Booksellers at Online Marketing Roundtable Share Strategies for Boosting Online Sales

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Bookstores that use the American Booksellers Association’s IndieCommerce platform experienced increased online sales this holiday season, with revenues, transactions, and the percent of visitors who placed an order all on the rise compared to a year ago.

Booksellers shared their tactics for converting website visitors into shoppers during a January 11 online marketing roundtable hosted by ABA’s IndieCommerce team.

IndieCommerce Director Phil Davies provided data to the roundtable that showed that the number of shoppers at bookstores’ websites who placed an order after browsing was up 11.9 percent during November and December of 2017 compared to those months in 2016. The peak day was December 11, when 2.9 percent of shopping sessions ended with a transaction.

“The conversion rates are going up because booksellers are getting more savvy about how to push product and use their website to market their store and get customers directly into the store,” Davies said. “I love it because it means booksellers are adapting to the marketplace and doing something that’s differentiating them from Amazon.”

The number of transactions in November and December 2017 was up 8.4 percent, while revenues were up 13.1 percent. The average order value also rose 4.3 percent, from $48.91 to $51.

Sam McAlilly, social media manager for Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi, said that online holiday sales were boosted at the store by an e-mail campaign called the “Twelve-A-Day Gift Ideas.”

In a daily e-mail to the store’s 6,000 newsletter subscribers, the bookstore recommended a variety of gifts, including such new books as Spineless by Juli Berwald, a former ocean scientist writing about jellyfish (Riverhead Books, November 2017), and uncommon titles such as a remainder copy of A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote that included an audio CD narration by Celeste Holm.

“Posted here are a dozen gift ideas from the Square Books family of stores. Each day, up until shortly before the 25th of December, we will send 12 new selections,” the e-mail reads. “Please feel free to unsubscribe from these e-mails by clicking on the link at the bottom. It will not affect other e-mails you receive from Square Books.”

McAlilly said that just 100 to 200 people unsubscribed from the holiday newsletter throughout the season, and that the open rate for the marketing e-mail was the same as the regular store newsletter at 20 to 25 percent.

“I was skeptical to spam people that way, but it actually worked,” McAlilly said. “We had people buying those products online and also coming into the store to ask about them.”

The holiday e-mail generated more sales than social media posts about the same items, McAlilly noted. “We would supplement the daily dozen e-mails with social media posts. Those didn’t get as much traction,” he said.

Jessica Palacios, the website manager for Once Upon a Time bookstore in Montrose, California, said during the roundtable that her holiday e-mail tactic was reminding customers that they had credit in the store from a rewards program.

“We don’t normally send out a reminder about credit, but during the holidays we decided to do that,” she said. “We noticed that a lot of people came in from that and said, ‘I got $20 off because I spent money here already.’”

Carol Spurling, owner of BookPeople of Moscow in Moscow, Idaho, said she sent out one big e-mail at the start of the holiday shopping season that alerted her customers to such perks as free gift wrapping as well as encouraged them to donate to the annual giving tree charity book drive. “This was the first year I didn’t have to donate myself. Everything got paid for by other people,” she said.

Spurling also added a coupon code at the bottom of her in-store sales receipts for customers to use online. “I’ve had a few people use that,” she said. “It seems most people don’t look at their receipts. I’m thinking maybe I should print that out more often to get people in the habit of checking their receipts to see what I’ve added.”

Suzanne Droppert, owner of Liberty Bay Books in Poulsbo and Bremerton, Washington, said she saw increased sales from a weekly e-mail that featured staff picks. “Each week, it was one employee’s holiday picks, and the next week it was another employee’s picks, and people seemed to come in and ask about those,” she said. “I’m the one that’s here a lot, and when those went out, people came in the next day.”

This holiday season’s poor weather in much of the country may have aided online sales, Davies noted, and booksellers should check the forecasts to see when it might be a good time to send an e-mail or post on social media to boost online shopping.

“If you’re expecting bad weather and people aren’t going to visit the store, maybe that’s an opportunity to see what happens as far as pushing out [marketing emails],” Davies told the booksellers.

ABA hosts these 30-minute marketing videoconferences at 11:00 a.m. EST on two Thursdays a month; the next roundtable is on February 8. Stores do not need to be part of the IndieCommerce program to participate — all ABA members are invited to join in. Booksellers who would like to participate can send an invite request to

The ABA’s IndieCommerce team is also offering one-on-one sessions with a program specialist to discuss IndieCommerce and IndieLite at Winter Institute in Memphis, Tennessee. Booksellers can schedule an appointment from Tuesday, January 23, through Thursday, January 25. Walk-ins will also be welcome, space and time permitting. Booksellers can stop by Room 201 at the Memphis Cook Convention Center.