Membership Programs: Barnes & Noble

Most of us have a number of memberships and subscriptions. We have Amazon Prime, Walmart+, Netflix, Disney+, ESPN+, Apple, Spotify, and more. We might also have subscription food services plans as well. It just seems like every business is working on a subscription or membership, trying to capture that elusive recurring revenue stream – and of course lock us in to its services to the exclusion of other services.

When will it end? Well, it certainly won’t be ending soon. In fact, more and more services, memberships, and subscriptions are offered every day.

Barnes & Noble has entered the fray as it continues to compete with Amazon and its very popular Amazon Prime program. Of course Barnes & Noble’s membership is focused around book sales only (mostly). The company is now offering a $40-per-year membership program that offers customers 10% discounts, free shipping, a yearly tote bag, and size upgrades on drinks.

If the $39.99 program is too pricey, the company has also launched a lower-tier membership program – for free. That program rewards customers with virtual stamps for every $10 spent; 10 stamps equals a $5 credit towards purchase.

The big benefit to Barnes & Noble is to learn more about its customers so that it can provide more products and services to them. If companies learn what we are buying, marketing programs can be tailored to each the consumers more effectively. Barnes & Noble can incent specific purchases using new information gained from the memberships.

What memberships do you have?

Group Activities and Discussion Questions:

  1. Discuss membership programs. Include subscriptions in the discussion.
  2. Poll students – how many memberships or subscriptions do they have? What is the monthly/yearly cost in total?
  3. Show Barnes & Noble website for membership program:
  4. Discuss the various promotional tactics that can be used for launching a new service or product.
  5. Have students come up with tactics and list all the tactics on the white board (ex: billboards, print, direct mail, etc.).
  6. Divide students into groups to work on this exercise.
  7. For Barnes & Noble Premium Membership, have each team select three different tactics to use for promotion. For each tactic, explain why it was selected and how it will be used.
  8. Debrief by putting together the entire suggested lists on the white board. As a final step, have the entire class vote on the top three tactics to use.

Source:  Trachtenberg, J. (17 February 2023). Barnes & Noble takes page from Amazon with $40-a-year membership program. New York Times.

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