Weekend Promotions Spur Holiday Sales

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Main Street Books in St. Charles, Missouri, prominently displays titles selected for the Thanks for Shopping Indie promotion.

Between Small Business Saturday and the Thanks for Shopping Indie and Kobo Mini promotions, many ABA members were reporting increases in holiday weekend sales and a renewed sense of appreciation for locally owned businesses among their customers. More than 66 percent of bookstores responding to an ABA post-holiday survey reported that sales on Small Business Saturday were greater this year than last year and 55 percent saw an increase in AMEX card usage in-store and online. In addition, 98 percent of responding booksellers said that their communities were aware of Small Business Saturday.

Stores participating in the Thanks for Shopping Indie multi-publisher promotion said they launched using DIY materials to highlight their featured picks online and in-store. While stores offering Kobo eReaders reported a range of customer responses, from mild interest to very positive feedback, and some stores had even sold out of the eReaders and had begun taking orders.

At Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Small Business Saturday sales were “fabulous,” said owner Dale Szczeblowski. “Well over last year and largely attributable to the AMEX promotion efforts.” The store also promoted Thanks for Shopping Indie through its e-mail newsletter, and books have been selling from its in-store display as expected, Szczeblowski reported.

Customer response to Porter Square’s Kobo Mini sale was another thing. “We were floored with the positive response to the Kobo Mini promotion and had many conversations with customers,” Szczeblowski said. Over the two-day promotion, the store sold out and then began taking orders, selling 25 Minis in total. The Glos were also selling well, and Porter Square has reordered both.

“We had a number of Kindle converts — customers who currently own a Kindle but want to buy eBooks from us and so bought a Kobo,” he added.

Szczeblowski’s outlook for the rest of the holiday season is upbeat. “It helps that there are many very good books out this season,” he said, adding that he expects Diary of a Wimpy Kid 7, Flight Behavior, Dear Life, Round House, Barefoot Contessa Foolproof, and Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power to be the season’s top sellers.

Additionally, Porter Square is partnering with the Cambridge Public Library, as it does each Christmas season, to get new books into the hands of children living in transitional housing. The store offers a 20 percent discount on purchases of new children’s books that customers wish to donate.

Sales were up for the holiday weekend at Lift Bridge Book Shop in Brockport, New York, where a number of customers mentioned Small Business Saturday and many were using American Express credit cards. “They’re definitely cognizant of what’s going on,” said bookseller Taysie Pennington. “When we looked at sales later, AMEX [usage] was way up. It’s a really great thing, I think, that AMEX is doing to generate business for us so close to the holidays.”

Lift Bridge promoted Thanks for Shopping Indie heavily through in-store signage and communications with customers. When shoppers saw the table of selected titles, many added an extra book or two to their orders, said Pennington.

Though Lift Bridge has sold a small number of eReaders to date, store staff used the weekend to talk up Kobo at the register, and they’re expecting more sales closer to the holidays.

“Business will be up this year,” said Pennington. “We have so many wonderful gifts. We’re not a big store, but we make very careful selections, and our customers know our value.”

“Sales were hugely, hugely up,” said Kimberly Daniels, manager of The Country Bookshop in Southern Pines, North Carolina.

On Black Friday, the store hosted local author Jean Reagan, who read from her book, How to Babysit a Grandpa (Knopf), and began selling tickets for a James Patterson package, which includes a copy of his latest book and VIP tickets to hear the author speak at a fundraising event in April. These were “a boon for sales,” said Daniels, and helped bring the store’s Friday numbers up 37 percent from last year.

Country Bookshop hosted another author on Saturday, and sales were up four percent over last year, with a lot of AMEX activity. With plans for author events every weekend from now until Christmas, Daniels expects the sales uptick to continue.

The weekend also proved helpful in informing customers about the store’s ability to sell Kobo eBooks and eReaders. An in-store display drew a lot of attention, said Daniels, who is expecting sales to pick up in the coming weeks.

“It's been received well,” she said, adding that she has heard people talking about the benefits for Kobos for middle-graders who are interested in reading digitally, but whose parents do not want them to have full Internet access.

 “That’s where we’re pushing it, and that’s where people seem to respond,” said Daniels. “The Kobos have become the favorite cash register toy, and it’s made me realize — they’re quite durable! They’re definitely getting a lot of hands-on attention.”

Daniels said that she is happy to have so many great titles published in time for Christmas. The weekend’s top sellers at the County Bookshop were The Art Forger and Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, both of which “are just flying out of here,” she said. “I can't be more pleased. There’s a lot of handselling, and they’re books that we love that are flying off the shelves.”

Though Saturday’s sales were down at Bookworks in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Friday’s beautiful weather brought a crowd and sales were up by 49 percent. “All in all, we had a fantastically busy weekend,” said co-owner Danielle Foster. Bookworks was among the local shops that scheduled something special for Small Business Saturday. Many stores offered shoppers beverages and snacks. Bookworks brought in a local tin maker who did demonstrations and for a small fee made an ornament or bookmark stamped with a personalized design.

The Kobo has been very well-received at Bookworks, Foster added, and staff members fielded many customers’ questions over the weekend. The store held a “Come Meet Kobo” event earlier in the month, which drew a handful of customers.

Bookworks featured staff’s favorite title picks in a holiday gift guide in the local newspaper. “We already have an increase over last year’s November sales and are hopeful for a very successful holiday season,” said Foster. The store plans to ring in the New Year with a 25 percent off sale on January 1, something that it has done in the past and Foster said, “The turnout is fantastic!”

“Our customers definitely mention we are one of their favorite independent stores that they support,” said Foster. “As we educate our customers on why it’s important for their community to shop independent, the feedback is great.”

At Little Shop of Stories in Decatur, Georgia, “both Friday and Saturday were fantastic,” said owner Diane Capriola. “We beat last year’s numbers and had more customers in the shop than we’ve had in a while, on Saturday especially.”

On Small Business Saturday, there was a steady stream of customers from open till close, “so much so, that at times we had a line of about 15 people at the register,” Capriola said.

The store’s success can be largely attributed to the fact that the city’s community development office did a lot to promote and incentivize Small Business Saturday this year, said Capriola, “and I think that showed.”

The city set up a tent on the square and offered free gift wrapping, massages, treats, and raffled off gift baskets from local businesses. If shoppers showed them receipts totaling $200, the city gave them a $20 gift card to a local restaurant.

“Small Business Saturday was wonderful!” said Vicki Erwin, owner of Main Street Books in St. Charles, Missouri. “I had many people mention they were shopping our area in honor of the day and that it was because they valued us and wanted us to remain viable. I was almost in tears by the end of the day, I was so touched.”

A local news station interviewed Erwin about the difference that SBS has made to small businesses in her town. This year’s event, she said, was the single biggest sales day that Main Street Books ever had without an author visit or a Harry Potter-related event.

“Sales on Saturday were stellar!” said Arlene Lynes, owner of Read Between the Lynes in Woodstock, Illinois. On Small Business Saturday, the store saw an increase of 58 percent in sales from last year. Most customer feedback centered around not wanting to deal with the crowds or the negativity associated with Black Friday, and many families seemed to be “rethinking the mall scene,” said Lynes.

Each year, a growing number of people are coming “to understand and appreciate indie businesses,” she added. “Based on the traffic we saw and comments we heard, we are poised for a great holiday season.”

At Mrs. Nelson’s Toy & Book Shop in La Verne, California, weekend traffic and toy sales were down, but book sales were up by 10 percent.“Staff was hugely upbeat about sales,” said general manager Andrea Vuleta. “My guess is that a lot of handselling occurred and that is why the staff feels it was great!”

On Small Business Saturday, core clientele showed their support in spades, with some even phoning in orders from New York City. But Vuleta is already formulating plans to extend the store’s outreach beyond its regular customers next year. Her idea — “Share the Local Love” —  will encourage customers to “bring a pal to see what shopping indie is all about,” she said.

As for the store’s promotion of Kobo eBooks and eReaders, “we were all, I think, pleasantly surprised by the response,” Vuleta said.  “And many of our regulars seem pleased and interested in the product. There was a great deal of discussion about Kobo, and not just the Mini.  I would anticipate sales of the Glo closer to the holiday.”

Mrs. Nelson’s has a packed winter schedule, including Senior Shopping Day, Employee Shopping Day, Breakfast With Santa, and several more author events. “I’m just consistently encouraged by the regular increases in book sales,” said Vuleta.

Small Business Saturday sales at Towne Center Books in Pleasanton, California, were up 40 percent over last year, said owner Judy Wheeler. Many customers thanked staff for the store’s reminder e-mails and mentioned that they are planning to shop locally this year.

Towne Center has already launched its holiday events, including “Earlier Than the Bird” (the store opens at 7:00 a.m. and invites customers to shop in their pajamas) and a “Magical Evening” with guest authors. Wheeler said the Towne Center tends to do well during the city’s Christmas parade and tree lighting and has more author events lined up for the month of December.

Wheeler added that she is“feeling very positive” about the upcoming season, but “the biggest problem is keeping on top of the orders — and I need some sleep!”