New Borders Concept Combines Clicks and Bricks

Borders chose its hometown of Ann Arbor, Mich., to debut the first of 14 new concept stores the chain plans to open in key markets this year. The 28,900-sq.-ft. store combines the bookseller’s traditional fare with an interactive mix of technology and entertainment. It introduces many previously Web-only activities into the real world of bricks-and-mortar retailing.

“This is a completely new shopping experience that sets Borders apart from every other store,” said George Jones, CEO, Borders Group. “We set out to differentiate Borders and give customers a reason to choose us over other retailers and we’ve achieved that goal spectacularly with this new concept.”

The changes start on the exterior, which has a modern fascia featuring oversized windows and a louvered construction meant to evoke images of the pages of a book. Dramatic lighting provides a welcoming glow.

In the front of the store, a special illuminated stand spotlights key items. (The store was designed by JGA, Southfield, Mich.) A large rotunda has three skylights that fill the space with natural light. A warm, neutral-toned color scheme with red accents, comfy seating and walnut-and ash-stained fixtures provide an inviting atmosphere that encourages customers to linger. Large, illuminated drums with colorful graphics suspended from the ceiling guide shoppers to key destinations within the space.

More than the interior decor, however, it is the way in which the new Borders bridges the online world and the real one that distinguishes it from the traditional retail model. The main focal point of the store is an illuminated, 15-ft. tower encased in LCD screens. The fixture highlights the “digital center,” which houses multiple computer stations where customers can do everything from download music and books to print photos to publish their own books. They also can mix and make custom CDs, and explore their family tree, even turning it into a book. (Borders has formed partnerships with such Internet companies as Ancestry.com , Shutterfly.com and LuLu.com to support its offerings.)

The design and layout of the digital area is intended to encourage customers to sit and take their time while working on projects. While self-service is most definitely an option, specially trained, dedicated staff are on hand to help non-tech savvy customers with the online services and programs.

Computers kiosks are by no means limited to the digital center. They are found throughout the store, as are large LCD TVs, which play running loops of interviews with authors, concerts and other features, along with other Borders programming.

Destinations: The new format puts a strong focus on popular, fast-growing categories—travel, cooking, wellness, graphic novels and children’s—by combining digital options and select category-related products (for example, Yoga mats in wellness, and GPS navigation systems in travel) with the more standard offerings. The departments are positioned as destination centers, or in-store shops, within the overall space. Each has its own look and feel, enhanced by large LCD screens that broadcast category-specific content.

“We are putting a stake in the ground when it comes to these categories by making the assortment and the experience so interactive and compelling, that customers will bypass competitors to come to us to shop within these key categories as well as the rest of the store,” Jones said.

In the travel section, there is a kiosk that allows shoppers to research, plan and even book a trip (via a partnership with Sidestep.com ). A mix of travel tips, guided tours, author interviews and nature programming from locations around the globe plays on the in-section LCD screens.

Similar interactive opportunities are available in the other departments. In the cooking area, customers can print out recipes and watch cooking segments featuring Food Network chefs and other personalities.

The largest of the featured destinations is the children’s section, with more than 9,000 book titles as well as CDs, DVDs, toys and games. The area is set off with a massive, 90-ft. mural by the Australian author and illustrator Colin Thompson. Among the images portrayed are colorful and intricate renderings of flying books, castles and underground cities. Two large, cutout hot-air balloons are suspended from the ceiling.

The new store is the first retail location in the country to feature LongPen technology, which enables authors and performers who are at home or another location to personalize their books, CDs and DVDs with an authentic signature for customers in the store. The virtual signing is made possible by an electronic pen used by the outside artists. It sends an Internet signal to another pen in the Borders store that precisely duplicates the signature. The retailer is piloting the technology in Ann Arbor for potential rollout in other locations.

For more photos of the new Borders concept, click on Photo Gallery on the www.chainstoreage.com homepage.