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Can Barnes and Noble engage Borders customers?

Celebrating at a funeral is in bad taste, so I’m sure the folks at B&N had to think carefully about how to address the contacts they got from a recent acquisition of Borders customer data. Too friendly and cheerful would come across as celebration; too mournful and sympathetic would appear inauthentic or worse.  Barnes and Noble recently acquired the customer list from Borders in the sale of assets last week at bankruptcy court. There was some concern from thoughtful persons about this, as though such a list acquisition was equivalent to inheriting your best friend’s Little Black Book and proceeding to work your way through the conquests listed. I don’t think it is a creepy ploy though– if the customers are approached respectfully, it seems like common sense that people who used to buy books at a bookstore might be interested in buying books from another bookstore.

Borders closing in the Bullring
Image by markhillary via Flickr

The value in this list was not understated at $14 million–most e-mail marketers can tell you that quality lists are hard to come by. Some advice for dealing with e-mail list purchases is unequivocal: never buy a list. So opportunities for a list like this come along rarely, need to be evaluated carefully and have to be handled sensitively.

I like the way the e-mail is written–there’s not a lot of graphic overhead and merely two calls to action,  one to unsubscribe and another to explain their privacy policy. There’s no heavy-handed product promotion or push to close a sale. And most of all, the disclosure here ensures that ex-Borders customers are informed about the transfer of their data and can take action. Just sending out the notice was all that they had to do–and taking a minimalist approach in what was said therein was a great way to avoid any screw-ups by presuming the reactions of the Borders customers.

Border’s (now defunct) Web site explicitly warned their customers that their data could be sold: “In the event that Borders or all of its assets are acquired in such a transaction, customer information would be one of the transferred assets.” And that was back in January 2011. This seems like a fairly standard disclaimer–but quick, go check, make sure your site has it.

Here’s the text of the e-mail notice. What do you think of it? Are they striking the right tone and taking the right approach with the Borders customers?

Dear Borders Customer,

My name is William Lynch, CEO of Barnes & Noble, and I’m writing to you
today on behalf of the entire B&N team to make you aware of
important information regarding your Borders account.

First of all let me say Barnes & Noble uniquely appreciates the
importance bookstores play within local communities, and we’re very
sorry your Borders store closed.

As part of Borders ceasing operations, we acquired some of its assets
including Borders brand trademarks and their customer list. The subject
matter of your DVD and other video purchases will be part of the
transferred information. The federal bankruptcy court approved this sale
on September 26, 2011.

Our intent in buying the Borders customer list is simply to try and earn
your business. The majority of our stores are within close proximity to
former Borders store locations, and for those that aren’t, we offer our
award-winning NOOK(TM) digital reading devices that provide a bookstore
in your pocket. We are readers like you, and hope that through our
stores, NOOK devices, and our online bookstore we can win your
trust and provide you with a place to read and shop.

It’s important for you to understand however you have the absolute right
to opt-out of having your customer data transferred to Barnes & Noble.
If you would like to opt-out, we will ensure all your data we receive
from Borders is disposed of in a secure and confidential manner. Please
visit by November 2, 2011 to do so.

Should you choose not to opt-out by November 2, 2011, be assured your
information will be covered under the Barnes & Noble privacy policy,
which can be accessed at B&N will maintain any of your data according to this policy and our strict privacy standards.

At Barnes & Noble we share your love of books–whatever shape they
take. We also take our responsibility to service communities by
providing a local bookstore very seriously. In the coming weeks,
assuming you don’t opt-out, you’ll be hearing from us with some offers
to encourage you to shop our stores and try our NOOK products. We hope
you’ll give us a chance to be your bookstore.

William Lynch

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