If rebranding Waterstone’s was pointless, then debranding the rebrand is even more pointless

There is an old saying in the design community that changing a logo if you change nothing else is as useful as rearranging the chairs on the deck of a sinking ship. I wrote about this in 2010 when Waterstone’s unveiled their less than radical new logo. I was slightly less thann complementary about the work itself and the reasons behind the change. You can read that here.

But it would appear that they have now made things even worse by going back to the old logo, without the apostrophe.

waterstones.com logo

Now i’m not going to get as pathetic as the Daily Mail with their typically over the top three headlines about it;

Move sparked outrage among customers – Really. That is utter crap. Who cares that much? Perhaps if some of the people who are so outraged by the lack of an apostrophe went into Waterstone’s and bought a book or two from them, they wouldn’t be in this much trouble.
Punctuation experts say it’s ‘grammatically incorrect’ – Yes, it’s a logo, a name of a business, not a piece of work being peer reviewed by academics. Advertising generally has always played a little fast and loose with punctuation. the ‘comma and’ or starting sentences with an ‘And’ debate came from the creative industry.
Twitter users warn the change is another step towards the ‘extinction’ of the apostrophe – Who cares? There are bigger things to worry about.

But the fundamental point is that Waterstone’s still haven’t changed their business and this sadly will do absolutely nothing to halt their slide. I am a very big book fan and consume books by the metre but I buy very little from Waterstone’s. Waterstones or even waterstones.com.

Unless they can engage us again, all the rebrands and debrands in the world will do nothing to stop this lovely old tug boat from sinking.

Christmas shopping – Online shopping

I may not be that normal in many respects, but I do often get onto trends quite early and this year, I have shopped for Christmas differently to any other year before – and I think shopping may never be the same again.

I’ve written lots about the perfect economy, price driven shopping and how branding can help build differentiation. I’ve even written about online/offline price matching but this year it all clicked into place and a few online retailers got all my business.

Some examples.

Fifa 11. RRP £52 HMV high street price £39.99. Game High Street Price £39.99. Amazon price £24.91 delivered. Using the Red Laser App on my phone, I actually bought it on my Amazon account on my phone standing in HMV. I hope Red Laser are taking a commission.


Morse the Complete Collection. RRP £199.99 (yeah right!) Morrisons £50. Amazon price £34.97 delivered. Again, bought standing in Morrisons.

And I bought from Boots, Tesco, Dixons and a few others too. All turned up in plenty of time and I saved a small fortune without having to brave the ridiculous queues at the tills in the stores. There must have been 50 people queuing in the unsurprisingly poor performing HMV. They are playing into the hands of online retailers.

Again, I don’t think i’m particularly tight, but I can see no reason at all to pay more for an identical product and the privilige of buying on the high street.

If the high street doesn’t just want to become a gigantic Amazon showroom, it needs to find a way of reflecting the price of the online retailers.

Sports Direct match online to offline, and I’ve shown before that Waterstones and HMV don’t. Which do you think is likely to still be in business by February?

Waterstones v. Waterstones.com – I know the difference

I just went out to buy two copies of a book for my wife and her Mum and have learnt a lot about online/offline pricing in my little jaunt around the city.

Firstly there are only two real places you can buy a new book (other than the discount end of line retailers) and that is at Waterstones or WH Smith – who are a retailer of sorts.

Before I went out, I looked on Amazon for  target price. £7.49. Now that sounds like good value to me. £5.50 off list price but none in stock and my customers want this book NOW!

The Clean and Lean Diet 14 Days to Your Best-ever Body from Amazon.co.uk
The Clean and Lean Diet 14 Days to Your Best-ever Body from Amazon.co.uk

So it was off to WH Smith, the confused retailer that seems to have ‘buy one get one half price’ on almost everything. Isn’t that what Thresher did before they went bust too? Well, they had the book in stock, but only one of them, so the deal wasn’t that effective. They had a price of £8.44 online. If I had managed to buy the two of them in the store each book would have cost £9.75, so not far off a decent price.

The Clean and Lean Diet 14 Days to Your Best-ever Body - from WHSmith.co.uk
The Clean and Lean Diet 14 Days to Your Best-ever Body - from WHSmith.co.uk

And then onto Waterstones. The only decent sized book store in Nottingham. I was greeted by a friendly young man as I entered and asked him where on the four floors I would find this book. He confirmed they had five in stock at the full price of £12.99 on the third floor.

So I asked the kller questions.

Why could I buy the same book from them online for much less?

The Clean and Lean Diet 14 Days to Your Best ever Body from Waterstones.com
The Clean and Lean Diet 14 Days to Your Best ever Body from Waterstones.com

The answer?

Apparently, and I quote “Because they’re on the Internet, they don’t have the overheads we do.”

Oh, that’s it then, they’re not part of the same group or anything simple, or even based on exactly the same central distribution depot.

I wrote a piece a few weeks ago saying that their new logo was a bit silly and pointless, but did give them the get out clause that a new logo can be worthwhile if it marks a change in behaviour.

You judge for yourself whether this traditional retailer is behaving any different now it has an online presence, or if it is still making the same mistakes as Borders and all the other smaller book stores that have folded before them.

If you offer the same price online and offline (like Tesco and Asda and Sainsbury’s and everyone else with any retailing skill does) you may find that people still buy from your stores rather than looking at you as a showroom or a place of last resort.

Waterstone’s – A ‘pointless’ rebrand

Waterstone’s appear to have rebranded from their old sharp pointy logo shown here:

Waterstone’s old logo - a nice pointy thing with some classic typography
Waterstone’s old logo - a nice pointy thing with some classic typography

And they have replaced it with this somewhat ‘pointless’ effort:

Waterstone's new logo - a rather pointless effort in every respect
Waterstone's new logo - a rather pointless effort in every respect

But I find myself asking why. They have 303 stores and to even replace the fascia and a few bits of POS around the store will cost them an absolute minimum of £10k per store to actually implement the change of logo. This gives them a bare minimum bill of £3.03 Million to update the stores. Cheap by some comparisons, but will it help them sell any extra books?

Not in my opinion.

Again, if we assume they made £2 on every book they sell (which seems highly unlikely), then that means they have to sell over 1.5 million extra books even to stand still. I can’t see a logo that looks like some old lady’s droopy appendages actually driving a single extra customer to buy from them, let alone to buy more and more from them.

Rebrands need to mark the change in a business and show that what it has done previously will be left behind in favour of it’s new way of behaving going forwards. If it is a line in the sand then this marking of the change can be beneficial. But not if the change is to make them look less authoritative and stylish than they did before.

In my opinion (and i’m happy for anyone and everyone to disagree with me), this is the worst sort of rebrand. A bad and pointless one that will continue to give our industry a bad name.