As independent booksellers enjoy a resurgence, store owners should use the momentum to tap into new and existing markets to expand their customer base, said Oren Teicher, CEO of the American Booksellers Association. “Independent bookstores in the United States are going through a reasonably better time,” he told attendees of SIBA in the Springtime, the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance’s March 12 Day of Education held at the Great American Bargain Book Show in Atlanta. “What you need to do is explore some new markets.”
First, though, they should look to their existing customers to see how they can grow that relationship, he said. “It is a lot easier to grow this base of existing customers than finding new customers,” he said. “How can you turn a $100 a year customer into a $125 a year customer?” The key is to remember that “book buyers behave differently at different times,” Teicher said.
Booksellers need to figure out unique ways to continually engage their regular customers, and Teicher offered a list of suggestions compiled from ABA advisory council and other booksellers. From holiday cards that include a small store credit, to secret password sales, to exclusive in-store parties, Teicher’s suggestions all revolved around creating a personal shopping experience for regular customers.
Offering varied delivery options, including Ingram Direct Shipping to Home and and curb side delivery, also makes shopping at brick- and-mortar stores more convenient for shoppers, he said. Teicher also stressed the success of loyalty programs. “All you’ve got to do is look at the hotel industry and the airline industry to see how successful this can be,” he said.
As demographics in the U.S. evolve, millennials are a growing new market that should be at the top of store owners lists. They make up at least 25% of the population, Teicher said, and are easily the most diverse generation in U.S. history. And where they spend their dollars is largely driven by social media and a sense of social responsibility.
Baby boomers shouldn’t be forgotten as the millennial market grows, he added. They’re more tuned in and tech savvy than people assume - they make up more than 19 million of the 27 million social media users in the country. At the same time, they enjoy reminiscing, so booksellers can create an in store experience that taps into that nostalgia. It’s also important to remember that baby boomers often live in areas seasonally, he said. “They move around,” he said. “You need to be thinking about how to develop a relationship with that person year-round, not just when they’re here.”
Booksellers also need to consider young readers, said Joy Dallanegra-Sanger, ABA’s senior program officer. Juvenile fiction and nonfiction are the fastest growing genres, and many shops are expanding their children’s sections. She suggested that store owners align themselves with area teachers. “Always say yes to teachers,” when they want collaborate on children’s programming, she said.
The entire book-buying market is also becoming more diverse, she said, and booksellers should reach out to different cultural markets as minorities are poised to become the majority in the U.S. “You need to think of this in terms of the books you have in your store and staffing. This will better reflect your community.”
Booksellers also shouldn’t write off online shoppers, who make up just 6.5% of all retail sales, Dallanegra-Sanger. Many shoppers - 78% - utilize the Internet for research before heading to a physical bookstore. “There’s a lot of opportunities to be reaching customers both ways,” she said.