Magazine article Marketing

Amanda Aldridge on Retail: Bookstore Theatre Helps Keep E-Tailers at Bay

Magazine article Marketing

Amanda Aldridge on Retail: Bookstore Theatre Helps Keep E-Tailers at Bay

Article excerpt

With online behemoth Amazon continuing to grow its market share and big bookstores such as Waterstone's and Borders dominating the high street, one would think that time is running out for the UK's smaller book retailers.

The recent news that Blackwell's is considering selling its 60-plus chain of stores offers further evidence that the book industry is going the way of many retail categories, with trade falling into the hands of a decreasing number of players.

However, although Amazon accounts for 85% of all visits to online bookstores and Waterstone's is continuing to grow its share on the high street (like-for-like sales were up 3.4% for the first half of its financial year), we are actually in the middle of a resurgence among independent bookshops.

For the first time in years more independent stores have opened than closed, having taken advantage of a number of factors. One is the growth of reading as a leisure activity. The Harry Potter series has almost single-handedly returned books into the hands of youngsters (and older readers too).

Another factor is the impact of TV on the nation's reading habits. Both the BBC's Big Read and the Book Club slot on Channel 4's Richard and Judy have fuelled book sales and given reading some showbiz razzmatazz.

The independents have positioned themselves in a niche part of the market.

This has involved locating in market towns and villages - well away from Waterstone's and Borders - and cranking up customer service levels by employing knowledgeable staff.

The independents have been careful to limit their exposure to bestsellers, since this part of the market is firmly in the hands of the supermarkets, which do not sell them to make a profit, but to increase average basket sizes and grow top-line sales.

Like their bigger high-street rivals, the independents have continued to attract browsers and impulse buyers. This remains a key difference between them and online retailers. Amazon might beat a physical store on inventory, but it really only caters for people who know the title they want to buy.

Amazon also suffers from failing to offer an in-store experience - something the bigger bookstores have successfully capitalised on by adding sofas and coffee bars. …

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