Bookstores Find Big Benefits in New Year’s Day Sales

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Want to start 2014 off on the right foot? Here, from the BTW archive, is a look at how some indie booksellers rang in New Year’s Day 2013 with a significant boost in sales and in-store traffic, while simultaneously clearing out leftover holiday merchandise and giving customers a reason to celebrate. By holding a New Year’s Day sale that offered all or select inventory at a discount, these bookstores entered the new year feeling optimistic and slightly ahead of the curve.

“Our New Year’s Day sale was great!” said Anne Holman, co-owner of The King’s English Bookshop in Salt Lake City, who noted that the event is something that many customers attend with their families each year.

Since the store’s fiscal year ends on December 31, “it’s a great way to reduce inventory before we start returns and traditional inventory,” said Holman. “And it’s also a way to say thank you to our customers for supporting us all year.”

The King’s English discounts everything “on shelves” at a flat rate of 25 percent. If the store receives new books in the week before Christmas, they generally are held in the back and are not included in the sale. “We have to communicate this carefully to our booksellers so they don’t look up items in our POS system and then panic when they can’t find them,” said Holman. “The party line is, ‘Let’s see if it’s on the shelf.’” If it’s not on the shelf but is in the store, a title will be sold at its usual price.

To reach even more customers — including those who might still be feeling the effects of too much partying the night before — the sale includes online purchases made on New Year’s Day as long as the item is on the shelf, said Holman.

The bookstore also clearly advertises that gift cards, Kobo devices and accessories, and special orders are not included in the sale, and customers do not accrue Frequent Reader Program points for items on sale.

In addition to in-store signage and social media promotion, The King’s English sends out an e-mail the day after Christmas, and in the past has sent a postcard 10 days prior at a bulk rate, which takes longer but is cheaper. The 2013 sale at The King’s English was down compared to past years, and Holman thinks it’s directly related to the fact that they did not send out a postcard this year. “There really is no substitute for snail mail in terms of getting to our customers. In the future, we will always send a postcard.”

Another critical way of getting the word out has been sending a press release to the media in early December, and The King’s English has had good luck in getting its sale featured in the local papers for free as something fun to do on New Year’s Day.

The store changes its sales receipts for the event to say “Happy New Year. All Sales Final Today” to avoid customers trying to return sale items. Holman said it’s crucial to “staff up” for the event. “This is a day when we have all hands on deck,” she said, adding that in the future the store will likely be closed on the following Sunday so the entire staff has time to recover.

As at The King’s English, the New Year’s Day sale at Bookshop Santa Cruz in Santa Cruz, California, has become something that community members look forward to. The store has held a New Year’s Day sale for at least a decade, said owner Casey Coonerty Protti. “From what I hear, it’s kind of a family tradition for a lot of our customers,” she said. “It’s great that there can be a sentimental feel to it.”

This year, New Year’s Day sales were up from last year by about 10 percent, and “it was double or triple what we’d typically do on a day without a sale,” said Coonerty Protti.

Since many people are coming in with gift cards, Bookshop Santa Cruz discounts strategically, giving calendars and gift items a higher markdown than books.

In the past, it was sometimes difficult to get people out to shop since a lot of retail stores were closed, Coonerty Protti said. But in recent years, many neighboring shops have been open and holding sales as well, which “transformed it into an event.”

Bookshop Santa Cruz waits until holiday purchasing is over before advertising the event, so it doesn’t take away from holiday sales. Though a main benefit of the sale is moving leftover holiday merchandise, Coonerty Protti doesn’t want it to be seen as an afterthought. She said it is important to make sure the store looks good and is still well-stocked.

To promote the sale, Bookshop Santa Cruz sends a postcard to customers on its mailing list, who are encouraged to bring it back to the store to be entered into a drawing to win a $100, $75, or $50 gift card. At the end of the day, the store picks three winners. “People are so excited about it. It’s amazing how much of a drive it is,” Coonerty Protti said.

Oblong Books & Music, which has two locations in New York’s Hudson Valley, held its third annual New Year’s Day sale in 2013. “It always comes as a surprise how much business we do on our sale day,” said co-owner Suzanna Hermans.  “We think of it as a day to give back to our customers and drive a lot of traffic into the store on a day we would otherwise be closed or extremely slow,” she said. “We’re the only store open in town, so we get all the business! Plus, our regular customers get excited about it — it generates a lot of goodwill.”

Oblong offered 20 percent off storewide (except on Kobo devices) along with an extra 10 percent off on sale items and 40 percent off on holiday items.

“For us, it’s worth it to discount everything in the store, not just some items,” said Hermans. “This really gives people an incentive to come, plus it makes things less confusing at checkout.”

As a way to target the sale toward its best customers, Oblong typically promotes exclusively through its e-mail list and via social media.

Since Oblong’s Millerton location has a greater percentage of older clientele, who are not interacting with the store online, business was slower than at its Rhinebeck location. “Next year, we’ll have to find a better way to let them know about the sale,” said Hermans, “even if it means an old-fashioned postcard in the mail!”

Hermans holds out until after the holidays to start advertising the event, to keep customers from delaying purchases. “I think the day after Christmas is the earliest you should promote,” she said.

Third Place Books, which has two locations in Washington State, held its fourth annual New Year’s Day sale this January. Managing Partner Robert Sindelar heard about the benefits of holding such an event from a bookselling colleague at a past Winter Institute and said it has been growing in success each year.

To make it as straightforward as possible for customers, Third Place discounts all inventory 20 percent. “Customers are always in a great mood when they see that.” Sindelar said that Third Place picks a discount level “we can live with,” which is “really easy and exciting for customers.”

In addition to the 20 percent discount, Third Place also targets gift items, giving a higher discount to merchandise that it wants to move out of the store.

Third Place now does two and a half times the amount of business it did on New Year’s Day prior to holding the sale. “We get an extra kick of cash flow, and it thins out merchandise so we’re ready to start the New Year,” said Sindelar.

Third Place promotes the sale in its monthly print and e-mail newsletters, and this year it was chosen by a local newspaper as its “pick of the week,” which really helped get the word out, said Sindelar.

Unlike many stores that wait until after customers finish their holiday purchasing, Sindelar is adamant about promoting the New Year’s Day sale early. “Whenever we do any kind of sale, if we have signage up in the store a month ahead of time, sales are incredibly successful,” he said. “If we somehow drop the ball and start promoting 10 days before the sale, we’ll probably do a third of the business.  For us, it’s always about getting the word out early.”

After four years, customers are already beginning to look forward to the sale each January. “They plan for it in a way that’s not detrimental to sales on the days before or the days following,” said Sindelar.

The "reading resolution" pillar at Watermark included goals such as: "I will use Kobo," and the slightly more ambitious "365 books in 365 days!"

Watermark Books and Café in Wichita, Kansas, held its first annual New Year’s Day Celebration sale in 2013, and it went off without a hitch, said owner Sarah Bagby. The store discounted all inventory 30 percent, served complimentary mimosas, and had a “reading resolution” pillar, where customers could post their resolutions and read each other’s goals for 2013.

“It exceeded our expectations,” said Bagby.

“Our customers and friends left with stacks of books to read, a champagne glow on their faces, a resolution to work toward, and a great way to start the New Year.” Customers committed to read more classics, only buy e-books from Kobo, build more bookshelves, and more. “It was so fun!” said Bagby.

Though the store had shortened hours on New Year’s Day, traffic was steady from its opening at 11:00 a.m. until closing at 4:00 p.m. To keep costs down and make things simpler, Watermark limited its café menu to one special (which was not discounted) and only served drip coffee. 

Bagby said it’s important to be sure to have enough staff and to have one person at the door to explain all the promotions that are going on. The mimosas and greeters were a festive addition, said Bagby. “No one over-imbibed, and it was an inexpensive way to add a party atmosphere.”

If you have held a New Year’s Day sale in the past, or are planning one for 2014, BTW would like to hear about your experiences and strategies. Please drop us a quick e-mail and we will follow up whenever is convenient for you.