Christian Retailing

CompeTuition: retail Lessons From Other Businesses Print Email
Written by Mary Manz Simon   
Wednesday, 23 March 2011 04:11 PM America/New_York

Books-A-Million:  Letting the covers do the selling

Books a millionLike 78% of online American shoppers, my store visit began at the Books-A-Million (BAM) Web site, and as a tech klutz, I was delighted that the entire site was easy to navigate. A direct link from the home page led to a section called “Faithpoint favorites,” offering a variety of titles, including books by Francine Rivers, Drew Brees, Max Lucado, Stephen Mansfield and Ted Dekker.

Elsewhere I found an extensive selection of Bibles, Christian Living, Christian fiction and general titles. Four inspirational gifts were featured on the “Toys and gifts” home page, while Joel Osteen’s Become a Better You was highlighted as a “bargain audio” on the audio home page. 

There were e-books, too: Mike Huckabee’s A Simple Christmas and Joel Osteen’s It’s Your Time.

These fast clicks reminded me that some Christian bookstores fail to acknowledge a critical fact: A shopper’s first impression is made often not by the brick-and-mortar exterior, but when the customer accesses the home page on the Internet.  

On site at the actual store, lots of books were visible through the windows. Best-sellers were displayed face-out through windows on a low unit that wrapped around the store. 

Close to the front of the store were several rows of bargain-priced books, all face-front in neat stacks. One endcap featured Christian fiction, including backlist by Lauraine Snelling, Beverly Lewis and Deeanne Gist, all priced at $3.97. The price grabbed me, and I bought several.  

Nearby, bright orange and yellow cardboard bargain-book bins advertised, “Blowout. Up to 75% off original price.” 

Rows of featured titles representing various categories were face front on tables down the entire center aisle to store back, including an “inspirational” table with books from Dr. Don Colbert, Gary Chapman and other authors. All other book categories were clearly labeled, with the majority of titles with face-front placement. 

Except for product on spinners, there was no cross-merchandising. There were no displays: “merchandising” was the front cover of the product. Initially, I was surprised at this, but it makes sense, as the front cover is generally the most expensive ad a publisher creates for a book.  Allowing product to “sell itself” also eliminates the need for labor-intensive dusting of shelves and arranging displays.

The store’s appeal was quickly evident upon opening. Minutes after the doors were unlocked, customers were already settled into overstuffed chairs, positioned at several locations. As they entered, one male employee wearing a store apron came from behind the register to greet individual shoppers. Two other employees, shelving within the aisles, were also very attentive to customers, asking if they were finding what they needed. 

Among the first arrivals were a dad, several moms and their infants and toddlers, with parents wheeling strollers down the wide aisle directly to the train table in the kid corner. The bookstore was obviously their regular gathering place. Perhaps this store was borrowing an idea from Christian stores I’ve visited that offer space for early morning Bible studies and small groups of homeschoolers prior to store opening.

Cruising the well-stocked shelves, I overheard one customer ask a specific question about a title. I was impressed when the frontliner answered without even checking a computer. This was a reminder that Christian retailers aren’t the only ones with excellent product knowledge.

Frontliners were visible and available, moving among the aisles so that there was no need for anyone to visit the service center. However, a large “Customer Service” sign, hung from the ceiling, was clearly visible, even from the adjoining mall.

Clear signage was repeated elsewhere. The words “sale” and “bargain”—key words for value-driven, price-conscious customers—were visible from any location in the store, again even from the mall. 

The store clearly recognized that many customers are looking for “more than a book” experience. In addition to the store name and Web site printed on the store bag, the “Joe Muggs Coffee” logo highlighted the opportunity to go beyond books. 

I was also impressed at the checkout when a frontliner asked if I wanted a bag for my purchases. As customers become increasingly eco-sensitive, this will become a more common question at point of sale. 

My shopping companion appreciated the fact that the frontliner at the register did not continue his loyalty program sales pitch when we were obviously not interested.

The bottom line: Would I shop here again? Absolutely. It was an excellent shopping experience from first click to in-store checkout.