Wi15 Education: IndieCommerce for Small Stores

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At the 15th annual Winter Institute in Baltimore, Geetha Nathan, senior manager of IndieCommerce at the American Booksellers Association, moderated a discussion about ABA’s e-commerce platforms, IndieCommerce and IndieLite. The panel included Seth Marko, co-owner of The Book Catapult in San Diego, California; Rebekah Shoaf, founder and owner of Boogie Down Books in New York, New York; and Doloris Vest, co-owner of Book No Further in Roanoke, Virginia. Logged-in booksellers can view the video from the session on BookWeb now.

While small businesses may be reluctant to step into the world of e-commerce despite the fact that it can grow their customer bases and provide unlimited access to their stores, the main concerns for booksellers has been lack of resources to maintain an online platform, time constraints from running brick-and-mortar stores, costs of maintaining a website, and issues with fulfillment. To address that, ABA offers two state-of-the-art e-commerce solutions. Said ABA’s Nathan, “IndieCommerce allows stores to create unique, content-rich, easy to operate, highly customizable websites. IndieLite is the lighter version of IndieCommerce, which is more for stores that don’t have enough resources and time to put into their website.”

Book No Further chose IndieCommerce in July 2017 because Vest felt it had more flexibility and options than IndieLite. Her store is 1,200 square feet in a center market area of Roanoke’s downtown. She is the only full-time employee with a part-time accountant and part-time staff member. Her main concern when researching e-commerce platforms was lack of staff. She also didn’t want to buy or subscribe to a database for book information. “We were looking for something that was packaged so that we didn’t have to do a whole lot of data entry to get started, to do a lot of construction on the pages themselves, but would still have the tools that we need to be able to customize it as things moved along,” she said.

One of the best features of IndieCommerce is the fact that Vest can work on her website from anywhere — even at home on her iPad. She can create events, post to social media, create new products, email customers, and upload local store inventory. After putting in a little time and effort to understand the system’s structure, it became easy to create new pages. “Once you have your own steps down for how you want to handle things, it works very easy,” she said.

Marko’s The Book Catapult is also 1,200 square feet and in the commercial district of a residential neighborhood. He and his wife opened the store in October 2017 and have three part-time staff members. There was never any question that they would use IndieCommerce. “Having that searchable database of books that Doloris was talking about — that right there was enough for me to know that was something that we really needed,” he said.

The Ingram database is, in fact, built into the background of IndieCommerce. In terms of marketing, it’s as simple as listing The Book Catapult’s website on all printed materials, including receipts and bookmarks. The front door sign features the store’s website, too. Marko also reminded booksellers about the importance of social media. IndieCommerce allows him to cross-promote the store’s sites by featuring its Facebook page on the front page of the website. He encouraged booksellers not to be daunted if they’re not technically savvy. No website background is needed, he said, and the IndieCommerce staff is there to help.

As “a bookstore without walls,” Shoaf’s Boogie Down Books has no permanent brick-and-mortar store. She partners with businesses, organizations, schools, fairs, festivals, and farmers markets to bring pop-up shops, story times, book clubs, author events, teen open mics, and workshops to different spaces. Shoaf launched her IndieLite site in July 2018. Because she was focused on events, she wasn’t initially thinking about e-commerce. It occurred to her as she was sending out her weekly newsletter to a growing community all over the country. She was talking about books all the time and asked herself, “How can I capture these sales?”

Fulfillment was a huge question for her. With IndieCommerce and IndieLite, the fulfillment can be done by Ingram. “I went with IndieLite instead of IndieCommerce because it was just more affordable and on a smaller scale. And that was really appropriate for Boogie Down Books and for who we are,” she said. It has been a really powerful tool without being too time consuming, she noted, as she only has two part-time staff members. Shoaf agreed that the ABA staff was extremely helpful and spent hours on the phone with her building the site and tweaking settings.

While Shoaf primarily uses Ingram for fulfillment, Marko likes to ship orders himself. There’s no cost difference, but he prefers the control. Vest said that the majority of her orders are in-store pick-up. They all agreed that they take payments online. And each has found the cost of IndieCommerce or IndieLite to be worth it. “You get a lot of bang for your buck for your monthly fees, which I know seems daunting for a small store,” Marko said. In his first year, he had enough online orders to pay for the website. Last year, his orders tripled due to repeat customers, pre-order campaigns, and ticketed events. In 2019, Vest had enough sales in the month of December alone to cover her fees for the year. Shoaf, too, has profited. In fact, she realized her IndieLite site was doing so well, she could afford IndieCommerce.