Bookstore Basics - Marketing and Merchandising

bookstore interior
Bookstores use in-store displays to market genres or topics. Getty Images

Bookstores need to need to market themselves like any other retailer to bring customers in the door.  Here are some common bookstore point-of-sale promotional materials and other types of promotions used by booksellers.

Bags

Bookstore bags, printed with the store's name and/or logo and location are pretty much retail 101.  When a consumer leaves a store with a bag, it becomes a promotional vehicle for the store — which is something to keep that in mind designing store bags.

They don't need to be expensive, but as they do cost money, they should work to appropriately present the store. 

Blog

Blog software is great and fairly easy to update, so blog posts are great for announcing bookstore events or for posting pictures afterward. However, blogs are a commitment — a blog without frequently refreshed content makes a store seem uneventful.

Bookmarks

Still an extremely useful tool for the printed book reader, bookmarks also serve the promotional "business card" purpose for their stores, listing address, store hours, website, etc. Bookmarks should reflect the store's brand with not only its logo but with the "ambiance" of the store. For example, quirky Bienville Books bookmark shows an alligator swamped in the foreground with the city buildings of Mobile, AL in the background.

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 where customers line up and at the cash register — even whether a book is face-out or spine out — all this can help upsell the book buyer.

Read more about visual merchandising.

Book Readings and Signings

While these are geared to sell a particular book or books by one author, these bring people in the door—and more people mean more book (and cappuccino) sales.

In-Store Events

Besides reading and signings, participation in events like Independent Bookstore Day help promotes the overall store.

 

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," or serve as even reminders rather than substitute for hard-copy pieces for in-store use, given the short attention span of most email readers.

Shelf-talker

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 was poetic in a favorite reading experience (see "Staff Picks," below), or alert a consumer to a regional bestseller or a good reading group pick, these are inexpensive ways to highlight book choices.

Staff recommends (an aside)

Where hand-selling meets word-of-mouth: a thoughtfully-written, heartfelt, and sincere "Staff Recommend" 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."

Tee shirts, mugs, re-useable book totes — these are items that can be sold for a price and 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 attractively for buyers to maximize the local promotional value.

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, and phone number and the best websites make sure this information is on every page so that a potential customer doesn't have to work to find it.

A Facebook page is a good secondary web presence, but you should have a website with a store-specific URL as well. The website may or may not include a blog (see below).

Learn about more independent bookseller resources