Bookstore Basics - Marketing and Merchandising

woman sitting on floor of bookstore reading
•••   Lynn Koenig / Getty Images

Like any other bricks-and-mortar retailer in this increasingly digital world, bookstores need to need to aggressively market themselves as well as their wares. From bags to blogs to book signings, these promotional tactics can work effectively to attract and maintain a loyal clientele.

Bags

Bookstore bags, printed with the store's name and/or logo and location are pretty much retail 101. When a consumer leaves with a bag, it becomes a promotional vehicle for the store — which is something to keep that in mind when it commissioning a design. Bags don't need to be expensive, but as they do cost money, they should work to appropriately present and remind folks of the store and its image. 

Bookmarks

Like bags, bookmarks serve a business card-like purpose for their stores, listing address, store hours, website, etc.; every time a customer uses one – and print readers still do, very much – it reminds him of the store. Also, like bags, bookmarks should reflect the store's brand with not only its logo but with its ambiance of the store. For example, quirky Bienville Books bookmark shows an alligator swamped in the foreground with the city buildings of Mobile, Ala. in the background.

Website

Stores need websites, period. At the very least, the site should list all the pertinent retail information – location (with a link to directions), hours, email address, and phone number. The best websites make sure this information is on every page so that a potential customer doesn't have to work to find it. The website may or may not include a blog (see below).

A Facebook page is a good secondary web presence, but you should have a website with a store-specific URL, to ensure you show up in Google and other search engines and maps. There are a lot of easy-to-use publishing platforms out there now, but it might be worth hiring a designer to give the site an appealing look that's also user-friendly.

Blog

Blog posts are great for announcing events (and posting pictures afterward), arrivals of new titles or merchandise, or any other news. However, blogs are a commitment — one without constantly new content or with outdated content (seriously – still hawking holiday books in March?) makes a store seem dull, dusty and amateurish. Luckily, blog software is pretty simple nowadays, make refreshing content pretty simple. But if you don't want to do it, make one of your employees responsible for the blog.

Newsletter

Newsletters are a good vehicle to alert customers about author readings and signings and other store events and to highlight recommended books in various categories, like general fiction or specific genres (mystery, romance, cooking, kids, etc.)

Store newsletters can appear in a number of formats – a one-sheet piece or a multi-page, newspaper-like publication. Like blogs, newsletters need content and tend to become their animals, so it's advisable for a bookseller starting a newsletter to create a template, format, and schedule, then assign staff adequate time and deadlines to help fill the piece.

Email newsletters should be more "newsy": Short and sweet, serving as event reminders rather than substituting for hard-copy pieces for in-store use.

Book Display

In-store visual merchandising is critical for any retailer, of course. Book placement, seasonal book promotions, book displays by subject or category, placing impulse buys at the cash register or along the check-out lines — all this can help upsell the book buyer. Even whether a book is displayed face-up or spine out can have an impact.

Signings and In-Store Events

Geared to sell a particular book or books by one author, readings and signings bring people in the door—and more people mean more book (and cappuccino) sales. They also create a festive atmosphere, often attracting casual browsers and passers-by. Besides specific evens, participation in events like Independent Bookstore Day help promotes the overall store. 

Shelf-Talkers

These pieces of cardboard that hang off the shelf can call attention to books for a variety of reasons. Whether they're allowing the staff to wax poetic in a favorite reading experience (see "Staff Picks," below), or alert a consumer to a regional bestseller or a good reading group pick, shelf-talkers are inexpensive, but ingratiating, ways to highlight book choices.

Staff Picks

Where hand-selling meets word-of-mouth: a thoughtfully-written, heartfelt, and sincere "Staff Recommends" or "Staff Pick" can entice a prospective reader to look twice — and maybe buy — a recommended book. These can come in the form of a shelf-talker positioned near the book, or grouped regularly in a monthly or seasonal newsletter.

Store-Branded Merchandise

T-shirts, mugs, re-useable book totes: These items serve the dual purpose of promoting the store while bringing in a bit of revenue. Design counts – something unique and a book- or reader-centric sells better than a generic store-branded item. Pricing the merchandise depends on which side of the merchandise /promotional line you see the items falling. Bookstores with a large and avid fan base or that attract a lot of visitors or tourists areas might want to price the items more in line with the souvenirs in the area for maximum profit, while other stores might want to price the merchandise more as a loss leader, to maximize the local promotional value.