Many booksellers struggle to find the right online presence, none more so perhaps than multi-store independents. A decade ago, Half Price Books in Dallas, experimented with putting its entire inventory available online. Later it abandoned that model and added an Amazon buy button to its site. Now HPB, which specializes in used and bargain titles, is partnering with Monsoon Commerce Solutions and Alibris to offer more than 120 million items—including new and used books, music, movies, and textbooks—from independent sellers. Based on the first month’s data, this new tack seems to be working.
Late last December HPB had a soft launch for its revamped Web site, HPB.com. “Our goal,” says executive v-p Kathy Doyle Thomas, “is to get a percentage of every book sold around the world. If customers can’t find it in our store, they can find it online. A lot of people like books delivered in their mailbox. We’re trying to find out how it works.” Even though HPB rolled out the new site quickly in order to capitalize on the textbook market, it has already seen an 81% increase in people visiting the site during the month of January. “The page views are up 76%,” adds Thomas, “which means they’re not just coming and leaving. It’s all good.”
HPB plans to give the new Web site, which includes a special bargain area for 99¢ books to counter the penny booksellers, a year to catch on. Currently HPB is not selling e-books or audio downloads online and has no plans to add them in the near future. But Thomas doesn’t rule them out. “Like every bookseller we’re trying to figure out what our model is going to be. We don’t want to be naïve. We know people are downloading books online,” she says. For now, Thomas is looking to add more HPB merchandise from the company’s 113 stores to the Web site. “We want it to be a good experience online and in our stores,” she says.