Ask one of my friends to describe my favorite place to be and they’re bound to say, “Any bookstore, anywhere in the world.” I’m such a fan of bookstores, when traveling I select my hotel based on how close it is to either a chain or a nice independent. I’ve even been known to miss my flight after getting lost perusing the latest titles at an airport newsstand.
It’s therefore no surprise that I, like millions of others, have been disheartened by the closure of so many bookstores in recent years. The culprit, in the eyes of many, is Amazon and its deep discounting, not to mention the growth of e-books. But I would argue that Amazon’s cheap prices and technological advancements alone aren’t the main kiss of death for so many stores. Instead, Amazon has what a lot of bookstores these days unfortunately lack: customer loyalty.
When you buy a book from Amazon, you not only get a great deal, you also receive excellent service. The book arrives in your hands in just days (or instantaneously in the case of a Kindle edition), the transaction is seamless, and friendly customer service robots suggest other titles of interest based on what they know about your preferences. If you’re unhappy with a purchase, returning it is as easy as sticking a prepaid postage label on the box the items arrived in.
Brick-and-mortar booksellers—the kind I love so much—could learn a lot about how to win back customers by emulating Amazon’s business model. No, I don’t mean by starting to sell books online. Rather, I suggest using the following key traits to help turn every customer into a raving fan of your store:
1. Create a welcoming experience for everyone who comes in the door. As much as I enjoy perusing bookstores, I honestly can’t remember the last time I was actually greeted by someone as I walked inside. Having employees simply say hello as customers arrive is not only polite, it will make them feel guilty about walking out without a purchase. And if the customer is a regular, take the time to learn his or her name, and use it each time he or she stops in.
2. Hire right. Recruit employees who are as passionate about books as the people roaming the aisles of your stores, and encourage them to share this enthusiasm. When interviewing candidates, ask them to describe the last three books they read and why they liked them so much. If you don’t hear excitement in a candidate’s voice, it’s probably best to consider someone else.
3. Learn to embrace technology. When a customer buys a book, why not program your cash register to prompt the clerk to recommend other titles he or she might not have considered? If the customer shows any interest, walk him or her to the book and pull it off the shelf. Chances are the customer will make an instant decision to buy.
4. Practice full-spectrum marketing. At one time, marketing was primarily about pushing messages out to your audience, often through paid advertising. Now the tables have turned. You must engage in a two-way dialogue with your customers using the ever-increasing number of communications tools at your disposal. The good news is that most of these vehicles are cheap, if not free. If your store doesn’t already have a Web site, blog, or Facebook page, create them today. Ask authors to contribute content and get readers to post reviews about your great service on sites such as Yelp. You can even enlist loyal customers to help spread the word about your store and upcoming events on their various social media sites.
I could go on, but the point is that when you create an atmosphere that instills loyalty and promote it effectively, customers do business with you because they want to, not because you’re the cheapest place around. In fact, research shows that completely satisfied customers almost never shop based on price alone, and they happily tell their friends about you as well.
Let’s hope that more stores begin to find innovative ways to bring in dedicated customers like me who love the smell of fresh new books and prefer to buy items from a friendly human who truly values their business. Even though I’m also a big fan of Amazon, for me saving the remaining bookstores of the world is a matter of the utmost importance. After all, if any more close, I’m going to have a really hard time finding a hotel for my next trip!