As an independent bookstore that relied heavily on foot traffic from tourists and business travelers to downtown Greenville, we had to pivot quickly when the pandemic took hold last March. Tourism came to a halt, and many of our local customers weren’t comfortable shopping in physical stores.
We knew we had to get creative to adapt how we engage and serve our customers—and ultimately prevent our revenue from dropping off completely.
“We knew we had to get creative to adapt how we engage and serve our customers.”
Offering curbside pickup and delivery
A state-mandated shutdown of “nonessential” businesses forced us to temporarily close our physical store soon after the pandemic began, and even after that closure ended, shoppers were far less willing to come inside our store. So our first step was introducing new ways for customers to shop and receive our products.
We uploaded photos of our bookshelves to our website, so that customers could easily peruse our offerings from the comfort and safety of home and then call in their orders. To accommodate this increased call volume and avoid missed calls, we added phone lines to our Spectrum Business service. We also put more book recommendations on our website to engage prospective customers and pique their interest in new offerings. One silver lining for us was that many people were staying home and reading more.
We gave local customers who didn’t want to come into our store three basic options: They could pick up their orders from a table we set up outside the store, pick up with our curbside service, or we could deliver it to their home if they lived within 10 miles of our store. Our delivery driver uses smartphone mapping technology to plan the most efficient route and then sends text messages to let customers know their order is waiting on their doorstep.
Over the 2020 holiday season, curbside pickup and delivery were especially popular, and there were days when our driver made more than 25 deliveries.
Building our ecommerce presence
Like many independent bookstores, we didn’t have a robust ecommerce operation before the pandemic—and Amazon and other major retailers became an even larger threat because they can ship books to customers’ homes so quickly. We knew we had to expand our online offerings.
Thankfully, earlier in 2020, we had signed up for a new platform for independent booksellers called Bookshop.org. How it works: People who shop for books on the site can designate our store to receive a 25% commission on all their sales. Bookshop also divides 10% of its profits among independent bookstores every six months.
This was a major relief to us during the pandemic. Since we had limited ecommerce on our website, we could direct our customers to Bookshop to buy pretty much any book they wanted. We would then receive the commission, as well as the 10% profit-sharing checks.
Bookshop comprises less than 10% of all of our sales, but in this environment, every little bit helps.
We have also bolstered the ecommerce offerings on our website and put together some gift sets with books and tea and other complementary products. We have added more online products using the WordPress website builder tool Elementor.
We added chat to our website using a tool called Tidio, which our customers use to ask us for book recommendations or any general questions they have.
Expanding beyond books
We’ve started to roll out new product lines we can offer customers to diversify even further. We recently launched a line of bookmarks, and have begun selling vintage furniture.
As we look ahead to the rest of 2021, we’re hopeful that we will see a safe return of tourism and in-person events—as those are so integral to our business. Yet, the pandemic has forced us to think more innovatively and proactively about our business and take steps that will ultimately make us stronger, even when the world returns to “normal.”Print this article