The Move That Doomed Borders Bookstores

With a bankruptcy filing almost certainly in the Borders bookstore chain’s immediate future, LA Times writer Stephen Ceasar recently spent some time at the Glendale location (pictured), chatting with customers. One was there to unload a gift card before it became obsolete, while another told the reporter she appreciated the serene, less crowded atmosphere than that of the nearby Barnes & Noble.

The real trouble for Borders, as Ceasar points out, started exactly a decade ago, when the company’s executives made a decision that today seems unfathomable:

In 2001, just as Internet commerce was beginning to thrive, Borders made the mistake of turning its online sales over to Amazon, a competitor, which gained vital customer information such as purchasing habits. “It’s unheard-of,” book publishing expert Al Greco said. “It’s as if Coca-Cola asked Pepsi to distribute Coca-Cola.”

Sure enough, Amazon was able to lure away Borders customers with its slick website functionality, especially the widget that matched a buyer’s choices to other commensurate book titles. By the time Borders finally launched its own online service in 2008, it was way too late to catch up to Amazon and even Barnes & Noble, though that chain is also in trouble.

Update – 02/16/11: Borders has filed today for bankruptcy and released a list of the 200 stores it plans to close. Among them is the Glendale location at 100 South Brand Blvd. profiled in the above mentioned LA Times article.