Why Chain Stores are Winning in Book Retail


Last week I found myself in a large independent retail bookstore . It is located in a large metropolitan city and would be considered a large independent. I took two of my employees (both female) with me and we spent well over two hours in the store. Unfortunately it was not a good experience and highlights why stores like Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million and Borders are attracting so many customers. Some thoughts on the experience:

  • Attitude. Most retail stores have an attitude or culture. The one we visited had a negative culture – you could see it as you walked in the door. One employee, who was putting away stock, commented, “I’m glad we’re slow today so I can get my work done.” I thought serving customers and growing the business was the primary job of the Associates. We felt like an intrusion. I hope he was just making conversation, but in truth you could “feel” that the employees weren’t all that excited or motivated.
  • Ambience. At one point I wanted to shout, “turn the lights on!” The store was dark and the darkness made the store feel imposing. Most great retailers understand the benefit of a well-lit and open store. When you walk in, you feel energized, not depressed. Retailers from Apple to Crate and Barrel understand lighting sells more merchandise and helps customers feel like shopping. Chain retailers usually understand this point and you want to linger in the store which promotes shopping.
  • Atention to Detail. I did buy something (I wanted to have a copy of some competitive product) and the experience was consistent with the rest of the store. The Associate asked me for my phone number so he could check if I was on their frequent buyer program. When I gave him an out of state number he never flinched – “you’re not on our program?” he asked. “No”, I said, “I live in Nashville.” He just looked through me, never engaging me in conversation, just doing the task. Other parts of the store also reflected a lack of detail and color customers have come to expect from major chain book retailers. My two female employees both commented that they would not shop in this store. These women are right in the heart of this store’s demographic profile. One has to wonder how many other people, in the heart of the store’s customer base, chose to shop in other book retail outlets.

Independent book retail does not need to be like this. I have been stores that welcome customers, have world-class merchandising systems and are doing very well in spite of chain stores within their trading area. They understand that attitude, culture, ambience and attention to detail deliver success and happy customers who encourage others to shop the store.

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One Response to “Why Chain Stores are Winning in Book Retail”

  1. Excellent points.
    To expand on this, check out my post at:
    Great blog, you’re in my aggregator.

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