Bookstores: Some ideas to get customers in and keep them coming back

Every now and then, businesses fall asleep – especially the book- business, where store-frequentation just spontaneously lessens. Sometimes, there’s never really a reason. Other times, frequency is altered by the changing seasons, the various social events or lack thereof. During those times though, there’s always that extra edge you can have by pushing those slow-moving titles along, improving the store’s general appearance, and revamping your services just a bit. In fact, you can ruffle up that business-doze with a few customer-catching ideas that can be played with all-year round, not just to get more people into your bookstore, but also to serve them better and to keep them coming back:

1. ‘Suggestions’ box – this is where customers fill out a card with short simple questions (ie – with simple questions like ‘what do you / don’t you like about our bookstore?’ or, ‘How can we serve you better?’).
This is important because the opinion of the ‘other’ brings your attention to issues that perhaps never crossed your mind, but that are of utmost importance. What the receiving end has to say is always of value.

2. Another option is to have customers fill a questionnaire at the counter – you need to know what ‘they’ want.

3. Social-networking – Facebook, Twitter, Yammer, LinkedIn, and that massive list of sites used by millions of people… they can get you potential customers from near and far, and serve as great starting points to promote your bookstore and what it is you have to offer.

4. Launch a new product – it could be a book, the new Kindle, a book- light, an e-book package, etc. Make it something that you know for sure others don’t have and that is only offered at your store.

5. Create seasonal activities (ie- “Celebrate Easter/Christmas/New Year/Ramadan/Chinese New Year/Independence day(s)/ Halloween/ Mothers Day/Father’s Day/Labor Day/Summer/Winter/Spring with “your bookstore”) publicized and featuring special offers, activities, and guests or figures, such as Santa-clause, the Easter bunny, etc. You’ll also notice some of the ethnic celebrations are mentioned here – respect the needs of your expatriate communities and become part of their celebrations.

6. Special book-reading activities for children – this would entail getting in touch with schools and organizing a weekly / monthly session.
Note that though this may not increase the sales so much, it will undoubtedly bring more attention to your store.

7. Research: Contact schools/colleges/universities in your area and find out if you can provide the books on their syllabi/reading lists. This would require some PR work, because it entails going to visit these places in person. But the results can be overwhelming if you have dozens and dozens of primary/secondary/tertiary classes walking in and out of your store all day.

8. Special book & author seminars, with authors of general books invited, both national writers and, if you can afford it or find a sponsor, from aboard (ie – a health specialist, business administrator, novelist, artist or musicians whose work is available at the store.
Again, you’d need to see what could interest your target audiences the most).

9. Periodical activities: ie – monthly discounts or annual book-fairs. This would not only be the easiest thing to do, but also the most fun – think of all the creative options you have, when it comes to discounting and setting up special bookfairs!

10.Coffee-corner with a proper variety of beverages – books and beverages create the perfect environment, and the presence of the latter will definitely come to your advantage. Maybe some homemade cookies or muffins will also give you that extra something, especially if its winter.

11.Make sure you send copies of all your promotional flyers, bookmarks, and catalogs to the media (newspapers, magazines, websites) in print and e-form, especially to their weekly calendars (and especially prior to any events you plan to host) – And don’t forget to pop them in the bags of all your customers as they buy something and leave.

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  • One thing you mentioned … “Maybe some homemade cookies or muffins will also give you that extra something” … reminded me that in some locations a store owner will have to be careful. Serving food in a store could bring the health department down making sure all kinds of ‘rules and regulations’ are met. Sanitary issues must be met and compliance can be expensive. – This of course would be accompanied with sometimes costly permits and perhaps fines if they find you have been doing it for a while. Plus if homemade they might want to come into one’s home and make sure all is in accordance there too.

    If a store owner would want to run with the food idea perhaps a deal with a local bakery would be less work plus there would be two businesses getting benefits from it.

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    • That sounds like a sad state of affairs to me. I always had a few croissants and muffins to offer friends/customers that stopped by. What kind of life is it when you need a permit to give a neighbour a snack. I was even known to share a glass of wine from time to time (though I imagine our officials here, North of the Border, would have preferred I had a permit for that activity – my bad)

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    • You also need to check your lease and see if it’s permitted. Mine specifies no food, firearms, or porn.

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  • Something we tried on a whim that has surprised me with its effectiveness is putting a library bookcart out on the sidewalk in front of the store. We put books on it that we cull (we had way too many biographies at first!), that are just a little under our minimum condition standards, or that are slightly odd in their topic. We price them at a quarter each. There’s nothing out there that would bother us to lose if it got out-of-shop-lifted. But the cart is highly visible, and tells people we are open for business (we roll it in at night and out again in the morning). I’ve been very pleasantly surprised at how many people stop to browse for a bargain book, then come in and buy several more. Sometimes a LOT more!

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    • Yes Susan… that’s such a brilliant idea… we do that here in Cairo every now and then, and strangely, the dustier the books got, the more customers seemed to flock over to see what was going on, and it really *is* a great way to get rid of titles that have been hanging around for ages (you could say years ;)).

      Every now and then, we also settle for a table of freebees – catalogues, outdated magazines, bookmarks, etc. The great big red *FREE* sign seems to catch the eye.

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      • I love that Magda! Good one!

        When I walk into a restaurant and see it is empty or business is real slow I tell them to put up a sign that says “FREE FOOD”. That will bring them more customers than they can handle. Little profit margin but they WILL have customers that keep coming back (as long as the sign stays up).

        I know the same would be true of a bookstore and a sign saying ‘FREE’.

        There is a thrift shop I frequent that has a ‘free rack’ just inside the front door. A clerk told me is is great PR to put somewhat unsalable items there. Not trash but real inexpensive items, a few worn toys & some stuff that has been collecting dust even after being discounted to next to nothing. Items too good to throw out. He said that many people seem to feel obligated to buy something after getting the free item(s).

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