How to attract customers to your bookshop

Success or failure in business comes down to meeting your expenses and hopefully generating enough profit to build a comfortable lifestyle and all this comes down to profitable sales from customers. Having plenty of stock means nothing if you haven’t got the customers to purchase your books, so the fundamental question is: how do you attract customers to your bookshop?
Tell the customers that you are open and ready for business. Hang an “Open” sign on the door or better still have a colourful neon light that flashes on and off. Going to the effort of informing the public that you are open sends the message that you want them in your shop.

Inform the public of your trading hours and stick to them. I’ve got core days and of hours operation but I also inform the public that these are “minimum hours of operation” so that they don’t feel pressured to leave at a set time and it also adds flexibility into opening and closing outside of my core hours.

nice clean bookshop
An uncluttered shop is much more pleasant.

Don’t badger people to come into your shop. I’ve seen the disturbing sight of a haberdasher accosting potential customers from outside the door of her shop. Nothing makes a business reek of imminent financial death more than desperate staff trying to get people to come into their shop. I like to think that I am providing a service to the public that they should appreciate; the general public should think that they are doing themselves a favour by entering my shop, not doing me a favour. Humans are inherently unreliable and self-interest is the primary motivational force in their purchasing activities.

Once in the shop, the customer should be left on their own to browse. I encourage customers to seek advice by putting a sign up that reads “Not on the shelf? It maybe in storage – ask at the counter.” The customer knows where you are: ideally behind the counter ready to provide assistance. Labels should clearly identify categories and authors should be put into alphabetical order for added ease. Magazines should be on magazine stands and books should be readily accessible on the shelf. Books shouldn’t be too tightly shelved and ideally one row of books per shelf. This advice seems like common sense but I’ve walked into bookshops that look like badly run storage rooms with up to three rows of books on shelves with each book camouflaging another and worse still stacks of books on the shop floor.

Make the shop welcoming by keeping it clean. Women especially appreciate a pleasant smelling, clean floor; I mop my floor each and every morning. I have the windows cleaned and the place regularly dusted with a duster. Of course, cleaning is never done and any spare time is spent cleaning the shop of cobwebs and dust. The bookshop manager and his/her staff should look clean and presentable too: I always have a freshly ironed shirt on. As an aside, a presentable shop goes hand in hand with a safe and secure shop. This means having the proper insurance if something should occur. Many bookshop owners take advantage of having their home insurance, car insurance as well as that of the business all wrapped up into one package. The right coverage can mean the difference in being closed for a few weeks or opening the next day after some damage from a break in. Ask a local broker if this can be setup for you.
Back to the creature comforts. Provide comfortable chairs to allow customers to sit down on. Chairs allow customers to appreciate their surroundings and the books they may want to buy. Soft pop or classical music should be playing in the background. Silence seems to be socially stifling and customers sometimes like to whisper to each other in private.

There should be more than just books to look at in a bookshop: I put little figurines in their relevant sections – a toy soldier in the military section, a Darth Vader figurine in the Star Wars section, a castle themed bookend in the fantasy section. I also have pottery figures around. My university degrees are also on the wall; I got this idea from my dentist and (hopefully) it adds credibility to you and the advice you give. I also provide a theme week in my display cabinet in the front window. The theme is usually connected to a significant event that occurs that week such as Halloween, the Royal Wedding, the start of summer etc. This allows for books that are usually in the storage area to make an appearance and for props such as small sculptures or relevant plastic toys to appear.
But perhaps the most important element in a bookshop is the staff. Customers want advice and the manager and his/her assistants should be knowledgeable enough to be able to satisfy customers’ reading tastes and this means having the relevant books on the shelf or having the means to have them brought in. Limited space means not all authors can be stocked so it’s important to be able to identify the writing abilities of a Jackie Collins from a Joan Collins. It helps to have studied literature either informally or within a university course – it’s interesting how the same good authors appear throughout history. A large stock of books, preferably consisting of worthwhile titles, adds to the welcoming nature of a bookshop.

Visiting a bookshop should be a pleasure and it is up to the bookshop manager to provide customers with a worthwhile, enjoyable experience. If customers feel valued and satisfied, they will return and make repeat purchases and that is the key to business success.

The image used above is of the Kinsale Bookshop

Leonid Kouvelis
Owner & Manager: Books by the Bay, Mornington, Victoria, Australia.

2 thoughts on “How to attract customers to your bookshop”

  1. Leonid, another insightful and interesting article, thanks! I agree with most of your points–I especially like the little subject touches of a toy soldier etc. I definitely agree to leave the customer alone, and the good idea of a sign explaining they can ask questions.

    And music is very important. One note here–for the sake of the employees sanity, change the music weekly, at least. I swear–a couple of years of daily doses of Enya can drive a normal person to extremes. LOL.

    If the store carries new titles only, then I completely agree with the clean, fragrant cobwebless floors. Speaking strictly for myself, I want an old bookstore to reek of antique papers, have piles of books, and a few cobwebs and dust particles around.

    I used to do the windows for one of the bookshops I managed. I need to write an article on that, lol. I used themes all the time.

    I hope all of these factors help make your store a fantastic success!

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