Monthly Archives: August 2013

Waterstone’s and the Christian trade

So what does the improvements in the Waterstone’s stores say to us in the Christian book trade? We can see the improvements they’ve made, if they continue their development they may win the core book buying customer back, and this is one of the main  problem that  Christian retailers have; not enough of the key customers coming and buying regularly enough (footfall & conversion in retail jargon).


Waterstone’s operates in a different area of the market with larger, better located and fitted out stores with a commercial approach. The majority of our stores operate in small units, in tertiary locations and with poorer fit outs. So as the enjoyment experience grows in Waterstone’s, it gives our stores more of a problem; that shopping in our stores isn’t fun, stimulating or rewarding. Discovering new titles or authors or finding titles that have been around for a while haven’t been found yet is a critical element in the survival plan for physical bookshops. Which is where the whole of the Christian book trade has to have a pretty open and honest  conversation. We know that when times are tough, retailers tighten their belts and reduce their stock buys to free up cash, then they become more risk-averse choosing to re-order known sellers rather than new or different titles. Which in normal retailing tactics seems sensible, but our context is changing, and the role of the bookshop is changing; if a customer knows what they want, they are increasingly likely to shop around for the best price, which is often perceived to be online more than in their local store, so a self-fulfilling scenario arises as the bookshop then struggles financially unable to match range or prices.

So how about a different approach from bookshops and publishers, and recognise that where the new bookshops excel is in discoverability and person to person contact. So bookshops, instead of playing safe, need to offer product, (in quantity and well displayed) that is new, different and that surprises the customers. So publishers will have to find new financial models that allows retailers to take those risks.

Yes, it will still mean that retailers will say no those books that aren’t what their customers are looking for, and it will still mean that publishers are frustrated by the decreasing volume and proportion of sales through Christian bookshops and look for places where volume and risk-taking are found.

But maybe, we by having that conversation, and trying some new things we may carve out a better future?


It is interesting to watch the developments within the Waterstone stores, and the improvements to the in-store experience. As a book lover the new feel is very welcome, it pulls me in and through the store. I find myself beginning to stay longer and visit more sections of the store. There seems to be a good mix face out and spine-on, more interest points, a greater quantity of recommendations, product highlighting and feature points. So I start to pull books from the shelves,and to browse more seriously. I begin to discover titles and my enthusiasm for these books and this shop rises.

Waterstones shop front

I start thinking about capturing the information about these books so I can remember that I may consider buying them. So out comes the iPhone & happily photo the covers into my Evernote books file already wondering about the ebook price and how much I will save.

But then I stop myself, I know the maths, if I choose to buy these books online, that I discovered in-store, then the store won’t survive. I check the prices on the back…ouch £12.99-£16.99, a quick online price comparison shows that the ebook prices are up to half the physical price, and with my preference  for e-reading (travel, accessibility)  

So here is the next challenge for Mr Daunt and his team. I like your new stores, I love the bookshop experience and I know I need to buy from you to retain this experience, but here’s the problem. My relationship with you doesn’t exist. Yeah, I’ve got one of your cards, (somewhere I forget where), I get your generic emails (yep, they are automatically filed away…unread) but I wish it was better, that you cared more about my browsing and spending. If we are going to get closer then we both need to change our habits, you need to work harder at connecting with me in my local store, make it feel as if I own that store with you, give me more space to sit, read and stay longer, give me free wifi that leads me to your site, give me an offer code that may tempt me to buy the physical book. Work harder at your social media that pulls me into the store…keep giving the new discovery and yes I would buy from you, and I would buy a lot of books, an awful lot.