I tried to buy a book in the real world. In the process, I learned a lesson about the value of physical space.

Last Thursday, I needed a certain business book quite urgently and decided to get it from an actual store. But first, I wanted to make sure it would be there. I logged into the Strand Books web site and saw that they have it in stock.

I walked over to the store, walked in, and found a human who worked there. I asked him whether they have the book, he asked the computer, and the computer said they did. He was very nice and printed a little sticker for me. “Take this downstairs and hand it to a staff member”.

I did as I was told. The next staff member was also very nice. I followed him to the book’s location. The book wasn’t there. We looked through some of the carts around the store. No luck. “If you give me your email, I can let you know once we find it. If we don’t find it, we’ll let you know once we get another copy”. Okay. I guess. Let’s do it. I gave him my name and email and went home.

Then came Friday and the weekend and I was occupied with other things. On Monday, I received an email that the book was now in store. Unfortunately, I was not near Strand that day, but I still wanted the book. I decided to try another strategy: I went to the Barnes & Noble web site and saw that the book was available at the store near my subway stop. If I ordered online, I could pick it up within an hour on the way back home.

Sounds good. I don’t have a B&N account, so I entered my credit card details and checked out as a guest. I shut down my computer and headed for the subway. 20 minutes later I received an email that my order wasn’t processed. I must have made an error while entering my credit card details. Why didn’t they tell me that in real time? Or maybe they did and I didn’t notice? And if so, why email me half an hour later and not immediately? I don’t know.

I was already in the subway, without a computer, and wasn’t going to start entering my payment details on my phone. I guess I’ll wait another day for that book. I arrived home, had a nice dinner, and was again occupied with other things. There’s always tomorrow.

The following day I was back at the office. I’ll do it properly this time. I went back to the Barnes & Noble web site, found the book, entered by credit card details carefully, and — a few minutes later— received a confirmation that my book was available for pick up at the store near my house.

On the way home, I got out of the subway, and went into the Barnes & Noble store. I’m finally going to get my book! I looked around the store. There were four cashier counters but only one of them was staffed. And there were five people in line. It was late and I really wanted to go home and eat. I‘ve been waiting a week for this book. But I couldn’t be bothered to wait in line.

I pulled the phone out of my pocket and ordered it from Amazon. It took about three clicks. The following day, the book was waiting for me at home.


Two days later, I had a meeting on 34th Street. One of the guys mentioned a book I must read. I never heard of it. Nor did the other guy in the meeting. “You must read it”, he said, “you’ll enjoy it immensely”. Sounds good. Amazon has a store down the street, once the meeting is done I’ll go there and see if they have it. It’s not a new or very popular book, but let’s see. “I’ll come with you”, he said “I always buy these to give them as gifts”.

The meeting was over. The three of us walked over to Amazon’s physical store two minutes away. There was no line. We asked one of the staff members whether they had the book, and she pointed us to the “Business and [I don’t remember]” section to our left. There were only 50 or so books on display. The book we wanted was one of them. There were three copies, exactly what we wanted.

My friend swiped his credit card, which was automatically linked to his Prime account for a discount, and we walked out. I was happy. And I couldn’t help thinking that Amazon knew we would want these books and made sure they were waiting for us at that store.

It turns out that nothing beats the physical retail experience. And location is still immensely important. Amazon gets it. Do you?


Photo credit: Becca Tapert on Unsplash