Thursday, November 29, 2012

Why I window-shop in physical bookstores but buy online

As Gary Becker and Richard Posner put it Amazon’s book-recommendation program is primitive, and is no substitute for browsing in a well-stocked bookstore.  And even if the book recomendation alogorithm is refined(like the famous Netflix one) taking into account previous purchasing/browsing history, social media, recommendations etc, it removes the element of serendipity. If I want to check out books and look for new ideas/mental models, then a bookstore is the best place to start. Also, I may see titles that may just be right for a friend/relative.

Also, browsing through the pages of a book is rarely possible online, even Amazon gives hardly 10% of the book. On the other hand, Amazon etc have excellent reviews, which often give away the gist of the book itself and state both positive negative points. Hence, on the quality assessment/preview front, online probably wins.

One also cannot compare the prices-paying list price online, often import parity prices despite the increasing Indian editions these days, versus locating the lowest cost book often at discounts upto 40% through sites like or From the cost angle therefore, online is not comparable.

Evidence also states that people hardly read most books they purchase. Hence, to prevent information overload/buying books you are not likely to read, a cooling off period and searching for online reviews/alternatives is a good thing before making a decision to buy something you saw offline.

Still, having stated why I do it, it would be fair to give examples where physical book stores may actually work and prosper.
  1.  This gives the example of an independent bookstore which installed the Expresso 'print on demand' book printer, and pays fanatical attention to customer service with an unrivaled staff of passionate and educated booksellers. 
  2.  This book gives information about the rare book market, for which online buying may be more expensive, and the book may not be there next time you return. This is a good business model for those who can tie up supplies.
  3. Impulse purchases books like those in airport/railway/bus stations, for which no alternative is available
  4. Stores supported with coffee/food cafes, music/related merchandise etc. The Landmark chain of bookstores owned by the Trend Group(part of Indian conglomerate Tata Group) is a prime example. This is because it creates an entire experience complete with sofas/bean bags etc, for which customers feel the urge to pay