Reclaiming land from Amazon

When Amazon started its e-commerce book selling business in 1994, it irrevocably disrupted the book industry. Book sales of brick and mortar bookstore chains fell, while Amazon’s sales soared within a month of opening.

As more and more consumers discovered the convenience and low prices of online book sellers, experts predicted that physical bookstores would become extinct. They were right – bookstores all over the world started declaring bankruptcy, shrinking the industry to Amazon and a few major players.

The recent emergence of indie bookstores were the spark that reignited the dying flame of physical bookstores. According to research by Ryan Rafaelli, funded in part by Harvard Business School, “the American Booksellers Association (ABA) reported a 49% percent growth in the number of “indie” booksellers, from 1,651 in 2009 to 2,470 in 2018.” [1] Rafaelli’s analysis concluded that indie bookstores successfully took back a piece of the pie by employing three strategies: community, curation, and convening.

How can other bookstore owners make use of these strategies to rise from the ashes?  Crucially, which pieces of technology can make the process more straightforward and less stressful? This article will endeavor to answer both questions, as well as show how POS system for bookstores are a viable business solution.


Foster community spirit

The “shop local” movement has been making waves globally.

As COVID-19 rocks the economic boat, “consumers see their neighborhood businesses struggle, and they want to help out. Shifting dollars from big-box stores to small businesses is becoming not only popular but on-trend … ‘Shop local’ is more than just a slogan; it’s a symbol of solidarity in the COVID-19 consumer marketplace”. [2]

iMin POS System for Bookstore

A sign demonstrating the “Shop Local” movement, photo by Arthur Franklin on Unsplash

In the United States, “98% of [Nextdoor] users say local businesses make a substantial positive or positive impact on their neighborhoods’ quality of life”. [2] Similar sentiments are reported in Southeast Asia, where a survey by UOB bank found that “more than 60 per cent of consumers it polled across Southeast Asia desired to stand in solidarity with their local businesses”. [3]The “shop local” movement has greatly benefitted indie bookstores, boosting their visibility and popularity amongst consumers in the neighbourhood.

Thus, instead of counting on mass appeal, indie bookstores have played to their strengths and geared their efforts toward the local community. This is a value proposition that chain or online book retailers cannot replicate.

Of course, bookstore owners cannot rest on their laurels and assume that consumers will surely patronise them. To maximise the positive impact of this trend, bookstores can tap on a whole host of features in POS systems.

iMin POS System for Bookstore X1 D3 Scan

Example of a desktop POS device with scanner that bookstores can use

For example, bookstores can initiate a simple customer loyalty program to remain top of mind, even after the trend passes. Primary features of a customer loyalty program are a point-based system or gift cards. These features keep bookstores in mind, so that book lovers return after their first visit.

A POS system can help bookstore owners to keep track of a customer’s point status, so there is never any confusion or dissatisfied customers.

Rome was not built in a day, and the same goes for nurturing a community. Consumer trends may come and go, but bookstores can utilise the “shop local” opportunity to kickstart long-term customer relationships.


Digital librarians: use a POS system for book curation

A well curated bookstore is a haven for every book lover.

However, curation is more complex than displaying popular titles on the New York Times bestsellers list. Every reader has unique and subjective tastes, and it is difficult for bookstores to cater to every single reader. Furthermore, every book has a different and nuanced story to tell, which a short summary on Sparknotes just cannot cover adequately.

iMin POS System for Bookstore

Customer service at a bookstore, photo by Robinson Greig on Unsplash

In the past, bookstores achieved personalisation by hiring experienced and perceptive “librarians” who would chat with customers and recommend them book titles.

Now, bookstores can count on the help of data analytics embedded in their POS system. POS systems have the capability to collect and analyse data from multiple sources, including a bookstore’s online marketing campaigns and data from physical stores.

By tapping on data analysis, staff can recommend book titles to regular readers who have defined tastes and preferences, as well as recommend books to new and fickle readers. Bookstore owners will also have a more precise and holistic view of customer profiles.

Once the POS system is set up, bookstores can also link customer preferences to future marketing campaigns. For instance, bookstores can send out newsletters with personalized recommendations or target specific groups of readers during book sales.

The art of recommending the perfect book to someone can never be replaced completely, but the accuracy and scope of recommendations can be a booster shot to any bookstore. Combine the personal touch of your librarians with the capabilities of advanced analytics to create a delightful customer experience.


Cultivate a social space through convening

Convening refers to creating a space for likeminded individuals to engage in conversations and intellectual discourse.

On this front, some indie bookstores have come up with great initiatives. For example, BooksActually, an indie bookstore in Singapore, “packed calendars of events with authors and the literary community in Singapore. … BooksActually cited the recent fourth edition of its 24-Hour Bookstore event as a successful one, which saw it hosting performances, panel discussions, readings and even food for extended hours.” [4]

iMin POS System for Bookstore

BooksActually’s 24-Hour Bookstore, sharing by Alfian Sa’at and Kenny Leck [5]

By creating a space for discourse, bookstores serve as social spaces for readers to interact, an experience that is difficult to replicate online.

A multi-functional POS system will be able to help with event registration and queue management. Also, after bookstores host multiple events, POS sale systems will have collected enough data to predict future attendance and potential sales. With this, bookstore owners will be able to more accurately plan for inventory management.

Convening also enables bookstores to ramp up their revenue – “the hard math of running a bookstore is that most run on a razor-thin net operating margin of 0%–4%,” according to a 2018 editorial in Publishers Weekly.” [6] Hosting events gives bookstores the option of charging a participation fee, or selling event-related merchandise to increase margins. Again, a POS solution is useful here to keep track of the entire inventory and sales history. If bookstores hire temporary employees to cope with the demand during these events, POS systems may also be able to facilitate employee management.


Simplify book inventory systems

Beyond facilitating the above initiatives, a good POS system can also keep bookstores in the black through its advanced features.

Bookstore inventory software. First, a POS system is a godsend for inventory management. Every book has to be sorted with multiple tags, including language, genre, author, year, print edition, fiction/non-fiction.

A POS system can make inventory tracking easier by tapping on the International Standard Book Numbers (ISBN) system. [7] Bookstores which do not make use of ISBN scanning has to tag books manually, a time consuming and potentially error prone process.

POS solutions with ISBN scanning enables librarians to track down individual items immediately when customers request for a book. When an exact item is out of stock, bookstore owners can also be notified to replenish inventory.

Cloud-based system. A cloud-based POS solution enables bookstore owners to check on inventory levels remotely, and access real-time sales reports. Cloud-based versions of POS devices are also less risky, because data is backed up securely in the cloud instead of being on local devices.

With a POS system that has features for bookstore, indie bookstores can go above and beyond. For example, by combining inventory and a cloud-based system, bookstores can develop a book reservation system for loyal customers.


Great expectations

Brick and mortar indie bookstores still have an edge over ecommerce platforms and commercial bookstore chains.

To capture the hearts and minds of readers is a tall order, but the track record of indie bookstores show that it is an attainable goal. POS solutions can go a long way in helping bookstore owners through their wide range of features, including loyalty programs and inventory control.

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