Holiday Sales Bring Good Cheer

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The 2011 holiday season was a good one for booksellers reached by Bookselling This Week. December brought double-digit sales improvements to some, increased online sales to others, and the reversal of a negative trend to another. Buy Local campaigns continued to drive sales, “showrooming” was an issue at some stores, and social media marketing caught customer attention.

Bartleby’s Books in Wilmington, Vermont, which was nearly destroyed by Hurricane Irene this past summer, finished the season with a 50 percent increase for December over last year. “Our marketing was really based around the fact that we were reopening,” said owner Lisa Sullivan. Neighborhood commitment to shopping local helped. “We heard many customers say they were spending their money locally. We also inserted the NEIBA catalog in the local paper with a coupon for purchases over $50 and we had a number of people bring it in.”

Bartleby’s online sales were strong and e-book sales up.  “We started to have more online sales when we were closed after the flooding and those sales kept right up after we reopened,” said Sullivan.

Sales at Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi, were up just slightly this holiday season, said owner Richard Howorth, because the previous year’s fourth quarter results were its best ever “due to an unusually strong year of local or regional books.”  Square Books Jr., a standalone children’s store, had its best fourth quarter yet, however, with exceptionally strong holiday sales.

Square Books again produced a holiday catalog (mailed, distributed in-store, and posted online every year), and this year’s seemed more effective than some in the past, Howorth said. Other marketing efforts “continued to emphasize our website, our weekly e-bulletin (Speed Reader), and the use of social media,” he added.

Daily e-mail blasts to customers in December highlighted 12 competitively priced gift ideas as well as particular titles, including, for the first year, a fairly high-price collectible book each day. This promotion was “extremely effective,” Howorth said, “resulting in strong sales of featured titles, demonstrating the variety of our books and merchandise, and serving to bring more people to the stores.”  

While community support for local businesses has always been strong, the Chamber of Commerce’s “Shop Oxford” campaign seemed to gain ground this year, Howorth said, with local support stronger than ever this year.

Beehive Books in Delaware, Ohio, experienced a five-percent jump over last year’s holiday season. To spur sales, Beehive used the Ellerkamp’s Buy Local shopping bags, posted messages on Facebook about it being a “wonderful, cozy, friendly, place to do Christmas shopping,” and touted its new locally produced food products:  chocolate and gourmet jam. 

“We had great gifts in place and hot titles out early (before Thanksgiving) and throughout the season,” said co-owner Mel Corroto.“We had many people window shopping early on and then coming back to buy.  Also, I had many people comment on Small Business Saturday that the marketing put out for that event brought them in to our store (and sales showed that day!).”

At The Bookworm in Omaha, Nebraska, “December in-store sales are up nicely from last year,” said co-owner Philip Black.We’ll finish the year with total sales up moderately.”

Among other holiday marketing efforts, The Bookworm distributed the Midwest Booksellers Association catalog and had good results.

Albuquerque’s Bookworks reversed a stagnant, downward trend, which began in the fourth quarter of 2008, and was up one percent overall for Q4 of 2011. “Our overall number of transactions was down, but the average dollar amount per transaction was up,” said co-owner Danielle Foster. “We did have some really large (dollar-amount) transactions during the holidays, including one over $1,000.”

Bookworks experienced several record-breaking days, including Small Business Saturday (SBS), sponsored by American Express. “We coupled the national SBS promo material with an offer where people could get two sale (remainder) books, priced under $10, free with a $50 purchase,” Foster said. “The national push for SBS seemed to be the traffic-driver, as compared to the offer we had.”

To counter Amazon’s Price Check App promotion, Bookworks held a blanket 15 percent off sale, something they’d never done during the holidays. “We posted a letter to customers on Facebook and also sent it out via e-mail explaining why we had a problem with the Amazon promo and why people should shop local,” Foster said. “We had people come in to shop and refuse to take the discount, which was touching.”

Bookworks’ online sales were steady, and it had a small uptick in per-day transactions. From November 30 to December 1, the store offered a free shipping promo, which a number of customers took advantage of.

E-book sales were slow, however. “We did a customer survey in October and in the qualitative results, saw a huge number of comments about general resistance to e-books,” Foster explained. “Our customers are saying they strongly prefer paper books even if they have e-reader capability, like a smartphone or an iPad….”

Sales for December were up about three percent at Bookworm of Edwards in Edwards, Colorado. “We saw increases in our cafe, as well as in children’s books and gift items,” said Nicole Magistro. “Popular gift items for us were vintage toys (the original 1945 Slinky, Magic 8 Ball, wooden cribbage board, etc.), plush animals from Jellycat and Monkeez, scarves, new Bookworm (logo) t-shirts and coffee mugs.”

Though online sales were flat, the Bookworm did see some e-book sales. Staff definitely noticed more “showroom” shopping this year and “tried to address it with good cheer and information,” she said.

Events that worked well this year, and will be implemented again for 2012, included a holiday story time on December 16, which brought 50-plus families into the store, and an in-store school bookfair on December 1, which nearly tripled the day’s sales.

The King’s English Bookshop in Salt Lake City, Utah, maintained its double-digit lead for Black Friday weekend and finished the 2012 holiday season with a bump of 18 percent over last year. Co-owner Betsy Burton credited some of the season’s healthy numbers to an established Buy Local movement.