Why Borders’ Closing Down Sale Isn’t That Exciting

Borders is closing all but nine of its Australian stores. That means that the closing stores must be a bonanza of cheap books, right? Wrong.

Earlier this afternoon, I found myself at the Macquarie Shopping Centre with my five year old son and half an hour to kill. Outside the rather large and flashy Borders bookstore.

Borders sent out an email to its newsletter subscribers last night indicating that it was closing all but nine of their Australian stores. For reference, the stores that are closing are Chatswood, Hornsby, Kotara, Macarthur Square, Macquarie Centre, Parramatta, Tuggerah, Brisbane, Garden City, Camberwell, Doncaster, Geelong, Highpoint, South Yarra, South Wharf and Adelaide, and they’re said to be closing “within the next eight weeks”.

The email I’d read said that 20-40% off sales would be commencing on a store by store basis immediately, and the Macquarie Centre store was on that shortlist of soon to be dead stores. As such, I was prepared to do some serious shopping — of a sort.

For absolute mass-market paperbacks Borders has never been that compelling a buying solution, simply because the likes of Kmart tend to undercut them severely on that kind of text, but for more obscure titles, especially imports, they can sometimes have some great oddities.

I specifically went in there thinking I’d see what (if anything) they had left in the Asterix library; there’s a few quite large holes in my collection, and the individual titles have of late been rather costly — typically $20-$25 for a softcover and $30-$35 for a hardcover volume. Heading to the back of the store, I scoured the shelves and found four titles I didn’t have. Two hardcovers at $32.95 each, and two paperbacks at $22.95 each. With the huge 20% off signs plastered everywhere, it looked like I had quite a deal on my hands.

Until I paused, breathed in, thought about it, and pulled my phone out of my pocket. The key with this kind of sale is always to stop and think, because so many stores presume you’ll be overwhelmed by all the huge percentage discount signs everywhere and just blindly buy. A mobile browser opened and a few quick taps later checked the price of the volumes I was looking at from Amazon UK, where they’re still doing free shipping on orders over twenty five pounds.

Those $22.95 paperbacks? Five pounds ninety nine each, delivered. The hardcovers are an even better deal, at eight pounds ninety nine each. A quick bit of currency translation puts that at $9.30 and $13.99 respectively. That’s quite a bit different to the prices I would have got, even at “bargain” rates. Heck, even if the titles are still there when Borders applies the 40% markdown to everything (which will presumably be just before the doors close forever), it’s still more expensive!

And if I needed further proof, all I had to do was wander over to the DVD selection. By chance, I’d been there a fortnight before, when they’d started clearing that section. At the time, every title was being sold out at $10 each. Now, they all bore huge (and by the look of them, freshly printed in multiple colours at cost) signs proclaiming them at 40% off list price. Again, looks good, except that 40% off list price of an average DVD price of $30 is still a lot more than $10. Or in other words, under the new “sale”, the prices have actually gone up.

Clearly, the administrators appointed to oversee the business are in a bind. They’ve got to maximise the possible return for the business, so they’re in no way obliged to give things away simply to get stock off store shelves. Their problems aren’t the problems of a consumer, especially for a business that won’t accept returns other than on dud stock, and won’t accept gift vouchers at all any more. And ultimately, it’s a very good indication that, even in closing-down sales, what seems like a bargain at first glance might actually be a bad deal.

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