The Value of Good Communication for Online Booksellers

As a bookseller I’m guessing I spend much more time at booksales than the average person. I go to a lot of the Friends Of The Public Library (FAPL) sales but there are others places that I haunt as well. Friends are always surprised that with as much book buying that I do, I still purchase books online for myself. The odds of finding a newer book or a popular book at an FAPL sale can be pretty slim so I try to do my part to support fellow indie booksellers by ordering online. I wish I could say that I am wholly satisfied one hundred percent of the time, or even 90 percent but more often than not I think to myself, ‘This could have been done much better.’

Selling strictly online means that we forfeit direct face to face interaction with customers and vice versa. We are not able to ‘read’ one another. Impressions of sincerity, honesty and integrity are filtered when exchanges are made online. What can online booksellers do to make a  positive and lasting impression. It can be tedious and time-consuming, but there are three things that I believe work to our advantage and in the end, I believe they pay off.

For starters, and I think that most sellers do this, it is important to acknowledge book orders via e-mail. It is our first direct communication with what (with any luck) will be a repeat customer. The gray area for some sellers may be that many sites send an automated order confirmation to the customer which makes sending a second order confirmation seem redundant or if it is a particularly busy week, an expendable step. My feeling is that relying on the book site to confirm a book order is a missed opportunity for the seller.

The seller confirmation is important because you are able to provide the buyer with your contact information and confirm exactly what has been ordered. It may seem obvious to the seller what has been ordered, after all, we have the product in hand, but buyers are not always aware of what they will be receiving. If I think a customer has made an assumption about a book they’ve ordered I will send out a gentle reminder, a ‘did you know…’ e-mail. I informed one customer that the graphic novel he ordered was a non-English version, it was in Chinese. The book was being sent as a gift and he was very grateful that this was  pointed out to him prior to mailing. The inevitable return was one less thing that I’d have to deal with down the road. I’d rather lose the sale than spend the time dealing with an unhappy customer. Another time I had a Woody Allen biography that was  getting a lot of action on Ebay. It was signed by the author. I sent an e-mail to the winning bidder reminding him that the book was signed by the author, not Woody Allen. He was aware and the sale went through. The order confirmation is an opportunity to establish a rapport with the customer, set the tone of the exchange and nip any potential problems in the bud.

The second means of making a positive impression is packaging. Packaging speaks volumes about the seller. The care taken in packaging a book tells the customer that the inventory was cared for and has value.
Start with a final look-over. Dust of the edges of the text block if necessary, flip through the pages, erase any penciled in prices and take care of any sticker residue that may have been overlooked. It’s important that the book match the description. If there is highlighting that you were unaware of, contact the seller and let them know. It’s better to deal with any discrepancies or inaccuracies sooner than later. Customers will appreciate that you are forthcoming and it is an opportunity to establish trust.

I’m a stickler for wrapping books. I wrap every book that I send out in plain brown kraft paper. This doesn’t have to be expensive. I buy a twelve inch roll that is 180 feet from the paint aisle of the local home improvement store. It is masking paper but works very nicely as wrapping paper. I can put an ink stamp with my web address on the outside of the nicely wrapped package and then put that into a clear plastic bag to protect it against dampness. The presentation is simple and clean. Treating even the most inexpensive books well implies value and it doesn’t go unnoticed. Most of the letters, e-mails and feedback that I receive mention satisfaction with the packaging.

The last point of contact with the customer is that which finalizes the transaction. This can be an e-mail or an enclosure that accompanies the book. I have a thank-you letter that I try to include with my orders. I’ve noticed a very strong and positive response when I enclose this letter with the book and print it on a better quality paper stock. Showing gratitude goes a long way as does reassuring customers that they can always contact you if they have any concerns.

Selling online does have its limitations in that we have less direct interaction with our customers. Being smart with our customer contacts can mean reaping the rewards of a repeat customer and future sales. As a customer and as a seller value is key. I would like the books that I order to be treated as though they have value and were cared for. As a seller I want to convey to my customers that I value their patronage, I realize that there are many, many buyers they can choose from.

Roberta Navares

Bertski Books
The Poet in You

2 thoughts on “The Value of Good Communication for Online Booksellers”

  1. Good article, with many excellent points made. Just a reminder, however, that enclosing a letter means the book has to be mailed first class rather than media mail.

Comments are closed.