Indigo Books and Music, Canada’s largest book retail chain, unveiled a new customer rewards and loyalty program yesterday, as an important piece of its strategy for surviving changes in the bookselling landscape. CEO Heather Reisman was on hand for the announcement, and discussed other ways the retailer is changing its mix to remain a healthy physical bookstore.

Indigo already had a fee-based loyalty program that will continue, but the new plum rewards will be free. Every $10 that enrolled customers spend in the stores will earn points that can be instantly redeemed on products. They can also earn 5% discount member pricing online.

“This program is really designed in response to our customers requests to be rewarded for free for transacting in our stores. It is probably one of the most important strategic pillars for us,” said Deirdre Horgan, executive vice president of marketing. “We are moving through a transition as more people read digitally, we are responding by offering a digital reading service like Kobo, by launching 3,000 sq ft. kid and toy stores in 57 of our stores,… as well as expanding our gift and lifestyle offering. So customer loyalty and staying engaged with our customers and anticipating their needs is really a critical component of transitioning our customers and bringing our customers along in this journey over the next several years.” She added that plum reward members would also be given access to VIP events and top members would be invited to previews of Indigo’s new brand of its own lifestyle products, which will be introduced later this year.

The element that really makes the plum rewards program unique is a system for offering personalized purchase recommendations, Horgan said. “The minute you walk into our store, you swipe your plum rewards [card or fob] or your iRewards for that matter, in our kiosk. It’s sort of a Minority Report moment where it says ‘Hello, just for you, these following books are recommended just for you.’” The system could recommend everything from books to take on vacation to gifts for birthday parties appropriate for your children’s age group, she suggested. “It really goes toward the end goal of our new mission which is to enrich the lives of our customers. We are transitioning from being a bookstore to being a store that enriches the customers’ lives.”

Indigo CEO Heather Reisman was on hand at the plum rewards launch in Toronto and insisted that in spite of this transition toward more non-book products, “Books and reading are at the heart and soul of Indigo and always will be.”

Reisman then elaborated on her vision for Indigo’s future. “I feel we’ve done and are continuing to do a lot of work in our general merchandise, now we’re going to spend a lot of time on how we curate our book selections and present books in our physical stores to our customers, both pricing and presentation.” For example, she said, Indigo is probably going to eliminate 20% of the books it carries in its cooking department, “but the books we keep will be the books worth owning,”

The change in strategy is essential, she said, for Indigo to survive. “In order to continue to be in the physical book business, we must add other product which feels like it fits with our journey because if you don’t and you lose 20%, 30% of your business to digital, you can’t stay in business.”

When asked if this new approach could be bad news for publishers of midlist books or new authors, for example, Reisman told PW, it wouldn’t be. “There could be midlist books that are great in quality terms. People don’t know the author. The author is new. I’ve made Heather’s Picks out of mid-list books and turned them into bestsellers, so I don’t care whether the publisher puts it in frontlist, midlist or backlist. I care whether the book is meaningful, valuable.…sometimes the consumer will tell you, I’m not the arbiter.”

Reisman said that Indigo had invested heavily in the new plum rewards program and hopes it will pay off.