Using technology to boost bookstores
Technology and innovation probably aren’t the words that come to mind when you think about your local grocery store. Bar code scanners in the 1970’s were probably the last recent advancement in the grocery store industry. As you’ll see in this article, however, at least one grocery chain is leveraging a new form of technology to improve the shopping experience and I believe it offers guidance for a terrific lesson for bookstores.
The smart shelf technology described in that article describes how Kroger plans to provide more information for shoppers with LED displays that display accurate prices and other product information. It’s not exactly rocket science but it’s a much-needed first step towards an improved and more efficient in-person shopping environment.
Imagine your local bookstore with this functionality. OK, accurate prices on the shelf edges on shelves aren’t exciting but take it a few steps further. What if the store knows who you are and what you tend to read? Once again, we find ourselves in an area that freaks out the privacy advocates, but keep in mind this would be a 100% opt-in model for consumers.
As you go through the store the shelves communicate with an app on your phone to surprise and delight, taking the shopping experience to a whole new level. You’re greeted with information about new releases that interest you and special deals offered exclusively to you and available only during your current visit. You prefer ebooks over print books? No problem. The app already knows that and offers similar information and focuses on ebook deals which are only available while you’re in the store.
This sounds a lot like what e-retailers are able to do with email blasts and “buy x, get y” campaigns, right? The missing piece online is serendipity.
When was the last time you went to an online bookstore to simply browse? If you’re like most consumers, impulse buys are far more likely to happen in a brick-and-mortar store than on a website. Yes, there are exceptions, but serendipity is more of an in-store experience than an online one.
It’s time for technology to boost serendipity in the brick-and-mortar environment. That mobile app needs to tell me about the book I just walked past and why it’s perfect for me. And the message needs to have a button for quick, one-tap sample downloads to my mobile device. Make it a more enticing sample than what I can find anywhere else though (e.g., longer, richer, etc.) And don’t forget to dangle the special discount in front of me to make buying an irresistible step.
In short, give me a reason to go the brick-and-mortar store. I’ve only visited two bookstores in all of 2015. I used to go every week but there are fewer reasons to go now. Ironically, just as technology contributed to the struggles brick-and-mortar stores currently face, technology could also be part of the solution to make them more relevant again. If bookstores offered this sort of in-store experience I’m quite certain I’d go out of my way to discover the new products and deals that await me.
I'm not sure this'll quite scale down to a typical, non-chain bookstore. I do much of my shopping at a Krogers and it's run quite efficiently. But the techniques that sell 500 gallons of milk a day don't quite work with a bookstore selling one of a particular title a week.
What might make sense would be an app customizable to your local bookstore with a book database (probably derived from Ingram) almost as extensive at Amazon's. People who want a book would find and purchase it through the app. A few days later, they'd get an email to pick it up at that bookstore.
The plus is that it makes it almost as easy to buy from that bookstore as from Amazon. Rather than go by the store, find they don't have it, order it, then go buy again to pick it up, you just order it online and pick it up when ready.
Posted by: Michael W. Perry | October 05, 2015 at 05:42 PM
Joe, I am hoping, once established, my clients will want to work with books - through mobile tech, and in-store beacon technology.
This is an intuitive mobile shopping wallet (it enables social sharing of items and brands, along with cash rewards for sharing, particularly if friends purchase the items) that includes iBeacon/BLE technology so that once implemented in stores, it can do similarly to the Kroger smart shelf technology - there is also a service in development for retailers and brand managers to send rewards, messages and of course, offers of discounts, etc. to customers as they shop. Oh! it comes with its own co-branded debit card, which offers contactless payment.
Posted by: Amy Sterling Casil | October 06, 2015 at 11:47 AM
Joe, you're absolutely right about the value of an independent bookstore for browsing—or, in our jargon-obsessed age, discovery. And adding a supermarket-like recommendation engine to a large, impersonal (and sadly understaffed) store like Barnes and Noble makes a lot of sense. But even if a small bookstore could afford an app- (and, assumedly, fee-) based system, and if book buyers aren't too annoyed at being bombarded by "personalized" marketing messages as they browse, don't most good independent bookstores already have a personalized recommendation service in place—knowledgable, caring human staff?
Posted by: Marshall Wilen | October 08, 2015 at 10:32 AM
Thanks, Amy, Michael and Marshall, for your thoughtful observations. Marshall, yes, the stores do indeed have the personnel on-hand to give advice. However, if your experience is anything like mine, they don't have enough staff members to be with every customer at every point in the store. That's where technology could definitely help.
Posted by: Joe Wikert | October 08, 2015 at 01:44 PM