Barnes & Noble doesn’t only do books and tablets, it also does recommendations

I’m always intrigued to find out how digital businesses tackle the issue of user engagement through tailored recommendations. Content providers like Netflix and Amazon notoriously spend a lot of money and effort into their recommendation engines and it was interesting to find about how Barnes & Noble (‘B&N’) are now handling recommendations through their latest “NOOK” device.

Personalised recommendations are a though one to get right. I guess most of us have experiences with using Amazon to buy Christmas gifts and subsequently receiving recommendations on floral craft books during the rest of the year. With the NOOK, B&N introduces ‘Channels’ to try and address this issue:

  1. Based on personal interest – The idea behind creating specific ‘channels’ is to base each channel on a specific theme that’s likely to interest a group of customers. The titles of Nook’s existing 300+ channels vary from “Janes Austen & Heirs” to “International Intrigue.”
  2. How is each channel curated?  Each channel contains 40-50 titles, mostly curated by B&N booksellers but also taking into account algorithmic info and user data (e.g. customer profiles and purchasing behaviour). The channels currently only consist of books, but B&N are planning on including other content (like movies and apps) over time.
  3. Keeping it dynamic – Like I alluded to earlier to with regard to Amazon’s classic ‘floral craft’ example, B&N customers can improve the channels and books recommended to them by ‘liking’ or ‘not liking’ suggested titles. As new titles get released, B&N will add these to the relevant channels (or create new channels around them).

Main learning point: the idea of enabling users to discover new content through ‘channels’ is a great one. The ongoing challenge for content providers like Barnes & Noble is to get the content of each channel ‘right’. This means finding the right balance between human curation and automatically generated recommendations. The value of the ‘channel’ concept for users is that they can access a continuous stream of recommendations within a genre or a topic they like. For B&N, the value comes from being able to retain users (and retain their spend) through an ongoing selection of titles.

Related links for further learning:

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