What Cannot Be Found On Amazon

We live in an era where everything is available in one click. Anything a consumer wants can be bought online. Social media is full of ads that target our interests. Facebook, for example, constantly bombards their users with ads and makes it easier for them to buy the advertised product by just clicking a few links. Instagram has recently integrated e-commerce within their application, so users s can buy the product directly. Amazon has similarly made it extremely easy for people to do online shopping with one-click purchases and two-day shipping. Why would we move from our comfortable couch and purchase the same product from a physical store for a higher price? I argue that for some people the act of going to a physical store, being able to talk to the people who work there and browsing for the product they are looking for is part of their shopping experience. Specifically, I will look at how some independent bookstores are providing this experience successfully, to the point where Amazon is not considered as competition to them.  I will first explore Amazon’s model for selling books, and then I will focus on a few examples of independent bookstores that are doing it right.

 

“Bookstores are going away,” said Mike Shatzkin, chief executive of Idea Logical Co. Since the rise of Amazon and the availability of e-books, online book shopping has dramatically increased, and the number of independent bookstores has decreased[1].

In 1995, when Amazon opened its business, the number of independent stores declined by 40% within five years because people preferred to shop online rather than visiting a physical store[2].

 

Amazon’s ability to offer a wide variety of books that consumers can access 24/7 from the comfort of their own home or mobile devices for cheaper than physical bookstores has resulted in people abandoning the idea of going to an independent bookstore for the sake of buying books. That is how bookstores began suffering from the “showrooming effect”[3]. According to Sandy Koropp, showrooming is the “use of brick and mortar bookstores to get a look and feel of a book, or an idea for a book they’d never heard of, and then head off to the internet to save some money on their purchase.” [4]

Steve Bloom, the owner of Bloomingdale’s bookstore, was furious about the “showrooming” syndrome. Bloom implemented a policy that charged customers $0.65 for showrooming; if they ended up buying a book, Bloomingdale’s would return the fee to the customers. Of course, this strategy was not very well thought out, and it received a lot of backlash from customers and the general public. Negative online customer reviews called Bloom the “bookseller from hell” and he eventually closed the bookstore.  Bloom later mentioned in an interview that the negative reviews and comments were not the main reason for this decision; instead, he said he was simply tired of all the drama[5]. What does the future hold for independent bookstores? A lot of us wonder this, including Mike Shatzkin, the CEO of “The Ideal Logical Company”, a publishing firm, who has been working in the industry for more than 50 years. He recently said that the book industry “seems to be flowing downhill to Amazon.” [6]

 

Amazon has not only succeeded in attracting the consumers but has managed to create customer retention and engagement. Amazon is willing to do whatever it takes to make their customers happy. How? It is not about the product itself, as Professor John Maxwell said in his article: “engagement is the currency of the world we live in now” [7]and that is what Amazon is fighting for, the consumer’s engagement. When looking at traditional independent bookstores, they must try to engage their customers in their own creative way.

 

Surprisingly, a lot of independent stores managed to survive and understand the cultural change that is happening. For instance, Type Books opened 10 years ago in Toronto when most of the independent stores were closing. They recently celebrated the opening of their third branch[8]. Now, independent bookstores are realizing that success requires more than just opening a store. The experience that the store gives to the customers who walk in is extremely important. This experience involves creating an engaging community and a welcoming environment. Thus, independent bookstores have a very important factor Amazon does not, a physical engaging experience. People who love books are there to prove that physical books and the community around them is “alive and kicking!” [9]

As a starter, every independent bookstore must first have a niche market that will be their target audience. A bookstore that tries to create a physical Amazon-like experience will not be successful. Independent stores cannot sell everything for everyone. So how can independent bookstores adapt to be successful?  By making a huge effort to be a part of the community, providing personalized customer service by communicating directly with the people in the store, taking the time to chat with them about their interests, and recommending books accordingly.  That is a model that can compete with Amazon’s “you may also like” suggestions, and it adds a human element to the shopping experience that is almost non-existent when buying books online. These small changes show a promising sign of growth[10].

Type Books, for example, has managed to create an online community with over 20k followers on social media (combining Facebook and Instagram). Type Books is very famous for their artfully crafted window displays. They work hard at making their window displays appealing so that they can generate online engagement when posting it on social media.  In an interview, the staff at the store said this “reflects the personality of the staff for sure because everyone has had a hand in choosing what is in there.” [11]

Attracting people’s attention so they would visit the store was the first step. The next one was making the people who walk in regular customers. They did that by having very passionate staff who are knowledgeable about books helping customers and recommending books to them. They also host events regularly as a way to build community and retain their customer base. At this point, they are doing so well that they have opened a third location, and the business is booming. Type Books are not focusing solely on selling books, they are focusing on selling the idea of an engaging community. As Lesley Fletcher, a specialist in the independent bookstores at the Retail Council of Canada, said: “booksellers are getting better and better at finding their niche and finding their market.” [12]

 

Another example is Morioka Shoten, a bookstore from Tokyo, that is doing more with less. Morioka Shoten made headlines worldwide for stocking only one book at a time. Every time they stock a new book the atmosphere of the bookstore changes based on the new book. The owner, Yoshiyuki Morioka, mentioned that providing only one choice for customers makes them have a deeper conversation and understanding about the book, and for him that is precious. they ended up selling 2,100 books by the end of the year[13].

Furthermore, Blue Heron Books in Ontario has twice been named the best bookseller by the Canadian Booksellers Association. The store first opened in 1989 and has been very successful in the book industry since then. Blue Heron Books made themselves reputable with their blind book date display where books are wrapped in brown paper and only a few sentences describe the book inside. Where, Howe, the owner of Blue Heron Book, found a way to market and sell the “non-bestseller” books in an engaging way that people will respond to. What is better than finding your match and your next perfect book? Through the blind book date idea, they were able to engage and retain customers. They regularly hold events that sell out, have a good relationship with publishing houses and writers, and have decreased the shelf life of the books in their store[14].

 

If we take all the above examples into account, we realize that we are witnessing a  cultural shift. Because of the excessive amounts of information, it is hard to retain customers. Consumers are moving away from traditional ideas and looking for more personalized experiences. Independent bookstore should acknowledge this shift and try to keep up with the changes that are happening around them. This way, independent bookstores can be totally separated from Amazon. Amazon is selling books to increase  their customer database and retention. Independent bookstore is selling books to create a community, a cultural experience, and memories. Thus, they have taken a different approach to survive the cultural shift.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited:

Ang, Katerina. 2017. “Thanks, Amazon Prime! Now Independent Bookstores Are Booming.” MarketWatch. July 10, 2017. https://www.marketwatch.com/story/thanks-amazon-now-indie-bookstores-are-booming-2017-01-25.

“Blue Heron Books.” n.d. Blue Heron Books. Accessed October 23, 2018. https://blueheronbooks.com/.

Curtis, Daniel. 2017. “Have Independent Bookshops Worked out How to Survive in the Age of Amazon?” America’s Current Affairs & Politics Magazine. August 3, 2017. https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/economy/2017/08/have-independent-bookshops-worked-out-how-survive-age-amazon.

Flood, Alison. 2015. “Japanese Bookshop Stocks Only One Book at a Time.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media. December 23, 2015. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/dec/23/japanese-bookshop-stocks-only-one-book-at-a-time.

Grant, Jean, and Shane Fester. 2018. “A Look at Type Books’ Dreamy New Junction Location.” Toronto Life. October 11, 2018. https://torontolife.com/culture/books/look-type-books-dreamy-new-junction-location/.

Hirsch, Paddy. 2018. “Why The Number Of Independent Bookstores Increased During The ‘Retail Apocalypse’.” National Public Radio. NPR. March 29, 2018. https://www.npr.org/2018/03/29/598053563/why-the-number-of-independent-bookstores-increased-during-the-retail-apocalypse.

Kropp, Sandy. 2016. “‘Independent Bookstore Showrooming.’” Prairie Path Books. September 6, 2016. http://www.prairiepathbooks.com/blog/2016/9/6/faohm3veoyh1jo2y97sb6tr7005twu.

Maxwell, John. 2017. “Amazon and the Engagement Economy (Repost).” Publishing @ SFU. December 4, 2017. https://publishing.sfu.ca/2012/11/amazon-and-the-engagement-economy/.

Porter, Ryan. 2016. “Five Independent Booksellers That Do More with Less.” Thestar.com. February 6, 2016. https://www.thestar.com/entertainment/books/2016/02/06/five-independent-booksellers-that-do-more-with-less.html.

Purtill, Corinne. 2017. “A UK Bookstore Owner’s Attempt to Stop ‘Showrooming’ Backfired Spectacularly.” Quartz. Quartz. July 19, 2017. https://qz.com/1032804/a-uk-bookstore-owners-attempt-to-stop-showrooming-backfired-spectacularly/.

Raffaelli, Ryan. 2017. “How Independent Bookstores Have Thrived in Spite of Amazon.com.” HBS Working Knowledge. November 20, 2017. https://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/why-independent-bookstores-haved-thrived-in-spite-of-amazon-com.

Shatzkin, Mike. 2018. “A Changing Book Business: It All Seems to Be Flowing Downhill to Amazon.” The Idea Logical Company. January 22, 2018. https://www.idealog.com/blog/changing-book-business-seems-flowing-downhill-amazon.

Zara, Christopher. 2016. “Amazon.com And Retail: Predatory Pricing, Bully Tactics Squeezing Competition, Retailers And Small-Business Advocates Say.” International Business Times. June 2, 2016. https://www.ibtimes.com/amazoncom-retail-predatory-pricing-bully-tactics-squeezing-competition-retailers-1516554.

 

[1] Raffaelli, Ryan. “How Independent Bookstores Have Thrived in Spite of Amazon.com.” HBS Working Knowledge. November 20, 2017. Accessed October 18, 2018. https://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/why-independent-bookstores-haved-thrived-in-spite-of-amazon-com.

 

[2] Hirsch, Paddy. “Why The Number Of Independent Bookstores Increased During The ‘Retail Apocalypse’.” National Public Radio. March 29, 2018. Accessed October 18, 2018. https://www.npr.org/2018/03/29/598053563/why-the-number-of-independent-bookstores-increased-during-the-retail-apocalypse.

 

[3] Zara, Christopher. “Amazon.com And Retail: Predatory Pricing, Bully Tactics Squeezing Competition, Retailers And Small-Business Advocates Say.” International Business Times. June 02, 2016. Accessed October 18, 2018. https://www.ibtimes.com/amazoncom-retail-predatory-pricing-bully-tactics-squeezing-competition-retailers-1516554.

 

[4] Kropp, Sandy. “”Independent Bookstore Showrooming”.” Prairie Path Books. September 06, 2016. Accessed October 18, 2018. http://www.prairiepathbooks.com/blog/2016/9/6/faohm3veoyh1jo2y97sb6tr7005twu.

 

[5] Purtill, Corinne. “A UK Bookstore Owner’s Attempt to Stop “showrooming” Backfired Spectacularly.” Quartz. July 19, 2017. Accessed October 18, 2018. https://qz.com/1032804/a-uk-bookstore-owners-attempt-to-stop-showrooming-backfired-spectacularly/.

 

[6] Shatzkin, Mike. “A Changing Book Business: It All Seems to Be Flowing Downhill to Amazon.” The Idea Logical Company. January 22, 2018. Accessed October 18, 2018. https://www.idealog.com/blog/changing-book-business-seems-flowing-downhill-amazon.

 

[7] Maxwell, John. “Amazon and the Engagement Economy (repost).” Publishing @ SFU. December 04, 2017. Accessed October 20, 2018. https://publishing.sfu.ca/2012/11/amazon-and-the-engagement-economy/.

 

 

[8] Grant, Jean, and Shane Fester. “A Look at Type Books’ Dreamy New Junction Location.” Toronto Life. October 11, 2018. Accessed October 18, 2018. https://torontolife.com/culture/books/look-type-books-dreamy-new-junction-location/.

 

[9] Ang, Katerina. “Thanks, Amazon Prime! Now Independent Bookstores Are Booming.” MarketWatch. July 10, 2017. Accessed October 20, 2018. https://www.marketwatch.com/story/thanks-amazon-now-indie-bookstores-are-booming-2017-01-25.

 

[10] Curtis, Daniel. “Have Independent Bookshops Worked out How to Survive in the Age of Amazon?” America’s Current Affairs & Politics Magazine. August 03, 2017. Accessed October 20, 2018. https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/economy/2017/08/have-independent-bookshops-worked-out-how-survive-age-amazon.

 

[11] Porter, Ryan. “Five Independent Booksellers That Do More with Less.” Thestar.com. February 06, 2016. Accessed October 20, 2018. https://www.thestar.com/entertainment/books/2016/02/06/five-independent-booksellers-that-do-more-with-less.html.

 

[12] Porter, Ryan. “Five Independent Booksellers That Do More with Less.” Thestar.com

[13] Flood, Alison. 2015. “Japanese Bookshop Stocks Only One Book at a Time.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media. December 23, 2015. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/dec/23/japanese-bookshop-stocks-only-one-book-at-a-time.

 

[14] “Blue Heron Books.” n.d. Blue Heron Books. Accessed October 23, 2018. https://blueheronbooks.com/.

 

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