Becoming a Procrastination Center

One thing that independent booksellers should learn from the chain stores is that a customer wants a comfortable place to kill time almost as much as they want a selection of reading material. Of course not every independent can accommodate a café and comfy chairs–and we don’t want to encourage B+N-style abuse with people sleeping in the corners and mauling our stock. What we want is an atmosphere that’s unique and welcoming and attracts customers, even when they don’t have a particular purchase in mind.

Here are a few things that have drawn me to–and held me in–particular stores:

  • readings and book groups
  • a newsletter (e or print)
  • zines or a local authors section
  • original art on the walls
  • a specialization or a few well-developed sections
  • a community bulletin board
  • staff hi-lights/picks
  • good music
  • organized/accessible shelving
  • a new arrivals section (for used books)
  • a discount punch card or a frequent shopper club
  • special orders / OP book searches
  • volunteering for store credit

Because my own store is strictly online I have a more intangible tool set but my goal is still to get people to goof off in my shop (even if they’re sitting in a cubicle on a Monday afternoon). Pursuant to this I’ve added a blog , Flickr sets and I’m planning experiments with LibraryThing, YouTube, and podcasting. So far all of these elements use free third-party webware. The benefit of this is two-fold: a) I don’t have to sink cash into a site redesign b) I’m spreading my footprint over several sites that are very actively search indexed AND have a social networking component.

So how many of these things do you do? What else have you tried to hold your customers attention and keep them coming back?

editor’s note: William is exactly right, especially in regards to music, we get comments on ours all the time. The pic above is from our shop so I obviously buy into Williams ideas on this topic.

5 thoughts on “Becoming a Procrastination Center”

  1. I’m torn. I really wanted a seating area, but my store is only 800 sq feet and I needed the room for shelving. In nice weather I put a table and chairs out front on the sidewalk, but there’s no room inside. Maybe someday.

  2. We specialise in children’s books and it’s always a gamble to find the right balance between an area where children can play while parent browse and area where children are left unsupervised. I can’t have staff providing childcare all day but parents tend to walk away and leave them. Sibllings fight, there are tears and OH&S issues with some toys. Some publishers have come to our aid with some large plush toys that we find very helpful & we’ve kept this area in easy sight of the front counter and our most popular sections.

  3. Only problem with creating such a good atmosphere is that more people will probably read and leave without buying anything.

    • As a lifelong avid used bookstore patron I believe this is not true. If I go into a comfortable, welcoming bookshop and feel completely relaxed and ease to take as much time as I want browsing, collecting an armful of books and then have the leisure to sit and look through them, deciding which ones I want, you can bet I’ll buy at least one and probably much more than that. My favorite secondhand bookshop in Melbourne is one like this and as I result i have bought many (like, 50 or 60) books from it over the years, including going there to buy their quality secondhand books as Christmas presents (spending several hundred dollars in one go).

      I leave to it the utilitarian chain stores that I unfortunately need to visit in order to purchase daily necessities, to implicitly treat my like an enemy. When it comes to my delightful discretionary shopping for pleasure, used books, only friendly and welcoming stores will ever be considered!

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