On Thursday, February 18, Virtual Winter Institute attendees joined a session called “Customer Experience and Hand-selling/Upselling in a Hybrid World,” which showcased the creative ways that booksellers have succeeded and even improved the customer experience in this new hybrid retail world.
This session was moderated by Lane Jacobson of Paulina Springs Books in Sisters, Oregon. Panelists included Sara Richmond, director of communication and client experience at Edelweiss; Phil Davies of ABA; Rosa Hernandez of Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park, Washington; Michael Barnard of Rakestraw Books in Danville, California; Cristina Rodriguez of Deep Vellum Books in Dallas, Texas (who is now at A Public Space as marketing and sales director); and Sarah Bagby of Watermark Books & Cafe in Wichita, Kansas.
Here are some of the key points from the session:
- Davies said that in March 2020 through the end of the year, there was a spike in IndieCommerce traffic — sales increased by 680 percent. In response, IndieCommerce pushed out new features to help, through the holiday season, including integration with some additional POS systems, a pick list to help stores process orders, gift invoices, and more.
- Richmond said that booksellers can take advantage of Edelweiss360 for email marketing, a recent service that grew in popularity during the pandemic. While email newsletters can be great, she said that they might not be enough anymore. Stores have seen success sending targeted email campaigns, which can promote higher sales conversions. Campaigns can be organized by genre and comparable titles, seasonal releases, current events, and more.
- Richmond said that Edelweiss360 tracks direct sales, which are the purchase of a recommended title in the campaign itself, but also “halo sales” which are the purchase of additional titles.
- Barnard said that because of Covid in March, his store shifted to online sales almost exclusively. Online sales jumped 1,600 percent in 2020 over 2019. To accommodate the increase, Rakestraw set up a workflow that included set times for processing online orders, which could take an entire day. He noted it was important to check all the different avenues orders come through, such as social media, and to have canned responses to common questions, which Rakestraw kept in a Google Doc. His store also communicates through the admin comments field on their IndieCommerce site.
- Rakestraw also offers curbside pickup, delivery, and shipping. Barnard said they frequently deliver to local retirement communities and customers, and they actively promote these options. He frequently adds a short thank-you note with orders, which adds to the customer’s experience.
- Hernandez said that she built her store’s social media presence from March to June. For social media graphics, she used Canva. Once she reached 10,000 followers, she linked pre-orders and books through Instagram stories. Since so many customers were home during the pandemic, she saw a lot of success. Now that many customers are back in the store, she has found that followers really want to see the booksellers, so she’s also posted short video recommendations, staff picks, and cookbook picks on Instagram.
- Hernandez said that booksellers can interact with publishers and authors on Twitter. She also likes making fun threads about books, such as books on Black joy, and reminders for virtual events.
- Facebook is best for reaching customers in an older demographic, Hernandez said. She finds success asking customers questions, and also posting updates about the store. TikTok is great for reaching a younger crowd.
- Rodriguez said that Deep Vellum’s priority throughout the pandemic has been staying engaged in their community. At the start, Rodriguez developed a bookseller hotline where people could call and get book recommendations, but it wasn’t marketed that way. Instead, her store billed it as an opportunity to just start a conversation about whatever they have on their mind.
- Rodriguez also started a virtual book club called Book Cult, which has an active text chat that goes beyond the club’s weekly meeting. The club talks about more than just books, including pop culture, things the book has reminded them of, and music. Not only has this created a growing community, but there’s also stable sales support each month.
- Over the holidays, Rodriguez created an astrology book guide to engage non-traditional readers who are often left out of the literary discourse. This also allowed her to differentiate her store’s guide from other stores, since booksellers often get the same galleys and read the same titles. The guide was a success, and customers found it helpful when buying for friends and family members.
- Rodriguez also said that these ideas have helped her reach a wider audience — she’s been able to make readers feel comfortable at Deep Vellum and included in the conversation they’re in from the beginning.
- Bagby said that business-to-business (B2B) sales have been very helpful during the pandemic. There’s usually a quantity threshold, which for Bagby is over a 20-book quantity, and it’s usually “out the back door.” Booksellers can work with publishers to handle these sales.
- For B2B sales, it’s important to know your community well to know what kind of titles might find success. Community organizations are a great place to start, as they may need to carry specific titles.
- It’s also helpful to keep following up with businesses that have placed orders in the past. Bagby will go through her store’s previous year’s orders and reach out to anyone who hasn’t placed another order in the new year. She also encouraged booksellers to create positive buzz within their community, as people in professional organizations are always talking about services and partners that have worked well for them.