Consumers are PRO Bookstores

For anyone thinking that bookstores are simply relics of the past and consumers are done with them, there’s no use trying to save them? Think again. A new survey by Brand Week proves otherwise.

Of 133 business to select from, people picked Barnes & Noble as #1, the best customer experience. Amazon? #5. Costco? #7 Borders? #18 (tying Sam’s Club). Target tied ebay #14, Walmart #42 (below Kmart). Zappos, which is known for Customer Experience didn’t get mentioned in Forrester’s complete list , which was surprising, but they may be considered part of Amazon now.

For brick and mortar bookstores that feel under siege, B&N proves that you can still come out on top. You just have to provide excellent customer service, online and off, know how to combine a great retail experience with smart product placement & merchandising, and put effort into your brand and your store’s appearance.

Indies can still come out the winner, at least in their own community.

Even if you feel “I don’t have a B&N budget,” you can still learn million-dollar secrets from walking into a few B&N stores and studying the stores and the experience.

Notice sales transactions happen at a desk to the left, behind you, as you walk in? That’s so you don’t notice it. People generally look to the right or straight (because it’s how we read). Never to the left or behind them. B&N does this so their customer’s first thought isn’t “This will cost me money.”

Now look at all the books directly in front of you? Glossy coffee tables, deeply discounted items, the popular works in paperback, and colorful magazines. Your eyes get the message: Cheap and cheerful. Your hands think: it’s ok to touch something.

To the right of you? The coffee bar, dressed in mellow tones, giving off that warm cookies and coffee smell, subtly says to your mouth and nose: Ah, relax and stay awhile. Hear a bit of music mixed in with that cappuccino maker? That’s a message to your brain, from your ears.

Your overall impression from walking in to a B&N is “This is nice. I can afford some of this. I’ll stay a bit.”

Notice the Information Station? Back of the store, so you walk through the books. Separate from checkout. Your thought isn’t “This request will cost me money.”

Study the section placement. Really. It’s based on the types of buyers that come for the types of book. Look at whether on not there’s seating near these sections.

Travelguide buyers generally know where they want to go. They look, buy a book and leave. Self-help and religion? They need a chair. Art / craft books, those folks will sit on the floor, they don’t care.

Look at the children’s area. Is your area an upscale area that’s not really family oriented? Children are probably hidden behind info and sort of secluded. The folks generally want their children safe, but don’t necessarily want to hear them disrupting the store.

Are you in in a more middle income, kid-friendly neighborhood? Probably children are upstairs, where they can be seen and heard as parents browse below. The folks generally want their children safe, but don’t mind hearing them disrupt the store a little, in fact, that’s how they know their kids are still around and still having fun and they can go on browsing books.

Actually use all of the B&N services. Buy a coffee, ask for help at the desk, select a cheap book, and buy it.  Find out what it’s like to order a book. How is that experience? How is that different than the experience you offer?

Go through the process of a great experience and see what they’re offering. Note the cards and journals near the check out. The offer of the book club discount. They way staff treats you. Their color schemes. How they’re branding the store. Do you understand how the experience is one big sales seduction?

Check out their online services as well.  See what a really useful bookstore website looks like. What that experience is like?How is that brand being reinforced in people’s minds. Then look at your store’s site. And if you don’t have one, think about putting one up.

Even a very small bookstore can do 90% of what B&N does, and do it even better because Indies really know their local area.

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