Wi16 Education Recap: Managing Online Sales Growth

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On Friday, February 19, Winter Institute attendees joined a session called “Managing Online Sales Growth.”

The panel consisted of booksellers from small and large stores who are managing high-volume online sales on a variety of ecommerce-enabled platforms. It was moderated by ABA Senior Manager of IndieCommerce Geetha Nathan, and panelists included Jamie Thomas of Women & Children First (W&CF) in Chicago, Illinois; Luis Correa of Avid Bookshop in Athens, Georgia; Lexi Beach of Astoria Bookshop in Astoria, New York; Warren Lee of 44th and 3rd Bookseller in Norcross, Georgia; and Cheryl Lee of 44th and 3rd Bookseller in Norcross, Georgia.

Booksellers can view a recording of this session on the Education Resources page on BookWeb.org.

Here are some of the key points from the session:

  • Thomas shared three things that helped W&CF manage an increase of 32,000+ online orders: customizing their IndieCommerce site, creating a dedicated online order email, and utilizing the IndieCommerce pick list function.
  • Some changes made to W&CF’s IndieCommerce site included altering shipping and inventory statuses to manage customer expectations, changing the warehouse where orders are shipping from, and discontinuing print-on-demand orders.
  • W&CF’s dedicated online order email included a bounce-back with an FAQ, which helped direct customers to the information they were likely looking for.
  • W&CF also turned off their website between 9:00 p.m. and 9:00 a.m.
  • Beach said that once the pandemic caused her store to close, Astoria shifted to online orders only. All online orders required prepayment, which Astoria still requires. Her staff managed spreadsheets to track orders and follow up with customers about shipping delays and cancellations, encouraged customers to place pre-orders for books coming out months in advance, and directed customers to the store’s Bookshop.org storefront.
  • For the six weeks the store was closed, Beach’s staff communicated via Slack. She also had to make a trip back to Astoria to set up remote access to the store’s desktop, which their point-of-sale (POS) system runs on, from her laptop at home. Their POS, Bookmanager, made helpful updates that allowed Beach to contact customers directly through the system with an order status.
  • Astoria used a website called Schedulicity to offer pickup appointments to customers. While some customers have resisted creating a new account for another website, it’s been crucial for Astoria’s operations.
  • Correa said that when the pandemic started, Avid had to rethink the tools the store was using to streamline processes. One of the main tools Avid uses is Basecamp, which is similar to Slack and Asana. It allows Avid’s staff to chat, share internal documents, manage events, and assign projects.
  • One project assigned through Basecamp to staff at Avid is handling web orders, that way one person can work on customer service-related tasks, while booksellers in the store can focus on their own tasks. Using Basecamp for order fulfillment provides a record of all the interactions that have happened regarding a particular order, which is helpful in case something goes wrong.
  • Avid also prioritized the messaging on the store’s website, and clearly communicated difficulties in operations, delays, and other important information on a regular basis.
  • Avid uses IndieCommerce, which allows them to tailor workflows to create email templates, which also streamlines order fulfillment.
  • Warren Lee said that 44th and Third Booksellers launched the IndieLite site just before the pandemic hit. Their first sale was on April 8, and they had less than a dozen for the month of May. But when George Floyd was murdered on May 25, interest in social justice and the rights of Black communities and businesses spiked, which increased the store’s orders by 1,850 percent.
  • To manage the sharp uptick, Warren Lee said that they fulfilled some orders in store, and fulfilled others through Ingram. For shipping, they used Stamps.com and Uline.
  • Cheryl Lee added that staying connected with customers throughout the pandemic was crucial — they responded to all messages within 24 hours. Their community’s response was strong. Additionally, the store increased its social media presence by mentioning their store in posts requesting recommendations for Black-owned businesses.