How To Increase Bookstore Sales By Selling Online

By Joe Waynick

In today’s economy, independent bookstores are finding it tough to turn a profit. It seems hardly a day goes by without an announcement about another brick and mortar operation going under.
That doesn’t have to be your fate. And with a little planning, proper application of off-the-shelf technology, and a bit of gumption, you can leverage your existing store inventory and dramatically increase sales and profits.
There are three factors to consider if bookstore owners want to start selling online:

  1. Sourcing
  2. Inventory Management
  3. Fulfillment

Sourcing: You’ve Already Got The Goods
One big advantage Indie booksellers have over typical book scouters is they have ready-made inventory. The books currently sitting on your bookshelves can pull double duty by being listed online as well as displayed in your store. Selling books online from your existing stock will generate immediate additional profits.
However, one of the greatest advantages of Indie booksellers is your trade and book purchasing policies. As neighborhood booksellers we have the luxury of having additional inventory walk through our doors almost every single day.
We don’t have to go out and hunt down books to sell. We may do that anyway, but when they walk in the door we can but quality stock for pennies on the dollar. We then have the ability to sell that stock both online and in our stores.

Inventory Management: Keeping Track of Stock
Good inventory management is essential to a smooth running online bookselling operation. To make that work you’ll need a workable Stock Keeping Unit (SKU) system that allows you to easily find a book when it sells online.
However, for books sitting on your shelves for public display, ensuring that books remain in their proper place can be a challenge. Some bookstores remove books being offered online from public display to avoid the possibility that they’ll be misplaced or damaged by browsing customers. They shelve them in a separate location for safekeeping.

Other booksellers keep their online offerings in the physical store to pull double-duty as previously mentioned. They make sure they’re extra diligent about straightening up the bookcases at the end of each day, and return wayward books to their proper place.

Fulfillment: Providing World-Class Customer Service
Once orders arrive you’ll need to quickly and easily retrieve the ordered book from inventory, carefully pack it for safe shipping, and send it to the intended recipients.
Most marketplaces have a strict policy about how long you have to fulfill customer orders; usually two or three days. If an order hasn’t been marked as shipped within the allowed time, many marketplaces will automatically refund the customer and debit your account.
If you get too many automatic refunds charged to your account, you run the risk of having your selling privileges suspended. In addition, if you generate too many customer complaints due to poor service or shoddy merchandise, you likewise run the risk of having your account shutdown. A good alternative would be to outsource your order fulfillment to a company that provides the service like National Products Fulfilment to make sure all your orders are process in a timely manner.

The best policy is to treat your online customers with the same level of care and respect you treat the customers who walk through your door. In that manner, your account will always remain in good standing.

Good hunting!
For more free articles about selling used books online for profit, visit:
Joe Waynick is author of “Internet Bookselling Made Easy! How to Earn a Living Selling Used Books Online” (ISBN 978-0983129608). You can contact him at:

4 thoughts on “How To Increase Bookstore Sales By Selling Online”

  1. The other day in my bookshop, I heard of yet another bookselling couple with a bricks-and-mortar store who are no longer selling online, citing the time it takes away from live customers and books and diminishing monetary rewards. That was my experience, too, but good luck to all who are diving into that shallow planetary pool for the first time–or trying to remain afloat in it!

    • We dropped the internet sales a few years ago when sales dropped from $100K to $60K and no longer justified the wages of the two people required to adequately handle the extra workload.

      Our experience proved to us that any suggestion internet sales of books can provide a meaningful income without an effort that far exceeds the capability of most people is suspect. We still humour the few skulking internet sellers barely surviving in our area – hoping to make a few dollars on the books they think we have underpriced but we think they are involved in a fool’s game.

      We also resented the fact the Amazons, etc expect you to hold inventory listed on the internet separate from the inventory regular customers browse – and charge you for the privilege.

      I came to realize I was doing a huge disservice to my local community by permanently ripping the culture books provide out of the community they had served so well.

      Now we are concentrating on serving the needs of local customers who nurtured our business and deserve our loyalty.

  2. I’m an online seller only. I’ve been asked by friends why I don’t start a real B&M bookstore to go with my online sales. Inventory control would be on my first page of main factors against it. After describing a book I list as being “VG, Corners not bumped” Some customer will drop it and another will remove it from ‘Engineering’ and put it in ‘Cooking’… I have set up a system of controlling my inventory that works well for me.

    I admire those who sell B&M and online. But I could not imagine having stock on the shelves listed online. The only way I could see it being done is to hide the online books and have a list of those books at the counter or a central location.

  3. Thank you both for your feedback on the article.

    I thought I’d let you know that at a recent gathering of the Phoenix, AZ Valley Independent Booksellers Association, I took an informal poll and learned that 98% of the Indie booksellers in attendance (about 25 of them) were selling online as well as out of their stores.

    The vast majority of them kept their online inventory separate from inventory displayed in their physical stores. That’s how I do it too.

    The nice thing about supplementing physical store sales with online sales is that the amount of time devoted to selling online can be strictly controlled so it doesn’t interfere with daily B&M store operations while increasing overall profits.

    Joe Waynick, author
    Internet Bookselling Made Easy! How to Earn a Living Selling Used Books Online
    Bookseller Resources:
    Follow me on Twitter at:

Comments are closed.