At face value, it would seem that most large bookstores are either gone or on their way out. Borders has been closed for years, and in most recent news, Barnes and Noble has been hit with a cavalcade of poor developments. These range from the book chain not being able to hold down a CEO, to declining sales, and even being embroiled in a lawsuit from bad PR management.
The truth is that while large book retailers have been struggling and fading out, independent booksellers have been climbing in sales since 2009, with 35% more physical stores that have opened in the past decade.
So does this mean that big-box booksellers are not viable, or is it simply another case of department chains falling behind in terms of the customer experience and cultivating better strategies for bringing customers into the store?
Ryan Raffaelli, an assistant professor in the Organizational Behavior unit at Harvard Business School, has identified three major factors that he believes are the reason for the decline of large book retailers, and the rise of independent stores.
In addition to these reasons, we will offer a few ideas for large booksellers to bring about a turnaround by revamping and fortifying their customer experience.
Book Retailers need Community
Raffaelli identifies a recent revival in promoting local businesses over larger chains, and small booksellers exemplify this the best of any industry. Often, large retailers will enter a community and have a seemingly agnostic take on the area. If there are authors from the area, large booksellers will rarely carry those local writers and instead just stock the bestsellers.
This can be a critical mistake, as it disconnects the store from the local community. Books about the area, books that take place in the area, and supporting of local artists are all important factors in maintaining community support.
Our advice: Make sure your retail locations are catered specifically towards the area’s identity and appeal to the community. Advertise these selections on digital displays to inform your visitors that your stores take pride in the community.
Book Retailers need Curation
Although this ties into the first point, Raffaelli points out that it’s more about the personal, specialized experience as opposed to carrying every book the readers want. It’s about how your customers are interacting with your inventory, and how they’re discovering books in your store.
Often, major retailers will have a help station that is often unattended, and customers will come and go without ever speaking with an employee or having a branded interaction. This weakness can result in many customers merely walking in, browsing, and walking out without a single book or intention of returning.
Our advice: Set up kiosks that customers can use themselves to search for books or place orders, without having to work directly with an employee. You can also set up in-store beacons to set up branded interactions, such as helping customers locate a particular book using your company’s app.
Book Retailers need Convening
Also in line with the first point is the idea of outreach, and having customers visit your store for reasons other than buying a book. Driving traffic is the foundation of conversions, and customers who come into your store are more likely to make a purchase on a whim than someone who is just not thinking about your store at all.
Some independent stores host over 500 events every year, which include tabletop gaming nights, birthday parties, book signings, and art exhibitions. As we mentioned last week with clothing retailers, more stores are taking chances with omnichannel strategies and experimenting with pilot stores to determine what is going to drive foot traffic the best.
Our advice: Set up a schedule for events in your stores, and utilize your existing IT infrastructure to create engaging pop-ups for your customers. Look to what other retailers are doing; if experimenting is working for Old Navy and Kohl’s, there must be something to it!
Act Like a Small Store, Not a Large One
The biggest piece of advice that we have for large book retailers out there is to consider the customer’s needs and then set up your stores to consistently meet your customer’s expectations. If it sounds simple, it’s not. The customer’s needs have changed tremendously in the past decade, and it’s possible that your entire business strategy needs to be reevaluated to keep up.
One advantage small stores have over large ones is being able to better connect with customers and ensure they come back through customer loyalty. If you are interested in creating the personality and excitement that small booksellers have been able to build, contact us and learn what’s possible when you utilize your IT framework.