Not long ago the future of Waterstones was being questioned. Wicked whispers said it wouldn’t be long before it joined the likes of Woolworths, Blockbuster and BHS in the retail wasteland. Another once mighty chain, failing to adapt to the changes in consumer spending habits. The story of Waterstones would finish with tragedy rather than a happy ever after. After a near 10 year wobble the book shop giant has fought off eBooks and ecommerce stores, making its first annual profit since 2008. The Kindle and other digital readers have not affected sales as predicated. Customer’s are rebelling against website retailers like Amazon too preferring to browse in bricks and mortar shops rather than online. This article features 7 clever ways Waterstones has reinvented itself and made its shops profitable again…
Know Your Target Audience
Understanding your shop’s demographic will help ensure you have the right products for your customers. Simple really but how often do shop owners break down the figures for their sales. Waterstones has seen strong sales of children’s books and teenage literature. The popularity of series like Harry Potter has seen a new generation of younger readers picking up books. By refocusing on the YA market, Waterstone is introducing itself to a new market audience. Analysing sales with a simple note pad or calendar for selected items will help monitor the products, which are proving popular. Seasonal sales and trends will be reflected by what is selling and when. Never underestimate customer feedback. If you’re asked for a product time and time again, it’s surely worth investigating (Just say away from Fidget Spinners).
Seasonal & Creative Displays
Like many shop’s Waterstones benefits from seasonal trade. It’s something of a cliché but a romantic Mills & Boon style novel is an easy Mother’s Day gift. Father’s Day will see the sports section raided with Fishing, Football and Racing non-fiction books flying off the shelves. By rotating stocks with books spread across themed tabletop displays, Waterstones makes selecting a book as a gift an easy option. Waterstones is great at grouping it’s books into logical zones that makes additional impulse purchases more likely. One clever marketing idea I spied on my last visit, was gift-wrapped books. Only subtle clues gave away the book within. A fun way to dare customers to try something new.
Waterstones sales were boosted because the shops were stocking more books that appealed to local customers. By treating each individual shop as just that: A unique shop of it’s own, Waterstones has seen sales rise locally. Each area will have a mix of different cultures, religions, landmarks and even interests. What sells well in a busy city, might not have then same local appeal in a more rural setting. Waterstones gives over part of its display to local interest, history, attractions and local authors too. Again it’s understanding your target audience and your shop’s place with your village, town or city.
Hype & Events
You may scoff at the people queuing outside book shops to pick up the latest must have book like Harry Potter but the Hunger (Games) for new novels creates an amazing buzz. Midnight book launches have turned high profile novels releases into an event. The hype starts months before and the sales can break records, giving the shops a much-needed boost. The Midnight launches themselves create a fun, community atmosphere appealing to those important younger shoppers. Waterstones runs an astonishing number of in-store events with book signings always a big literary hit.
Good stock management is almost as important as sales. Whilst some trade suppliers will offer sale or return, especially on seasonal lines, this is tends to be carried over as a future discount. Waterstones saved money because it was returning fewer unsold books back to its publishers. Under the old system an amazing 23% of the books publishers sent to Waterstones were unsold and returned. A startling figure that suggests Waterstones was either over ordering or failing with our first point (Know Your Target Audience). The return rate has now fallen to less than 4%. A remarkable turnaround.
Product knowledge is one area, which can separate good shops from the bad. Waterstones encourages their staff to know their Prachetts from their Kings and Orwells. To be well versed in the genres classics. To know their must reads and essential page turners. The idea being that If a customer can tell them what was the last really good book they read, their staff will know exactly what to sell them next. A good recommendation creates a personal bond and builds future trust. Good product knowledge is an additional useful tool for those customers looking for a gift, armed only with the most vague of description. They should be able to answer the question “Do you have that book about a talking lion that’s really Jesus”.
No, we’re not suggesting every shop should have it’s own coffee counter. Still Indie Shops and Coffee make a great combination. Even better if you add cake. About 50 of Waterstones stores now have a Cafe W coffee shop encouraging people to stay in the shops longer. We live in an age of not just selling products but experiences. Plus cake. Lots of cake – sorry I got sidetracked. All picture credits: Waterstones.com