Got my Kobo working: WH Smith on the new frontier

WH Smith and Fnac both announced tie-up deals with Kobo at the Frankfurt Book Fair, a couple of weeks ago.  As far as I can tell, Fnac appears to have withdrawn the Fnacbook from sale on its website, but there’s no sign of the Kobo yet.  The French market of course isn’t as eBook orientated as ours, and WH Smith has wasted no time in getting its offer out there.

You can read a little more about the Kobo/WHS deal here and here – the Futurebook report also carries a photo of Victoria Main, wrapped in Kobo advertising.

Meanwhile, let’s get ourselves into a shop and take a look.  In fact, I’ve visited three stores – Victoria, a major town centre, and a small local store.  The results were very “generic WHS”, and very disappointing.  Given that (once the periphals have been bought) the customer will have spent over £100, something a little more special would be welcome.

One of the most challenging elements of any modern WH Smith is the visual noise.  Kobo has been given a light blue/pink livery, but that struggles to stand out in the rainbow explosion of cardboard, product and shout-lines:

Once you find the Kindle Kobo offer, the presentation is a little lacking.  Every cardboard dump I saw was half empty, and short of “reasons to buy”.  You can’t sell an eBook in the same way as you sell calendars (a single-function device that simply needs a nail in the wall).

The larger stores have demo bays like this one:

None of the three Kobos displayed in this store was working – flat batteries or frozen.  Victoria Main also offered a couple of freestanding pylons in high traffic aisles, with two working Kobos on each.

This is disappointing, and sits uncomfortably when compared to the tasteful, spacious Kindle shrines in John Lewis stores.  At no time, in any of the WHS stores, was I approached by an employee, whereas you can guarantee a JL partner will be all over you if you start prodding a Kindle.

Furthermore, WH Smith’s marketing pitch for the Kobo seems odd:

The 1 million FREE eBooks are promoted above all, yet (as we all know), most of those million will be junk, and the preloaded Gutenberg classics seem a curious promotional emphasis.  Why not promote Julian Barnes, or Lee Child, or Danielle Steel?  The WHS website does a reasonable job of promoting what really matters – decent little eReaders with a good range of contemporary titles at attractive prices.  The instore presentation appears better suited to selling bookazines or multipacks of Christmas cards.  Given that a Kobo buyer could go on to spend many hundreds of pounds at Smith’s online ebookstore, and that Waterstone’s isn’t going to be in this sector until – when? – WHS could have shown more care, and given customers a stronger impression of value and worth.

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4 Comments on “Got my Kobo working: WH Smith on the new frontier”

  1. Siobhan says:

    Did you realise that you refer to the Kobo as a Kindle half way through this article? A telling Freudian slip that Kindle is synonymous with e-reader in the same way hoover is synonymous with vacuum cleaner. That is what WH Smiths is up against. I agree that the Smiths marketing seems bizarre to me but hopefully now that the staff are better trained there can be some real competition in the run up to Christmas.

  2. Well spotted, Siobhan – that was no deliberate error, just a slip with the K-names.

    Retail Week this week reports that one Matt Berlucci bought a new Kobo from WH Smith, and “as I leave the store, sales guy says “Enjoy your Kindle!”

    I hope that the trained staff have the opportunity to engage with the customers and properly explain the features and benefits of the Kobo; no one can expect a product like this to sell itself.

  3. Siobhan says:

    Oh I hope so too, especially, since as you pointed out, the Kindle is also being sold by John Lewis who excel in customer service. I still haven’t committed to buying an e-reader but the Kobo is more appealing to me simply because it is not from Amazon!

  4. […] try not to be monomaniacal, and having posted at length on the WHS Kobo offer a few days ago… here we are […]