My dad has been CEO of The Booksellers’ Association of the UK & Ireland for over 30 years. He tirelessly and passionately campaigned for bookshops in these two countries, supporting them through policy, marketing, industry campaigns…the list goes on. And so, just by virtue of being under the same roof as him, I lived second-hand through the changing times of the High Street. Witnessing the last couple of decades, as Amazon came on the scene, was clearly tough.
The world was saying that with Amazon and the eBook, it was burial time for traditional bookshops, and I remember seeing Dad with his head in his hands as more and more of his members closed their doors.
Since Amazon sold its first book, the number of physical book stores has been cut in half.
A Changing Landscape for Bookshops…and All of High Street
The battlefield had changed from ‘big vs. small’ to ‘online vs. bricks and mortar’, and the transition wasn’t smooth. I think what was especially hard to come to terms with was the fact that it was those previously loyal customers of the small independent bookshop, who were bringing about the stores’ downfall; it was all about consumer choice.
But looking back on it now, I think Dad would say it kicked the industry awake, and, as I say daily in my job as CEO of TruRating, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” According to Nielsen, consumer spending in print books at the end of 2016 was up by 6.7% compared to the previous year.
Clearly, there have been some winners and they are winning very well indeed (Figure 1).
Good Advice from Dad
Dad always said the journey to kicking back required putting yourself in the customers’ shoes – and asking yourself why were they making that choice. Online is convenient: you buy from your sofa, on the go, 24/7 and there is a huge range. So, the smart bookshops got savvy – you could walk into a vast number of bookshops and if they didn’t have the title you’re after – they could order it and have it there the next day. They increased their opening times and offered delivery.
But the real secret sauce seemed to be focusing on what Amazon doesn’t have: people don’t get together and get excited about shopping online. They don’t make a day of it. They don’t feel a warm and fuzzy feeling towards it – not like you do when you have a chat with someone in a store about what you’re after, what books you’ve liked before. Shopping on Amazon is boring.
Hence, the personal side became the big play: knowledgeable staff, book reviews handwritten by the manager, staff favorites, a warm welcome with comfortable armchairs and hot coffee on offer.
Flicking through a book, feeling its pages and listening to the author talk about their inspiration. Traditional bookshops started winning when they realized one simple thought: customers shop in stores because of people. Price, convenience and availability all have their place, but at the end of the day, the experience of interacting with another person is a strength that Amazon just cannot replicate online.
How Lessons Learned from Bookshops Can Lead to Better Experiences Across High Street
It was growing up with this backdrop that played a key part in my motivations to build TruRating. There can’t be anything more important for any business than listening to the people that pay you – and that honest communication channel between the owner and the customers had broken down long ago. I thought if you could make it so simple and easy for every customer to give you feedback about what they like and don’t like in just a matter of seconds, then businesses would finally know what their customers want and could in turn provide it, and that they would flourish.
The result? The world would be a happier place for all.
Editor’s Note: Georgina is Founder and CEO of TruRating, a service that gives customers a chance to give feedback about their shopping experiences right at the moment that they pay. TruRating was the winner of Aptos’ “Innovator’s Shark Tank” competition held during Engage, our annual user conference.