Bookstores could be in store for a post-lockdown boom

Discussion
Photo: RetailWire
May 27, 2020
Matthew Stern

Even as states throughout the U.S. begin the slow process of reopening as COVID-19 infection numbers show apparent declines, there remains a great deal of uncertainty about what types of brick-and-mortar retailers will survive. In New Zealand, one of the few countries that appear to have successfully eradicated COVID-19 infections from its population, bookstores are the first businesses to benefit from a post-lockdown boom.

Bookstores in New Zealand have been experiencing an influx of business described by booksellers nationwide as “extraordinary” and “like Christmas,” according to an article in The Guardian. Some booksellers interviewed attribute the boom to customers’ greater desire to support local businesses after getting a taste of living without them, hesitation to purchase things from abroad and having expendable cash at the moment (due to money saved on not commuting or going out to eat for the duration of the lockdown).

There has also been an increased interest in works by local New Zealand authors, which are easier for booksellers to stock than international literature. One bookseller noted that, despite the stress of the novel coronavirus pandemic making it difficult for people to concentrate, many have rediscovered their love of literature.

In Italy, one of the countries hit earliest and hardest by the novel coronavirus pandemic, bookstores were one of the first types of non-essential businesses to be allowed to reopen as the country began easing its lockdown restrictions in mid-April, as reported on Business Insider. Among the other first wave reopeners were libraries and children’s clothing stores.

Prior to the novel coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., independent bookstores, in particular, had been experiencing a revival in popularity. Even the U.S.’s most prominent remaining big box bookseller, Barnes & Noble, had high hopes for a turnaround.

Barnes & Noble CEO James Daunt, who joined the chain in late 2019, has been credited with turning around U.K. bookseller Waterstones with changes to make the big box retailer look more like an independent store, with a more localized selection and smaller locations, according to Bloomberg. Such moves are presumably also in store for Barnes & Noble as Mr. Daunt helms an attempted turnaround.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Will bookstores in the U.S. experience renewed interest when they reopen, similar to what happened in the New Zealand market, and for the same reasons? What should bookstores do to prepare and make themselves more successful in the post-COVID-19 world?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"I believe that many people have tired of being online 24/7 during this pandemic and have rediscovered the slower pace and pleasure provided by reading. "
"In the U.K., the bookseller Waterstones said that any book that was touched and not bought would be put under a 72 hour quarantine."
"These are all good guesses. Today’s challenge is no one really knows what the next three, six, 24 months will hold, and I take all predictions with a big grain of salt."

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15 Comments on "Bookstores could be in store for a post-lockdown boom"


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Ken Morris
BrainTrust

I believe that many people have tired of being online 24/7 during this pandemic and have rediscovered the slower pace and pleasure provided by reading. To get outside your locked-down world and into a fantasy world of fiction or non-fiction is a journey one can make from anywhere. My local bookstore here on Cape Cod has begun to call their loyalty customers and ask them what books they can order for them. They have set up an arrangement with their suppliers to ship directly to the customer with no added shipping charge. They are also taking pre-orders over the phone for upcoming releases. People want to buy local. They want to support local businesses and bookstores should be prepared for the return of the customer as if it’s Christmas — in June or July.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust
The indie retailers who survive the COVID-19 shutdown will be the ones who aggressively market their stores, sell on social media and online, and offer personal shoppers and curb service. Pre-COVID-19 Town House Books, our local indie, did a wonderful job of keeping customers close through in-store events, book launches, readings, kids events, live music, and support of local authors. Its cafe, serving all homemade food and baked goods, is a local hotspot. COVID-19 slowed them down but the owner came back with e-books, a new service that allows them to compete with Amazon and Barnes & Noble, online ordering and curb service. Bookstores can keep close to customers by engaging them via Facebook Live, online book clubs, asking readers to post book reviews on the store’s social media, consistent emails – Barnes & Noble sends one daily – and more. There are indie retailers out there who are selling more online now then they ever did with their brick-and-mortar stores because of the way they chose to engage shoppers. Who says bookstores can’t do… Read more »
Bob Amster
BrainTrust

One would have thought that online booksellers would be the beneficiaries of the pandemic. People having to stay in, and with more available time to read one would have expected that it would have induced more electronic downloading of books for purchase. It is not easy to determine how brick-and-mortar stores would have benefited during the pandemic in the U.S. but maybe they will experience a resurgence in popularity post-pandemic.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

If bookstores can be fully open and provide an engaging experience, then I can see some hope. However, if there are loads of restrictions which prevent browsing and relaxing in-store then I cannot see a revival in the near term. In the U.K., the bookseller Waterstones – which is run by James Daunt who is now the CEO of Barnes & Noble – said that any book that was touched and not bought would be put under a 72 hour quarantine. Whether that is necessary or not is open to debate, but the consequences for a store where people like to pick things up and handle them is potentially catastrophic. In any case, even without this crisis, Barnes & Noble had a lot of work to do to make itself a compelling destination. I have no doubt that people love books and independent book stores. Whether they love a big book chain like Barnes & Noble remains to be seen!

Ian Percy
BrainTrust
There are so many appealing things about New Zealand and this adds to the list. In contrast, I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people observe that Americans don’t read any more especially executives and investors who tend to brag about having a one page of bullet points limit to their reading attention span. Not reading is almost a badge of honor. Apparently one can run the entire free world without reading. Wondering if there’s any data on that, I checked it out. According to Statistica.com, people in India read the most, an average of 10:42 hours a week. Closest I could find to New Zealand was Australia where they read 6:18 hours a week or 54 minutes a day. The report doesn’t include demographics or what “reading” means. In the US it’s 5.42 hours per week or about 49 minutes per day. If that includes reading emails and texts there clearly is no room for an actual book. Indeed, TIME says Americans read print 19 minutes per day. No idea why bookstores… Read more »
Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

It isn’t on target, but the discussion made me realize I have a very strange habit.

When I travel to different countries and pass a bookstore I invariably go in and browse. Even if I don’t know the language. Even in China. But I do not visit bookstores at home. All my book purchases are on Amazon.

Why? Obviously, it isn’t about the books. Maybe I find a bookstore gives me a sense of the culture. Maybe it tells me about the people. It isn’t a terribly conscious decision, but I do find those bookstores fascinating.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust

Gene, I’d say an independent bookstore just oozes quirkiness, flair, and originality. Attribute it to human nature in that we all seek out uniqueness. Books by their nature seem to infuse people with a sense of uniqueness, intrigue, and mystery, coupled with knowledge. They invite exploration – and those stores are a reflection of this combined with the local culture overall. I’m not the least bit surprised by your habit!

Ian Percy
BrainTrust

Interesting Gene. It has to do with energy. As you say, when you walk into a foreign book store there’s an energy in the experience that washes over you. Amazon, on the other hand, is a mechanistic exchange – “Oh look, I saved 23 percent” is as intimate as it gets. I suggest that a true independent book store built by someone who wholeheartedly loves books like they are children emits that same kind of energy. Just feeling and being in it is worth paying a little more. Sadly they are hard to find.

Peter Charness
BrainTrust

These are all good guesses. Today’s challenge is no one really knows what the next three, six, 24 months will hold, and I take all predictions with a big grain of salt. Perhaps the only trend that won’t be wrong is that retailers need to become more agile in all of the ways they approach business – be it marketing, technology, in-store experience.

Karen S. Herman
BrainTrust

I’m all-in on the benefits of retail therapy that offline, brick-and-mortar retail offers and I definitely expect a resurgence in popularity and increased sales at local bookstores, as they reopen. We are social creatures and a bookstore, independent or big box, is the perfect place to escape boredom, explore new ideas and enjoy buying something that makes you happy. To be successful, the bookstore needs to reassure customers that it is a safe place to shop. Clear and simple visual messaging is key here. Having hand sanitizer convenient to find and use is essential and I’d like to see complimentary cloth face coverings available, or create a workshop where shoppers can make their own. Clearly identifying social distancing in-store with graphic signage is helpful and reassuring to shoppers, too. This is too good of an opportunity for bookstore owners and operators to miss. Go for it!

Mary Henslee
Guest
3 months 27 days ago

All booksellers, both national chains and local independents, should benefit from the population yearning for entertainment and enrichment as they stay home more. There will be a continued increase in interest in physical books as readers look for an escape from their screens. Booksellers also offer related products like jigsaw puzzles, board games, stationery and small home decor that is in high demand right now. They should inform and inspire their customers by sponsoring virtual book clubs with access to authors, who have time because they cannot travel on book tours right now. Engage with social media, including bookstagram influencers, to build their customer base. And they should collect information to enrich a customer database, and ideally a loyalty program, with zero party data from customers who shop online, to maximize customer engagement and retention as stores reopen.

Zel Bianco
BrainTrust

I am a news and politics junkie and have now added all of the mini whitepapers and reports on what to do during and after emerging from the crises to my reading list. Books, however, have been my fix to calm my nerves (depending on what I am reading at the time) and provide a calming respite from all the horrible news and allow for a well deserved escape. I hope this is a trend that will stick.

Brian Numainville
BrainTrust

While there is certainly appeal to an independent, local bookstore, much of that appeal has to do with the in-store environment, culture and vibe of the store. If there are limits to how many people can be there and how long one can hang out, that diminishes the value of the bookstore as a destination. And if that’s the case, I think many people will continue purchasing books they can enjoy on their patio or deck in the nice summer weather.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

So what to believe: a ten (Twenty? Fifty?) year decline in the printed word, and the stores that deal in it, or a two week bounce … from down under?

You probably know which one I’m going to pick.

So having been the Voice of Doom, I’ll offer this bit of solace: I think there will always — well, at least within the lifetime of the readers here — be bookstores. I just don’t think there will be many of them.

DavidCraig
Guest
3 months 21 days ago

I apologize for my English, it is far from perfect. I’m sure that after people spend a lot of time reading online in quarantine, books will start to sell at an incredible speed. Reading in parks and other public places will again become very popular.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"I believe that many people have tired of being online 24/7 during this pandemic and have rediscovered the slower pace and pleasure provided by reading. "
"In the U.K., the bookseller Waterstones said that any book that was touched and not bought would be put under a 72 hour quarantine."
"These are all good guesses. Today’s challenge is no one really knows what the next three, six, 24 months will hold, and I take all predictions with a big grain of salt."

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