Publisher’s Weekly, the trade magazine of the book industry, recently asked for my advice on how brick and mortar bookstores can drive more customer loyalty. The article is up on their website, but you have to be a subscriber to read it. So, I thought I’d share some of the strategies I recommended here on my blog.
First, you need to know that I’m a huge fan of bookstores, and often select hotels when traveling based on how close they are to a chain or nice independent bookseller.
Like many of you, I’ve been saddened to see so many bookstores go out of business in recent years. Borders is no longer with us, and Barnes & Noble has announced plans to close one-third of its locations over the next decade.
While Amazon, with its low prices and electronic editions, is a huge reason for this, I contend in the article that brick and mortar stores could learn a lot by emulating some of Amazon’s practices. After all, Amazon has mastered the art of good customer service. The site gives you a great deal, a seamless transaction, fast service and the ability to easily return anything you don’t like.
That’s why I suggested that bookstores use the following key traits to help turn customers into raving fans:
1. Create a welcoming experience for everyone who comes in the door. As much as I enjoy perusing bookstores, I honestly can’t remember the last time I was actually greeted by someone as I walked inside. Having employees simply say hello as customers arrive is not only polite, it will make them feel guilty about leaving without a purchase. If the customer is a regular, take the time to learn their name, and address them by it each time they stop by.
2. Hire right. Don’t just look for people who can ring up an order and swipe a credit card. Recruit employees who are as passionate about books as the people roaming the aisles the store, and encourage them to share this enthusiasm. When interviewing candidates, ask them to describe the last three books they read and why they liked them so much. If you don’t hear excitement in their voice, it’s probably best to consider someone else.
3. Learn to embrace technology. When someone buys a certain book, why not program your cash register to prompt the clerk to recommend other titles the customer might not have considered? If they show any interest, walk them to the book and pull it off the shelf. Chances are they’ll make an instant decision to buy.
4. Practice full spectrum marketing. At one time, marketing consisted primarily of pushing messages out to your audience, often through paid advertising. Now the tables have turned. You must engage in a two-way dialogue with your customers using the ever-increasing number of communications tools at your disposal. The good news is that most of these tools are cheap, if not free. If your store doesn’t already have a website, blog or Facebook page, get one today. Ask authors to contribute content and get readers to post reviews about your great service on review sites such as Yelp. You can even enlist loyal customers to help spread the word out about your store and upcoming events on their various social media sites.
The bottom line is that when you create an atmosphere that instills loyalty, and promote it effectively, customers do business with you because they want to, not because you’re the cheapest place around. In fact, research shows that completely satisfied customers almost never shop based on price alone, and they happily tell all of their friends about you as well.
My hope is that more stores will find innovative ways such as these to bring in throngs of dedicated customers like me who love the smell of fresh new books, enjoy flipping through pages by hand and prefer to buy items from a friendly human who truly values their business. Even though I’m big fan of Amazon, for me saving the remaining bookstores of the world is a matter of utmost importance. After all, if any more close, I’m going to have a really hard time finding a hotel for my next trip!