Booksellers Share Innovative Holiday Marketing Tips

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’Tis the season when indie booksellers are donning festive sweaters, whipping up batches of hot cocoa, and unwrapping their seasonal marketing strategies to attract customers during the final weeks of the holiday shopping season.

In addition to decking their Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages with tidings of holiday promotions, booksellers shared ideas with each other during the American Booksellers Association’s most recent online marketing roundtable discussion on November 30.

“We’ve been really pleased with the participation in the marketing roundtables,” IndieCommerce Director Phil Davies said. “The holiday marketing tips from our last meeting were great and typical of the type of info that is being shared by participants.”

ABA hosts the 30-minute videoconferences at 11:00 a.m. EST on two Thursdays a month; the next roundtable is on December 14. 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

Here are some holiday marketing tips shared by booksellers during the recent roundtable as well as some Bookselling This Week gathered from social media:

Invite local nonprofits to wrap gifts: Emily Stavrou Schaefer, promotions coordinator for Schuler Books & Music in Grand Rapids, Michigan, said that bringing in nonprofits to wrap gift provides good exposure for the volunteer group. While gift wrapping is free all year at Schuler Books, customers are invited to make a donation to volunteering nonprofits in exchange for the service. “They raise hundreds of dollars each time, so it’s a pretty good win-win for both of us,” Schaefer said. “Plus, the nonprofit will also advertise that they are going to be here and to come support us both.”

BookPeople of Moscow is selling gift cards online.Promote gift cards online: Carol Spurling, owner of BookPeople of Moscow in Moscow, Idaho, said she has been selling plenty of gift cards online after she posted an image of the gift card with a link to purchase one on the store’s website. “People from far away are buying gift cards for people who live here, or the other way around,” Spurling said. “A lot of them are customers who have family who want to shop here. I’m getting repeats from friends and family of good customers.”

Tap into nostalgia for backlist children’s books: Spurling also suggested creating displays of children’s books featuring staff favorites from their own youth. “A lot of people like to buy children’s books that were big when they were young,” she said. “They like to get them for their grandkids.”

Afterwords Books is running a seasonal book giveaway.Count down to Christmas with a giveaway: LuAnn Locke, owner of Afterwords Books in Edwardsville, Illinois, said this is the fourth year for the store’s Holiday Book Advent Giveaway on Facebook and Twitter. “Participants share our daily Facebook posts for a chance to win a copy of that day’s featured holiday book,” Locke said. “More often than not, when customers come by the bookstore to pick up their prize, they will do some holiday shopping. If they have never visited Afterwords before, it’s my opportunity to introduce them to all that their little, local independent bookstore has to offer. It’s hard not to be charmed by the cozy atmosphere, especially when the shop is all decked out for the holidays!”

Invite customers to make a wish list: Belmont Books in Belmont, Massachusetts, posted an invite on Twitter for customers to stop in and create a wish list: “We’ve got WISH LISTS! You fill it out and we’ll keep it for you so that your friends and family will know what books you’re interested in.”

Chris Abouzeid, co-owner of Belmont Books, said the idea is new this year. “This is an idea one of our booksellers came up with. We’ve never tried it before, so we’ll see what happens,” he said.

The Ripped Bodice built a menorah out of books.Find Creative Ways to Celebrate Hanukkah: The Ripped Bodice‏ in Culver City, California, built a menorah from books that takes pride of place in the store’s front window. Sculpting with books is a bit of a signature marketing move for the store, which also has a Christmas tree composed of books as well. The store’s post on Twitter reads: “We hope it brings light to our neighborhood all season long!” Meanwhile at Changing Hands in Tempe, Arizona, the bookstore is partnering with a local temple for a Hanukkah story time on the Sunday before the holiday begins the night of December 12: “We will read stories, sing songs, and spin the dreidel. You can even shop for some new books to take home with you — AND 20% of the proceeds will go towards the purchase of books for Temple Emanuel’s libraries.”

Eagle Harbor Book Co. invited carolers to sing.Create a festive live event: Bookstores are lining up seasonal entertainment for shoppers, whether it’s an Ugly Christmas Sweater Murder Mystery Party at Joe’s Place in Greenville, South Carolina; a story time with Dr. Seuss’s The Grinch at Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon; or carolers at Eagle Harbor Book Co. on Bainbridge Island, Washington, which wrote on Twitter: “It’s the Christmas season, and on Bainbridge Island few things drive that home like the annual Winslow Way nomadic serenade of the ‘Figgy Pudding Peddlers.’ Thanks for the booster shot of holiday cheer!”

Riverstone Bookstore held a Christmas sweater event.Make promotions fun (and even a little silly): Riverstone Bookstore in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, promised customers 10 percent off if they sported a Christmas sweater like the one worn by an employee in a Twitter post. “That’s Natalie, one of our employees, in the picture,” said owner Barbara Jeremiah. “Like me, she (as does the rest of the staff, to my delight) embraces the season and loves Christmas sweaters. I was looking for a fun way to thank our customers for the great support we have had since we opened, and who doesn’t love a reason to wear one of their Christmas sweaters without fear of ridicule! We know people can get their books from others who discount so we wanted to do one sale opportunity for the holiday season.”

Rebecca Speas of One More Page Books gets into the seasonal spirit.
Rebecca Speas of One More Page Books gets into the seasonal spirit.

Dress for the season: Rebecca Speas, events coordinator at One More Page Books in Arlington, Virginia, posted a picture of herself adorned with a holly crown on Twitter with the message: “I was born to play the Ghost of Christmas Present.”

Speas told Bookselling This Week that she has a theater and dance background and loves dressing up, whether in a Santa hat for Christmas or sparkly crown for New Year’s: “Dressing up brings a lighthearted touch to what can be a really stressful time of year – it gives you (and the customers!) permission to sit back, take a breath, and enjoy the magic and whimsy of the holidays a little! My holly crown (which I made from leftover Christmas decorations) has definitely been a conversation starter for our customers, which I find helps break the ice a bit and open up that dialogue, which then leads to them (hopefully) leaving with the exact book or gift they need!”