What bookshops do well (I): Promotions

Amidst the sector’s well-publicised travails, hard-working store teams continue to open their doors and invite the public in.  I popped into my local Waterstone’s yesterday, and was reminded about what bookstores do well – and how different the process of consuming literature (“the process of consuming literature”?  – what a revolting concept) will be once everything has been digitised.

Chains and independents do different things, or different versions of the same thing.  Waterstone’s has to deliver a corporate offer, and I thought the suite of promotions installed for February was pretty much spot-on for the market.

Three promos, none of them rocket science:

1.  The Valentine’s offer – mandatory to every retailer this side of Kwik-Fit.  An informed selection of appropriate titles, literary enough not to disgrace the brand, supported by a handful of sensibly priced DVDs, cards and other gift items.  An on-brand Emma Bridgewater gift bag completes the offer.  Some good, loved-up POS to support the offer, though perhaps the product could have been merched (“shrined” as we used to say at Borders) together to better effect.  14th February this year is a Monday, which, given the British Male’s aptitude for forward planning, should make for a great retail weekend.

2.  Reading Group favourites – absolutely the right time of the year for this promo; the customers have got all those “new year/new you” concepts out of their hair, but the evenings are still dark – time to reanimate the reading groups.  Nice title selection, a combination of the tried-and-tested and some less obvious stuff.  Multibuy, of course.  Are reading groups encouraged to contact each other through Waterstone’s (this branch is too small for them to meet in)?

3.  Sebastian Faulks on Fiction, the lead title plus a core stock selection of the characters discussed in the upcoming BBC Two series.  The media coverage will be excellent, and there are always good reasons to promote Becky Sharp, Sherlock Holmes or John Self to new readers.

Three good, strong chain bookstore promotions.   The bigger and busier the shop, I hope the greater the opportunity for booksellers to recommend, promote, face-out, table-up and hand-sell their favourite titles, in addition to the centrally-driven promos.

The service in the store was great – cheerful, helpful, informed but not pushy.  The customer feels that they are among friends.  Result – I bought four books, having gone in without any one title in mind.

And, returning to my first paragraph, what other strand of book retailing can do this?  Anyone can jump on a promotional bandwagon, and an online bookseller can add whistles and bells to Faulks, for instance, by drawing my attention to every Jeeves title, rather than just the 1-2 that the bookstore has in the core promo.  Sometimes, though, the choice online is stifling – my brain can’t handle so much variety, so I’ll stick with what I’m most familiar with.  The serendipity of the bookshop is difficult to replicate.

As bookstores start to go the way of coaching inns, I’ll return in future posts to “what bookstores do well”.  Looking forward, I’ll acknowledge that online, digital and supermarkets have their strengths too.  They’d better have, if they’re going to deliver all my future literature consumption process needs.  Watch this space.

Tip of the hat to Mark Schneyer for inadvertently inspiring this post.


2 Comments on “What bookshops do well (I): Promotions”

  1. anne dawson says:

    I would, personally, struggle to find serendipity in any branch of Waterstones. I’ve lived in the US for two years, but wonder, has this aspect of the remaining (i.e. post-Borders) chain bookstores changed so much in that time?

    • Thanks Anne. I do think that Waterstone’s has improved in the past year – there is a clearer sense of purpose, and less obvious supermarket-chasing going on.
      Of course, small chain stores cannot deliver serendipity in the way that specialists can, or the big old superstores used to. The object of my post was to recognise some solid retailing activity that demonstrated an understanding of the brand’s broad customer base.