Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Q&A With George Jones CEO, Borders Group, Inc.

After losing market share to both online and offline competitors, Borders seems to be turning the page to a more positive chapter. Driving the turnaround of the book and music chain is George Jones, the former CEO of Saks Department Stores and an executive at Target. Jones recently discussed Borders strategic plans at a presentation at the Leadership In Retail Forum in NYC and shared insights into the chain’s rapidly growing loyalty program as well as the pending re-launch of its own proprietary e-commerce site.

Retail TouchPoints chatted with Jones following his presentation to learn more about the chain’s plans for cross-channel retailing, new store formats and how the Rewards program will factor into its overall destination strategy.

Retail TouchPoints: The growth of the Borders Rewards program has been very impressive, now topping 21.5 million members. Can you describe some of the innovative steps you have taken to drive membership in the loyalty program. Also, can you touch on some of the long-term strategic initiatives the growth of the Rewards program will enable and support?

Jones: Our Borders Rewards program is one of the largest and fastest-growing customer loyalty programs in the specialty retail industry. Today, there are more than 21.5 million Borders Rewards members, and the program is growing at an impressive rate of about 150,000 new members per week. The program is free to join and members earn $5 in “Borders Bucks” for every $150 of qualifying purchases. In addition, they receive great coupons and exclusive in-store offers through a weekly e-mail called the “Shortlist.” The Shortlist is a very effective marketing tool because it not only allows Borders to deliver weekly coupons and savings opportunities, but also enables us to introduce and recommend compelling book, music and movie titles for sale in our stores.

Leveraging this program has enabled Borders to support nearly all of the company’s strategic initiatives including our proprietary and exclusive publishing program. We used Borders Rewards and the Shortlist with great impact when promoting our first proprietary novel—Nick Santora’s “Slip & Fall”—which was sold exclusively in Borders and Waldenbooks stores. This book reached national bestseller lists largely due to our ability to promote it to Borders Rewards members. In addition to proprietary and exclusive publishing, the Borders Rewards program also enables us to deliver on our broad cross-channel retail strategy. For example, through the Shortlist, we are able to introduce customers to the exclusive and original video programming Borders is creating and making available online.

“Many retailers are multi-channel—meaning they operate in more than one channel—but we are seeking to differentiate Borders by blending the best of the online shopping experience with the best of the bricks-and-mortar experience to create a greater overall customer experience.”—George Jones

Retail TouchPoints: You talked about taking back the Borders e-commerce site, can you expand on some of the intangible business benefits that will provide you. Also can you elaborate on how that will help you strengthen your relationships with customers across channels?

Jones: Our upcoming proprietary Borders e-commerce site, scheduled to launch in early 2008, is a key chttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gifomponent of our strategic plan and one I feel will help to truly differentiate Borders in the marketplace. Many retailers are multi-channel—meaning they operate in more than one channel—but we are seeking to differentiate Borders by blending the best of the online shopping experience with the best of the bricks-and-mortar experience to create a greater overall customer experience. We are previewing some of the features of the upcoming Borders.com site on a beta site and have invited our customers to test drive those features including the Magic Shelf —a virtual representation of a Borders store book shelf with the browse-ability of a store visit. Customer feedback on this feature is very positive so far and we are anxious to launch the new site because it’s essential to our cross-channel strategy and to facilitating the Borders Rewards program online.


Fred Zimmerman said...

As a long-time Borders customer and stockholder, I have to say that the Borders Reward program so far offers no worthwhile benefits to me. $5 after $150? e-mail (aka spam?) How about giving me a 15% discount ... or improved sale prices on books -- 45% off bestsellers instead of 40%.

As for the new Borders.com, I don't think they have figured out the cross-channel stuff yet ... I don't see the unique compelling benefit yet. How about letting me walk through the store and bar scan books that I want to add to my Kindle? That might do it...

George Jones, I hope you're reading this ;-)

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