst about it at the time particularly among bibliophiles.

A trenchant but insightful review of events from the time: https://audreyii-fic.tumblr.com/post/170886347853/the-entire...

Then why does every online store allow you to pay more for faster shipping?

> Last year I wanted to buy Thinking in Bets (great book, btw). I was feeling impatient, so I looked it up on Barnes and Noble's website, and saw that a store where I was had it in stock.

> I went in to purchase it, and the price in store was a couple bucks higher than the listed price online.

If you looked at in on the web and saw that it was in stock, it also had a “buy online and pick up at X store” button on the results page online, which is both more convenient and avoids the problem you relate (they've had that feature for years, and I just tested and it's still there now.)

The in store price is probably higher because people coming in, going through the stacks and de-merchandising books, asking questions, etc., cost more to service, and would be even more unsustainably unprofitable if online prices, which are for sales that don't have those costs associated were charged (meanwhile, online sales would be uncompetitive if in-store prices were charged.)

Going off topic. I looked up that book on Amazon and one critical review said it was the same thing repeated over and over and he could sum up the book's advice in one paragraph:

Make a decision as if you are betting all of your money on your choice. Don't take shortcuts based on your inborn biases and seek contrarian opinions and experienced counsel. Don't blame bad luck on bad outcomes; figure out how you could have made a better informed decision. Oh, and surprise, surprise, join groups with participants who have had similar experiences and expertise who can critique your choices and illuminate your blindspots. There you go.

Was he wrong?

Yes and no. You could summarize 'The Wealth of Nations' the same way and it would also sound pretty basic and not worth the 800+ page read. I agree in general that 'Thinking in Bets' is conceptually thin, in the sense that there's a high text-to-ideas ratio, but there's some value in reading all of that. Duke does a good job of describing her own thoughts and experiences, in a way that makes you want to actually apply those ideas in your own life (rather than just read about them). A better book on the topic is 'Fooled by Randomness.' It's much more conceptually dense and covers a lot of the same ideas.

That makes sense alright. The fooled by randomness does sound more interesting.

Maybe you ended up ordering on Amazon on principle, but FWIW you can order from B&N online and do in-store pickup

People are usually prepared to pay a bit more to get something right away vs. in a few days.

It works out great (usually) for the impatient, but terribly for the patient that are aware of their options.

The problem is that as a lazy person, waiting a day or two for something to be delivered straight to my doorstep is less effort than having to go to a store to pick something up.

Why does this work out terribly for the patient?

It's not like you're going to die if you don't get the book you want in 2 days, or even 3-7 business days. (Not that I buy physical books anymore typically, but it applies to other items)

People have just grown very impatient over time. I found myself getting annoyed that I wasn't receiving some items in 1 day (in Korea), until I reflected on what I actually was getting annoyed over.

Personally I find myself buying things on amazon or gmarket simply to avoid having to drive to the store.

Are you sure the one online was the same imprint and trim size as the one in-store? Publishers often have multiple different imprints and trim sizes as a means of price discrimination, as well as for stylistic reasons.

Just the other week I went into Barnes & Noble to purchase a book and they had two different trim sizes of the same exact book right next to each other. Both paperback but one was large-and-thin while the other was small-and-thick. The former was about $4 more than the latter.

Barnes & Noble online is run as a completely different business than the brick and mortar stores. The prices are not posted to match on any items. Brick & Mortar stores will not honor any online posted prices because of this strategy.

I had the exact same thing with a D&D book. I don't remember which (it was 5th ed, so fairly recent), but online it was equal to the Amazon price. In person it was like $10-20 more, and yeah, wouldn't price match.

Taught me to never look at B&N for a book I wanted again. I only ever go in there now when I happen to pass one with time to kill and just want to browse.

This is norm in europe with most online stores (especially smaller ones) that have physical store.

It makes sese to me since i dont have to pay for shipping.

From the parking lot? In your car? With which you spent $2 in gas to travel there and back?

This boils down to voting with your dollars, the root comment didn't like B&N's business practice and gave their business to someone else.

I mean $2 seems fair for them to hold it in inventory and take the risk.

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