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Three Customer Experience Lessons That Retail Can Learn From Independent Bookstores

Until the arrival of the retail giant Amazon in 1995, it was the golden age for independent bookstores. However, by 2000, the number of bookstores went down by 43% due to both the rise of Amazon and competition from big chains. After all, if you could order a book with a simple click and have it delivered to your door in 24 hours from Amazon, and had access to a wider selection of books at a lower price from big chains, why would you continue shopping at small, local bookstores? Until 2009, this trend seemed unstoppable, and all signs pointed to the disappearance of independent bookstores forever.

However, a study by Elliot Advisors showed that small, independent bookstores are not disappearing, but are actually flourishing, even in the e-commerce era. Retail business models are evolving and being redefined. Independent bookstores are a great example of how leveraging their intrinsic advantages over e-commerce, such as the ability to create memorable customer experiences, keeps them competitive in their sector.

According to the results of the study, the customer experience strategy in these bookstores is based on three C’s: community, curation, and convening. In this article, we will share three important lessons from the case study on how to improve the customer experience journey.

How to provide an excellent customer experience

 Create a community with your customers

Independent bookstores have brought the concept of creating community to the next level. They transform retail spaces into meeting points that encourage people to connect with each other. And what makes this possible? A shared passion between customers and employees for the product (in this case, books). It’s this feeling that creates a special relationship between customers and authors, publishing companies, and even the booksellers.

This is why retailers have to do whatever they can to ensure that employees share the same passion for the product as their customers, and that they foster communication, relationship building and mutual understanding. It’s also important that the community continues online, creating a digital customer experience where people can have daily contact with vendors, authors, companies and stores. Interactions like this lead to a customer journey that ends in in-store conversions.

Give customers the curation they long for

Curating their stock so that it fulfills their customers’ desires and expectations is another key to success for independent bookstores. Booksellers perform the special role of finding the perfect book for each customer based on their unique personal tastes. This function creates value and strengthens relationships with customers, which are pillars of constructing a great customer experience for retail.

Retailers have to evolve and start getting to know their customers better. They have to learn about customers’ tastes and desires to ensure that their products live up to expectations. Sensors, heat maps, smart shelves and other systems that record customer behavior in stores can help with that. In a way that respects customer privacy, these solutions collect data on what customers are interested in so that retailers can curate their stock and focus on products that add value. Through technologies like digital signage, retailers can reach customers in a more attractive way by showing them popular and interesting products. Technology can make visiting a store an unforgettable experience.

Make your space a place to convene

The sociologist Ray Oldenburg coined the term “third place” to refer to spaces where people meet that aren’t their home or work. The third place is where people can meet to socialize, exchange ideas and enrich their daily lives. Bookstores have evolved to become this third place by organizing events.

These days, bookstores have their calendars full of talks, conferences, round tables, book signings, and other events. Bookstores are becoming a place that not only sells books, but a place for customers to spend their free time. Commercial spaces are becoming more pleasant, open, and inclusive, and always have the customer and their comfort as a priority.

As you can see, independent bookstores have transformed the customer experience. They have left behind the basic retail model and become an example to follow. Without a doubt, the retail sector has to transform stores into spaces where customers can have positive and personalized experiences that bring them closer to the brand. If retailers are able to find common ground with their customers the way booksellers share a passion for literature with their customers, the connection will be even deeper and more significant.

Guiomar Fernandez