“I'm so f'ing excited about my event this Monday, Dec. 5th at the Harvard Book Store http://bit.ly/rErODv. A few tickets still available!” And with that tweet, author and comedienne Mindy Kaling (1.58 million followers) shut down the Harvard Book Store’s (uniquely awesome) web site smack in the middle of Cyber Monday, 2011. Co-owner Jeff Mayersohn spoke with the Tip Sheet about how it went down, and what it took to get it up in the first place.
So what happened? Has it ever happened before?
We had an event scheduled for this past Monday, and the Monday before—which was Cyber Monday—Mindy Kaling tweeted about the event. She has 1.5 million followers on twitter, and so a lot of them went to our website and the website came down. And we were down for a good part of Cyber Monday. She was great about it, though, we tweeted about the site coming down and she had a bunch of funny tweets in a row about it. So we tweeted that we were extending our Cyber Monday into Tuesday, and then on Wednesday we had a Cyber Sorry promotion. She tweeted about that too, called it a classy thing to do—and that was our best day for web sales ever. Thanks to Mandy Kaling!
When we first launched the new web site, this was last December, we sent out our newsletter and almost immediately there was a huge surge of traffic to the site, it came down then also. So in that sense it’s the second time that’s happened.
How did the event go?
It was a huge success for us, we held it in the Brattle Theater and it was sold out. The irony is that, when Kaling tweeted about it, we had so few tickets left that we were no longer selling tickets online—they were only available in the store. But within minutes of the tweet people came in and bought them, so it sold out almost immediately after she tweeted about it.
On its home page, your site features an interactive storefront that replicates, with spooky accuracy, the experience of window shopping. How did your web site get so cool?
It was really a group effort. What we wanted to do was launch a web site which captured what we thought people loved about not only our store, but brick-and-mortar bookstores all over the world. Rather than being a search-oriented site—though you can search on it—we wanted it to be a browsing-oriented site. When people talk about bookstores they talk about the browsing experience, so from the home page on we’ve tried to recreate that experience. [The home page design] is not an exact replica, but very close to being a replica of the store front—it’s actually a photo of the storefront, but you can dynamically interact with it. You can even see your shadow on the window! Going into the web store, we have virtual bookshelves organized by subject, and when you examine a book it includes staff recommendations, where available, in addition to standard book details.
A lot of our customers have commented on the web site, and we’re gratified when they make the same observation you did, that it’s like shopping in the store. Even some of the trade press that deal with web marketing has picked up on the site. One of them said that we’ve succeeded where an unnamed large online bookseller failed in creating this kind of website oriented toward the browser.
Next time you’re in Cambridge, Mass., be sure to stop by Harvard Book Store at 1256 Massachusetts Ave., in the heart of Harvard Square. Until then, you can prepare for the visit at www.harvard.com, which also features a fun collection of original video content. Mindy Kaling’s book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) is currently available from Crown Archetype.