retail news in context, analysis with attitude

DNA info has a story about how 16 Chicago area bookstores have joined together to issue a statement "criticizing Amazon's plans to put its first brick-and-mortar bookstore in the city in Lakeview" and addressing "the benefits of independent booksellers and the impact the massive online superstore has had on community businesses."

According to the story, "The shops, scattered across Chicago from Hyde Park to Lincoln Square and into the suburbs, 'pride themselves on serving customers who read voraciously and eclectically and on using books to create a conversation with customers and their communities,' the statement reads. The statement cites a January report co-sponsored by the American Booksellers Association that accused Amazon of skirting sales taxes and costing Illinois an estimated $59.8 million in revenue in 2014. Another study found the company's presence has resulted in a net loss of 7,800 retail jobs in the state, the letter says."

One local bookseller, Lynn Mooney, says that she sees Amazon's bricks-and-mortar plans as the ultimate compliment - "that a profit-driven corporation like Amazon is trying to copy our business model. I don't know if they can copy our commitment to community building, sustainable local economies, social activism and free speech and the free exchange of ideas, so I'm confident we'll come out stronger in the end."
KC's View:
I think it is great to issue a statement of solidarity, but in the end, the most important statement that these retailers can make is to compete effectively with Amazon. I'm not sure there's any moral superiority in being small or independent, much as small and independent stores somehow would like to think so.

This is a delusion often held by those of us who fall into the "small and independent" category in any segment of business. It may allow us to sleep better at night, but it isn't necessarily true. The small and independent are better at some things than larger businesses, and probably not as good at others. It is up to the small and independent businesses to identify their strengths and build on them, understanding that they have to come to the table with a differential advantage every day.

By the way, it sounds like many of the Chicago bookstores involved with the statement are doing exactly this - they've established niches and identities that differentiate them in the marketplace.

Make the statement, but then go out and compete. And always remember that "compete" is a verb.

There's a movie about this. You've Got Mail, in which Meg Ryan's character - an independent bookstore owner - does a lot of things right, but operates under the delusion that she's morally superior to the big chain store up the street. And (SPOILER ALERT!) she eventually fails, but she's unable to differentiate herself enough, and compete on price enough, to make a dent in the bigger operation.

(I wish someone would write a book about business lessons from the movies...)