After nearly four years of work, Eagle Harbor Book Company, in Bainbridge Island, Wash., is getting ready go live with Handseller, an app that will give independent booksellers a way to make personalized book recommendations to customers with their iPhones and iPads. EHBC will be the first store to implement Handseller next week, and three to five bookstores are expected to follow soon afterward. More stores from around the country are expected to join the service, which is available to stores on a subscription basis.
Handseller is based on the experience of Eagle Harbor store owners Morley Horder, Tim Hunter, and René Kirkpatrick, who, with Horder’s wife, Colleen Horder, and software developer Theresa Savage, created and now market Handseller. The app, which is already available on iTunes and will be available for Android users soon, integrates seamlessly with a store’s e-commerce site, so that customers can create wish lists, place books on hold at a bookstore, and purchase books from their mobile device.
The app has changed dramatically since it was first shown to selected booksellers two years ago, at Winter Institute in Kansas City, and again in 2014 at Winter Institute in Seattle. Based on bookseller feedback and the changing ways people shop, the Handseller team scuttled plans for a June 2014 release as a digital platform. Instead it will launch as a mobile app with the sponsoring bookstore’s banner at the top of the screen. A separate Web-based version can be used by the bookstore to highlight special books and categories, to invite customers to author events, and to generate sales reports.
“The old way of coming up to the [bookstore] counter to ask for a recommendation is not the way the contemporary customer operates,” explained Colleen Horder. She noted that if a staff member knows poetry, for example, the store can have that staffer’s recommendations available virtually to help customers 24/7. Mobile technology lets customers scan a book and ask for recommendations for others like it, or find out if a book is available at their favorite indie. Plus, Horder added, “If you want to get people’s attention to your business, you have to be mobile.”
“It certainly is a great concept. Handseller links to the bookstore’s local inventory, so the recommendations are weighted to what’s on hand and to titles that booksellers—local and indie picks—have reviewed online. That’s very cool,” said Wendy Hudson, owner and buyer at Nantucket Book Partners, on Nantucket Island, Mass.
The ABA has offered assistance to the project from the start. “We have been pleased to work with Handseller for a while now, helping Morley and his team develop a valuable service for ABA members, particularly IndieCommerce stores. Our work together continues, and we look forward to Handseller becoming widely available to our members,” commented Neil Strandberg, director of technology for ABA. Some stores have already committed, including Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, Mass. “I’m very interested in digital innovation in our world. I was intrigued and impressed by the Handseller presentation—enough to volunteer to be among the first,” said bookstore owner Jeff Mayersohn.
Though a number of booksellers are excited about the possibilities for Handseller, questions still remain on the recommendations. During the beta testing and demos, some recommendations came back looking a lot like those from another online retailer and didn’t always dovetail with the reader’s interests. One bookseller (who plans to wait before signing with Handseller and asked not to be named) said, “The recommendations have to be close to perfect. They’re our entire brand.”
The recommendations will ultimately be driven by the individual bookstore’s inventory, and EHBC is convinced enough to put its reputation on the line.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article stated that Harvard Book Store uses BookSite for e-commerce. It uses IndieCommerce.