When Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKS) announced its Nook e-reader in October, the ability to pursue a dual in-store and online sales strategy appeared to be one of the clear advantages it might have over Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN). But, as we first reported then, the chain didn’t plan to sell Nooks to go in all its stores for the 2009 holidays — and, as it turned out, the combination of demand and distribution issues kept the device from store shelves. Instead, most people who bought Nooks at B&N stores were placing online orders for delivery weeks or months into the future — not buying them for same-day use. I watched in one store as someone changed his mind pre-Christmas about buying a Nook because he wouldn’t get it until February.
But B&N says that’s all about to change now, at least in some stores. Hoping to get a retail boost from Valentine’s Day, the chain plans to stock most stores with Nooks by mid-week — even promising to update an in-store locator chart daily starting Wednesday. The popular themes in response to the news? Too little, too late or Nook meets Godzilla aka iPad and inevitably loses. Both are short-sighted.
Barnes & Noble stumbled with software and distribution but the Nook is still a potentially appealing device, especially to those more interested in a dedicated e-reader than a multi-purpose tablet. Fanboys, fangirls and early adopters may not flinch at the iPad’s price range but $259 leaves wallet room for a Kate Spade cover and a lot of books. In-store sales should also help when it comes to competing with the Kindle, which can only be ordered online. Amazon plays matchmaker for people who want to try a Kindle; B&N has working hands-on displays in every store. If people can try, buy and start reading the same day — or get instant gift gratification — Nook should have an edge, at least for the next few months.
— Software update: As for the software knocks, B&N says users should see improvements with new release Nook v1.2. Devices are being updated automatically over the air this week or users can download it themselves. Among the promised changes: Better in-store access to free WiFi, easier to find which books can be shared, and, a personal favorite that covers a multitude of sins, “overall system improvements and battery optimization.”
— Keeping connected: About that enhanced WiFi access. B&N wants owners to see the Nook as an in-store device, encouraging users to bring their devices into stores for access to exclusive content or offers through the store’s free WiFi. That push begins in earnest now with a free short story, a cupcake recipe, a 10 percent discount on CDs if the user shows the clerk the Nook, and more.