Christian Retailing

Pre-buys boost value and sales in age of Internet shopping Print Email
Written by Lindsay Williams   
Thursday, 13 February 2014 08:31 AM America/New_York

Retailers agree pre-release sales of a variety of products engage early adopters and cultivate customer loyalty

LifeWay-MusicManiaChristian retail chains and marketing groups continue to entice customers with pre-buys for top product, seeing the promotions as positive ways to increase value and build sales.

“Engaging that early initiator with a great deal on their favorite book, CD or DVD has potential for some long-term payoffs,” Parable Group’s Marketing Specialist Randy Ross said. “The dollar is captured up front, securing the sale in the store as opposed to online or at a competitor. That early initiator will likely become an ‘evangelist’ for that product, telling their friends about how much they loved it and where to get it; and that customer will likely be back again for the next big release if they are treated well.”

Jimmy Wheeler, vice president of sales at Provident Music Group, is among those who see the worth of pre-buys to boost music sales, though books, Bibles and DVDs also benefit from pre-sales.

“The key is to add value, not necessarily drop price,” Wheeler said. “The hope is that a pre-sale is a traffic-driver for physical retail.”

Wheeler cited a promotion Provident did in anticipation of a new Casting Crowns release several years ago as an example of an effective pre-sale. The campaign was ministry-focused, donating all pre-sale proceeds to help children in Haiti and saw a significant return in terms of both charitable funds raised and units sold. 

Wheeler believes that pre-sales are most effective when retailers are able to focus on one campaign at a time, which rarely happens in today’s marketplace. While the number of pre-sales is declining and normally only reserved for the top echelon of Christian books, music and DVDs, he still believes they serve a purpose. 

“Pre-sales equal pre-promotion, which helps generate awareness,” Wheeler said. “Doing a pre-sale is just one more tool in the toolbox that helps us.”

Fair Trade Services Senior Vice President of Marketing and Promotions Dan Michaels says it’s the collaboration of all invested parties that makes pre-sales worthwhile, driving traffic to stores. 

“The label needs a compelling artist/product and to ensure that the single is working at radio; publicity and social media marketing are engaged; and resources are allotted for retail during the pre-sale timeframe,” Michaels said. “That has been harder to achieve in recent years.” 

Retailers, publishers and labels agree pre-sales are most successful when there’s synergy between all parties involved along the retail chain—each pulling their own weight in terms of promoting the pre-sale via social media, online and in catalogs.

This spring, Provident Distribution will offer a pre-sale to participating retailers aimed at fans of Fair Trade Services group MercyMe in support of new album Welcome to the New. 

“We anticipate that offering an ‘A’ artist with major national appeal and their hit single, ‘Shake,’ climbing the charts during the pre-sale period, will create an attractive value to both consumers and our retail partners,” Michaels said.

Family Christian’s Welcome to the New pre-buy shows a cut of about $6 off the suggested retail price, a substantial savings for price-conscious consumers.

Amanda Sloan, senior vice president of marketing for B&H Publishing Group, has seen books get a boost from pre-buys.

“At B&H, when we have a highly anticipated trade book that is expected to garner substantial early buzz through the media, or the author’s audience is eager for the message, we will sometimes utilize a pre-sale outreach strategy,” Sloan said. “The way to make this most effective is to enroll the retail partner(s) to ensure we are making a reader aware of this through all of our marketing channels.”

Jim Shears, inventory control specialist at the Bartlett, Tenn., Family Christian Stores location, said the success of his store’s pre-sales is mostly determined by the popularity of the author behind the book or the artist behind the music. 

“If it’s the latest Karen Kingsbury book, it’s going to pre-sale like crazy,” Shears told Christian Retailing. “As soon as [her fans] know it’s ready to come out, they’re all over it. It depends on what’s trending. It creates conversation.”

The LifeWay, Family Christian and Mardel chains all run pre-buy specials. LifeWay’s Jan. 28-Feb. 1 Music Mania promotion was extended to Feb. 4 (due to inclement weather) and featured music pre-buys of leading artists at either $7.99 or $9.99, cutting $2 or $4 off suggested retail. Occasionally the chain offers CDs for $5 with a $5-$10 gift card good for the customer’s next store visit, which essentially makes the new release free.

Some chains also now offer pre-buys with e-books. For example, LifeWay’s recent catalog advertises Grace Unplugged with a free Own It digital download.

Despite the additional work necessary for pre-sales at retail, Parable’s Ross said that “full-circle payoff is exponential if the pre-sale is executed with impeccable customer service and follow-up.”

Ross sees the value of pre-sales to Christian retailers across the board. 

“Pre-sales should be a regular part of the independent Christian retail experience,” he said.

Editor’s note: LifeWay, Mardel, Family Christian and several independent retailers declined comment for this story.