Marketing Meetup Recap: Holiday Marketing

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On Thursday, September 3, the American Booksellers Association presented a Marketing Meetup on marketing during the holiday season. A recording of this meetup can be viewed on the Education Resources page on

The guest speakers included:

Additional information was provided by Green Apple Books in San Francisco, California, and other stores that were not able to attend.

Here are some of the key points from the session:

Tubby & Coo’s Mid-City Book Shop

  • Huber expects a 90 percent increase in curbside pickup because shipping will likely take a long time.
  • This season, it’s important to set customer expectations. In store communications, let customers know to order early and preorder. This should begin in October; emphasize the urgency for customers to buy early to ensure they get their orders in time.
  • Try to do the work for customers by offering incentives and bundles. Instead of a blanket sale or discounts, focus on gift wrapping and bundling.
  • Create demand by holding a livestream and posting often on social media. Consider doing live book recommendations and reviews, as this lets customers see booksellers and the store, if the store isn’t open for browsing.
  • Huber’s strategy revolves around social media. Tubby & Coo’s will be hosting weekly livestreams in September. Informal videos as opposed to highly produced ones are also great, as they can make booksellers feel relatable to customers. These should be posted to YouTube and tagged for customers to easily watch.
  • For communication, Huber plans to email customers twice per week, with one email focusing on events and the other on book recommendations.
  • Cross-promoting with other local businesses will also be important this season, especially with curbside pickup. Consider bundling with wine shops, etc.
  • Overall, target content and communication as much as possible so the information finds the right customers.

The Tiny Bookstore

  • Right now, Bickerton’s store is not open for customers; staff are handling online, email, or phone orders only. The store has shifted its holiday marketing from a regional focus to a more national one.
  • Holiday marketing planning begins once the previous season has ended. Each year, Bickerton tries to launch one new thing. Last year, she used the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association’s regional catalog, which worked well for her older customer base, but not so much for customers that prefer shopping online. This year, the store will focus on targeting mailings for recommendations.
  • The Tiny Bookstore heavily uses social media and its website, because those strategies are cost effective, as well as The store also leverages its proximity to other indies in the area by sending customers to other stores to find books.
  • This holiday season, the store will try to host a virtual visit with Santa.
  • Bickerton chooses to send emails less often because she finds the conversion rate is higher when she sends fewer emails.
  • Overall, booksellers should look at their store’s emails. Bickerton recommends not doing what anyone else is doing unless it works.
  • Bickerton also said this isn’t the year to try anything too adventurous in terms of marketing. Booksellers should go with tried and true marketing strategies.

Politics & Prose

  • Hottel said her main challenge in developing a marketing strategy is that she doesn’t know what the world will be like come the holiday season. Like other speakers, she noted the importance of starting the season early.
  • P&P’s holiday newsletter will come out in late October. All of the store’s messaging will be pointing people toward a revised timeline, and the store will be focusing on customer experience over products. P&P is reimaging things like events and art classes to package the store experience in a new way.
  • The store offers a book angel program around the holidays, where customers buy one book and give one away. P&P also works with Free Minds, which supplies reading materials to incarcerated persons. These two programs will be a focus of this season’s holiday marketing, to ensure that customers are thinking about giving back to the community as well as their family.
  • Hottel stressed the necessity of shopping at bookstores this holiday season to ensure their survival.
  • She will also be directing attention to P&P’s known customer base instead of bringing in new customers. She hopes to make it clear through messaging that P&P needs their support.

Seminary Co-op

  • Each year, Seminary Co-op makes a holiday gift guide. Starting during the buying season, the store tags titles in Edelweiss in order to import them all into a spreadsheet. From there, the store’s team meets to ensure representation across genres, topics, and authors.
  • The gift guide is then created in another program. Stores can use Photoshop, but D’Isa recommended finding an easier service to create the catalog. Seminary Co-op now uses Simplebooklet for its online catalog.
  • The store will plan out a social media timeline to market books throughout the year.
  • D’Isa said that Seminary Co-op will reuse social media posts across platforms and the store’s blog.

River Dog Book Co.

  • Fabian recommended bundling books for customers. She looks for remainders, sales on books and toys, and anything else that she loves, and stockpiles them to create bundles for customers. All of her bundles include items that she has on hand.
  • She got rid of a ton of holiday-themed books during a “Christmas in July” sale, which got her customers thinking about the holiday season early.
  • She’s also been stockpiling wrapping paper to offer customers who plan to donate book purchases to specified organizations.
  • Fabian has started putting a catalog in local storefronts, gas stations, and other locations to get the word out about her store.
  • She’s also prioritized messaging and communication with her customers, particularly in regard to explaining the current challenges with shipping to them. Her newsletter focuses on online events, partnerships, books, and other relevant topics.
  • Recently, Fabian launched a “book concierge” service packaged in a neat gift certificate.

Enda’s Booktique

  • Jones said that her store puts a calendar out for the holidays built out with different themed bundles and items. In the coming months, the store will be recognizing breast cancer awareness and domestic violence awareness. The store accepts donations to be put into a “lunchbox,” then featured as gifts in a raffle. These are part of a larger holiday giveaway.
  • Her store’s campaigns are always featured on social media.
  • There’s also a focus on community involvement, such as working with local librarians to run campaigns and host events. Jones is now working with homeschooled students to build community.

Green Apple

  • Warn customers about the likelihood that books will sell out, that the post office will be slower than normal, and that they should order and/or shop early.
  • Consider reaching out to those who placed web orders in 2019 to thank them for their support and welcome them to shop online or in-store again this holiday season.
  • If your store offers free shipping, add an option called “I’m happy to contribute the cost of mailing.”

Additional tips from stores who could not attend:

  • “Holidize” your store’s website and organize holiday emails early. Also, strategize social media marketing by targeting both loyal customers and new ones.
  • Be sure to have enough gift cards on hand.
  • Prep staff, especially those who haven’t been through a holiday season before.
  • And breathe! You will get through this.