Fully Booked

We explore the recent ‘book boom’ and how some of the best bookstores are keeping connected with their customers both online and offline.

As the demand for books has boomed since the pandemic, we’ve been thinking about bookstores and how they often encapsulate everything we love about the physical retail experience. Shopping for books online with pure players is quick, convenient and often results in the best price, but it’s an emotionless experience – the antithesis of a good read. This is where a good bookstore comes into its own – often triggering intrigue, discovery and the spirit of adventure, with their own unique twist.


Imposing Flagships

We’ve featured within Snapshot a number of mega-bookstores in China that have been springing up in key cities over the last couple of years.

Architecturally striking and very instagrammable, they’ve hailed a new type of bookstore that helped to draw customers back to physical retail following mass closures within the sector in the early 2000’s. As places to hang-out, meet friends, eat and drink as well as browse and study, these mega-stores have naturally suffered during lockdown.

But while stores were closed, many launched initiatives to keep connected with customers. 1200 Bookshop, who normally trade 24 hours a day offered a ‘book surprise’ service – customers told store staff how they were feeling via WeChat, who then selected and sent them a book based on their mood. Yanjiyou, who has been delivering books to customers for some time (together with cakes!) trialled livestreaming book recommendations, panel discussions and readings throughout lockdown. However, the physical store remains at the heart of the overall experience.


Chain Stores

Many book retailers who rely mainly on physical stores have experienced a surge in their online sales since the pandemic. Waterstones have seen online sales increase by 1,500% according to the Guardian. While it hasn’t been possible to hold events in store, Waterstones have held digital events on social channels including ‘in conversation’ with numerous authors. This is now an ongoing programme with events several times a week, keeping Waterstone’s connected with their customers and demonstrating a multi-channel approach.

Even with social distancing and quarantining of books in place, customers have been quick to return to bookstores. In the UK when stores reopened in June, sales were up 31% compared with the same week in 2019 according to The Bookseller. The spike in sales was partly due to new releases that were delayed during lockdown, but the upward trend in sales has continued albeit at a smaller level.


Local Independents

Many independent bookstores have also seen a boom since they opened their doors again. Booksellers across New Zealand said they were experiencing ‘Christmas levels’. Not only are people wanting to support their local stores even more since the pandemic, booksellers are reporting their customers are buying books with money saved through commuting and going out less.

UK independents have also experienced a spike in sales for similar reasons. Many people working from home are walking into town at lunchtime and visiting bookstores as a welcome break. This is also resulting in a change in the customer demographic. Bookstores in areas popular with tourists are also benefiting from an increase in staycation holidaymakers shopping in their stores.


Overall Experience

Since the pandemic, many people have rediscovered their love of books – not only as an enjoyable and fulfilling way to pass the time, but as a form of escapism and to provide a calming respite from anxiety felt within the post-pandemic world. The best bookstores capture this calming and reassuring mood inherently through their store environments, whether it’s a local independent, chain store or a flagship. Bookstores are generally places where people feel safe, relaxed and are happy to be, whether on their own or shopping with the whole family. There is something for everyone, whatever your age or interests. It’s even better if there’s a coffee shop to extend the experience – a place where bookstores often capture their unique personality, whether it’s a branded coffee chain, a homemade vegan offer or quirky, instagrammable cakes.


Keeping Connected

Although restrictions imposed as a result of Covid-19 have undoubtably effected the bookstore experience, the general trend is that customers want to support bookstores with an attitude of we need to ‘use it or lose it’. If managed in the right way customers appear largely accepting of Covid-19 related measures in store, if they can continue to visit and feel a connection with their favourite bookstore. When supported by online engagement, whether it’s invitations to participate in virtual events through to being advised of new book releases, many customers are prepared to put up with temporary changes as a small price to pay for their favourite bookstore being there to enjoy in full once restrictions are lifted.


If you need support to develop your consumers brand experience or retail environment we can help. Contact Jenny Hillier at jenny@briggshillier.com to arrange a chat and explore new opportunities.

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Jenny Hillier

13th October 2020