Built by Eagle Harbor Bookstore owners Morley Horder, Rene Kirkpatrick, and Tim Hunter, the Handseller software and system has been designed to help independent bookstores increase revenue through a powerful recommendation function and personalized customer data. Handseller is being rolled out this week during ABA’s Winter Institute in Seattle.

Horder met software developer Theresa Savage not long after she had built a recommendation software package for the fashion, hair care, and skin industries. “He asked me, ‘Can you do this for bookstores?’ and if I could make it practical and affordable for all indies to provide detailed personal recommendation and store the information in an accessible way for staff and customers,” Savage says. Her answer was yes, and she and Horder began talking with booksellers and ABA’s Oren Teicher about how to make Handseller most beneficial to IndieCommerce members.

At its core, the Handseller software is a digital platform for personalized book recommendations. “Since the dynamic exchange of information between customer and bookstore is digitally stored, bookstore owners have a centralized set of customer information to improve customer service and to enhance marketing,” Savage says. Handseller was first shown a year ago to select stores at Winter Institute in Kansas City. Since then, the team has gathered input from indies all over the country. A key component of Handseller’s recommendation engine is thousands of indie bookstore reviews created over the years, particularly since Amazon purchased Goodreads and a number of booksellers discontinued using it to share reviews.

The customer-facing platform in Handseller allows customers to create detailed Reading Preference Profiles, which bookstores can sort by genre, mood, and style, among other criteria. This provides a great deal of data to the stores. Customers can view book recommendations online and ask their store to pull books of interest and hold them at the store. The program also offers book and author quizzes around genre and subjects for readers to play and compete in; winners can redeem prizes at the bookstore. In addition, there is a “Fresh Picks” feature that allows bookstores to highlight special categories of books unique to their community. The Handseller Business Dashboard, created for bookstore staff, consolidates these online requests into one daily task list of books to pull. The Dashboard also offers a selection of e-mail marketing templates, informs customers of new book releases, invites customers to author events, and generates sales reports.

There are similarities between Handseller and R.J. Julia Bookseller’s Just the Right Book Web site, which also matches customers with books. However, Savage says, “With Handseller, bookstore owners can also decide to offer a book-of-the-month package, or a book a quarter, or as requested. And the Business Dashboard creates sales opportunities stemming from the exchange of information between bookstore and customer.” Handseller will be made available to all IndieCommerce sites by mid-June 2014. Bookstores will have a free period to use Handseller before deciding if they want to move forward with the program. “Handseller will then be made available on an affordable monthly subscription basis,” says Savage.

“We've met with Morley, Rene, Theresa, and others from Eagle Harbor over the past year to be kept up to speed about their progress on Handseller, and we continue to wish them well in their efforts,” says Teicher. “I'm confident that new tools that effectively help customers discover books through indie websites will be well-received by our members.”

For more information contact Rene Kirkpatrick at rene@cablespeed.com.