The Casual Optimist

Books, Design and Culture

The Neighborhood Bookstore’s Unlikely Ally

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The New York Times on the small independent bookstores making the most of social media and online sales:

Undoubtedly, the bookselling industry is still digging out of a deep trough. Sales of physical books in physical stores were just $11 billion in 2015, compared with $17 billion in 2007.

But owners like Mr. Makin are finding ways to gain customer loyalty with the aid of technology. He knew he could not compete with Amazon on price, but he believed that online buyers would flock to Brilliant Books if they experienced the same customer service that shoppers in his physical store do.

“I say, ‘We are your long-distance local bookstore,’” Mr. Makin said.

He began offering free shipping anywhere in the United States and hired a full-time social media manager, who promotes the store and has used Twitter and Facebook to talk to readers who would never find themselves near Traverse City.

One of his most successful ways of getting repeat business is his store’s version of a book-of-the-month program, which makes personalized recommendations for each of its nearly 2,000 subscribers every 30 days. Rather than use an online form to track preferences, Brilliant sends each new subscriber a customer card to fill out by hand and mail back.

Employees then scan the card into the system so that when it is book-selection time, they can see what the customers said they liked and how they said it.

“How we might write something might show an entirely different taste in books,” Mr. Malkin said. “People scribble things out. They draw arrows. We get a feel for who they are.”

 

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