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Nook's Delays Offer Business Lessons

What can other businesses learn from the Nook's tale of woe, as Barnes & Noble says some unlucky e-reader customers won't get their units before Christmas as promised?

First, that screwing up--even if demand for a new product from a new player is hard to predict--is painful-to-humilating. Made worse because the Nook was supposed to be a hot holiday seller. Surely, B&N could have done a better job of predicting demand, but with no consumer electronics experience the Nook is new territory.

Could your company do a better job handling an unexpectedly hot new product? I doubt many could.

Second, B&N teaches us that talking is a good thing. Think what you will about B&N's psychic capabilities at demand prediction, but the company has been reasonably straightforward in telling customers what to expect.

Yes, some of the promises had to be rolled back--like Dec. 7 sales in stores--but that is more a case of optimism and bad internal communication than consumer rip-off.

Third, the $100 gift certificates being sent to those who received news of the latest delay on Friday, is a nice gesture. Particularly, since it can be used to purchase e-books that can be read on other devices until the Nook arrives. Promising overnight delivery by the 29th is also quite decent.

Less wonderful is that the Nook, right out of the box, needs a firmware update to achieve decent performance. That update was promised for November and now seems on-track for January. B&N deserves criticism for this, though the Nook is certainly not the first product to arrive unfinished, as if the vendor thought nobody would notice.

There is a lot for all businesses to learn here. Given a really bad situation, the result of poor planning, B&N has faced a nightmare. But, one which the company has done a better job of dealing with than might have been expected.

The Consumerist published a copy of the e-mail sent to one of its readers Friday, explaining the delay and $100 gift. The gift promise sparked several readers to comment that they hoped their Nooks would be delayed, too, if they could also get the consolation prize.

B&N said a "handful" of customers received the e-mail and will suffer the delay.

This makes me wonder if B&N could handle this like an overbooked flight: Offer gift certificates to customers who would be willing to wait until Dec. 29 to receive their Nooks.

The B&N site says that new orders are now scheduled for February delivery. My hope is these customers will get the new software that is supposed to solve speed and other problems with the first version of the e-reader.

No, the problems with the Nook don't make me want to order a Kindle instead, though I am sure many Kindles were sold to people who first wanted a Nook and went to Amazon when B&N ran out of Nooks, or when the initial reviews were a tad iffy.

Mea culpa: Along with a good many others, I made the mistake of getting excited about the specifications for the new device long before reviewers actually touched one. As a result, my excitement about the device is now such that I won't miss finding one under the Christmas tree.

David Coursey has been writing about technology products and companies for more than 25 years. He tweets as @techinciter and may be contacted via his Web site.

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