Tag Archives: Waterstones

Sell the ‘Experience’ of buying books in a Bookshops

O4lob open signVery few people would describe buying books online as an ‘experience’, in contrast, there is a magic about stepping into a bookshop that bricks and mortar booksellers should capitalize on to ensure their survival.

Next time you are in a bookshop, take a moment to look around you (unless it is at the height of a Christmas shopping frenzy), and you will see a calmness, a sedateness, that just doesn’t happen in other retail environments. I have two young children and most of our high street shopping is undertaken at breakneck speed, in an effort to get out of town as quickly as possible. This is not the case when we go into a bookshop.  We take our time, we look around, we excitedly show each other the treasures we have found, and, on more than one occasion, we have been late back to the car as time just drifted by.

This is the magic of a good bookshop. These are very challenging times for booksellers and those that are thriving are working hard to create an environment that people want to spend time in.

Anne Sebba, chair of the Society of Authors, agrees that bookshops have to look to offer something that enhances a visit to the bookshop.

“Bookshops have to be gift shops, perhaps have coffee bars. Bookshops have to turn themselves into an experience,” said Anne.

“Going in to a bookshop has to be a positive experience. They have to offer something that you can’t get online. There is nothing quite like the joy of watching a child in a bookshop as they discover that turning the pages is a really exciting thing. We will be impoverished as a society if we lose that as an experience.”

Gone are the days when the only place to buy books was from a high street bookshop, where bookshops jammed shelves into every available space in an attempt to meet a wide range of customer needs.  As a result, many bookshops are taking the brave decision to remove some of their shelving in the desire to create a more appealing environment. My own local Waterstones is testament to this. In removing some of the floor-standing shelving the store has lost that slightly-claustrophobic, maze-like quality to be replaced with an open, comfortable space that encourages a natural meandering throughout the shop.

But bookshops need to look beyond the physical environment in creating inviting spaces for people. Nic Bottomley, owner the award-winning Mr B’s Reading Emporium, in Bath, knew from the outset that they wanted to do things differently and in a fresh way.

Nic said: “We hope to offer a space in which being a book geek is seen as a good thing, where books are up for discussion and are at the centre of everything.”

It was important for Mr B’s to be a beautiful physical space, but the team found that the things they spent time on to enhance the experience of visiting the bookshop really struck a chord with their customers.

“We found, to our pleasant surprise, that the more things we did differently, and the more small calculated risks we took in how we did things, more people were coming through our doors, and that gave us the confidence to keep adding to the odd things that we did, and to be more esoteric in our approach.”

Mr B’s has a very hands-on approach to bookselling including introducing Mr B’s Reading Spa, where customers can book one-on-one time with one of their booksellers who will suggest a range of titles based of the personal reading tastes of the customer. This personal style of bookselling has paid dividends for the bookshop.

Nic said: “We have created a place that the people of Bath, and regular visitors of Bath, really enjoying spending time in, and as a side-effect spending money in, but it’s somewhere that people feel extremely passionate about and that’s our key success.

“I think everyone needs to think about what they can do that helps sell the experience of buying a book. By doing that, by offering something that’s a little bit different, and by creating a beautiful shop where everyone is welcome, it will help you compete with online sales. It’s about high street versus non-high street.”

Bookshops need to look at selling the unique experience they can offer in the battle to remain on our high streets.

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Filed under The Way Forward for Bookshops

Children’s Bookselling breaks out of the dark, dingy corners – good news for everyone!

I will never forget the irritating squeaky squeal of the ‘steering wheel’ on the book truck that was Dillons’ nod to children’s bookselling when I worked at Dillons Bookstore, in Exeter, back in the early 1990s.

More than one bookseller marched up to the truck, screwdriver in hand, driven to distraction by the awful noise and determined to fix the problem. Over the many years I worked there, no one could extinguish the ear-splitting squeal.

Of course, small children loved the truck – but they rarely looked at the books jammed into the shelves that made the rear of the truck. I can’t say I blame them. The poor design of the shelving resulted in dog-eared, battered and sorry-looking picture books – impossibly jostling for attention. On top of the exciting ride-on truck cab, complete with adult-annoying squeaky steering wheel, and unappealing tatty books, the children’s department was banished to the furthest, darkest corner of the bookshop, with no natural light. This area was not conducive to a considered appreciation of books. Children and parents alike, made quick trips to the department whipping in to collect a particular book, or, even worse, leaving exasperated at failing to find something. Nothing about this area of the shop encouraged browsing – an activity vital in choosing a book for a child, and, more importantly, fundamental in encouraging children to choose their own books and nurture a love of reading.

Forward on twenty years, and things are delightfully different for the children’s department in the same store. Dillons no longer exist and the store is now a Waterstones. The children’s department now takes pride of place in half of the back of the ground floor, the blacked out windows have been opened up and the store shines in it’s appeal to its younger customers – the book-lovers of the future. Picture books are sensibly displayed on tables and custom-designed shelves. A low-level inviting seating area has been set up around a table – perfect for looking through possible purchases. Most significantly, the area has been designed for children and looks distinctly different from the rest of the shop. Unlike the uniform grey shelves of the Dillons store, the children’s department at Waterstones Roman Gate, is white, bright and created with children in mind.

My children love this store, they happily browse the shelves and take the books they like to the table to help them decide what to buy. I love this department, my children are happy here, we take the time together to look at the books – I make selections, they invariably choose something else, but I love that. They are making their own decisions,  they are developing their own love of books.

It is great to see such a positive change in children’s bookselling, plus, I’ve never seen the department empty – which surely means good news for the business of bookselling too. Dedicated children’s bookshops are bucking the trend against bookshop closures, they are taking the time to meet the needs of their customers, and reaping the benefits.

I wonder if the application of this ethos could be more widely adopted in bookshops…

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Filed under Children's Bookselling

Is it time to rethink the Paper vs Digital reading debate?

In a bold statement to the Oxford literary festival last month, Tim Waterstone voiced his opinion that the e-book revolution is going into decline, and the physical book was not going to disappear into obscurity.

Figures from the US last year appeared to suggest that e-book sales were plateauing, a fact perhaps welcomed by James Daunt, managing director of Waterstones, in defence of his decision to sell e-readers and e-books through his stores.

I think anyone who loves books will be glad to hear that the digital reading revolution will not hit the critical tipping point against traditional paper books, and the love of books in their physical form endures.

In 2013, British consumers spent £300 million on 80 million e-books compared with £2.2 billion on 323 million physical books.

But the technology is here, and it is here to stay. Is it time to stop pitting e-books against traditional books and accept there are pros and cons to both forms and a place for both for many book-lovers. Can the digital revolution be seen as a cleansing ‘ice age’ of the bookselling industry, as we emerge through the other side with a more harmonious balance between booksellers and consumers? Is now the time, for bookshops and publishers to rethink the paper vs digital debate, and perhaps question how best traditional bookselling and e-book selling might be combined for a brighter future for all?

In an post for the Guardian Books Blog, Nick Harkaway suggests “Rather than circling the wagons as other media industries did (to no good outcome, it has to be acknowledged) publishers need to learn the more recent lessons from film and music and consider, for example, providing digital copies as standard with hardback editions”

This would seem to me to be a very sensible approach. The paper vs digital debate would now (or imminently) seem to be redundant, and perhaps the question for booksellers should be ‘how can we sell paper books and e-books together?’


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Filed under E-books