Monday, March 26, 2012

Leveraging the Indie Store Advantage: A Unique Customer Experience

Hi Booksellers,

By now, you’ve probably seen the remarkable interview between author Ann Patchett and Steve Colbert on The Colbert Report.

In the interview, Patchett, who recently opened Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee, articulates the importance of independent stores and the unique experience it offers to customers, authors, and the community.

What a great reminder of what drives people to their local bookshop! No website can truly replicate the brick-and-mortar shopping experience — the smell of aging books, the sounds of soft music and hushed voices, and authentic human interaction.

One way to leverage this advantage is through customer service. While not exactly cutting-edge, this time-tested business tactic is still hailed as remarkably effective in today’s marketplace. A friendly, flesh-and-blood person offering insightful recommendations can be quite powerful. 

This article from Bloomberg Businessweek offers a refresher on customer service basics, specifically:
  • Emphasize hellos and goodbyes.
  • Train greeters.
  • Speed order fulfillment.
  • Hire selectively.
  • Get the language right.
  • Develop a system to make each customer feel that employees care.
You can read the full article for complete insight on these tips.

Here are a few more ways to connect with customers, maximize your unique product knowledge, and deliver a unique, rewarding experience that will encourage repeat business from a growing circle of devoted regulars.

Greet Everyone
A quick hello sends a welcoming message to customers and engages them right away. It will make them feel accepted and comfortable, especially if it’s their first time in your store. It’s also a great lead-in to the next tenet of customer service: asking open-ended questions.

“Is There Anything I Can Help You with Today?” 
When I’m in a hurry, it’s a relief to get quick assistance. A gentle, open-ended question opens the door to a one-on-one interaction that could turn into a lengthy conversation about your customer’s interests, a hand-selling opportunity, or a chance to share your knowledge and expertise.

Build a Rapport
Building a relationship is key to earning customer loyalty. Make an effort to know your customers and their interests. Take the time to have a conversation. Ask for feedback. Keep the connection alive by inviting them to sign up for alerts on sales, promotions, and events.

Of course, customer service is just the tip of iceberg when it comes to creating a unique and satisfying experience for customers. We'd love to hear your ideas!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Green Your Store, Your Home, and Your Friends This Earth Day

As Earth Day approaches, the issue of green takes center stage. How eco-friendly is your store? We’ve provided a few ideas for retailers in the past, including ways to save money by going green for Earth day, a list of books for your shelves that are spiritually green, and ideas to celebrate Earth Day at your store.

But this year, I propose something different. Instead of simply adopting green practices, why not encourage our co-workers, our friends, and our families to adopt some green practices as well? Below are a few green ideas that are earth-friendly (and often budget-friendly) that you can implement at your store and in your home, and make easy and fun suggestions for family and friends.

 1. Change your lightbulbs. CFLs (Compact Fluorescent Lights) pack a punch in terms of energy savings. And now is a wise time to start switching over; with regular bulbs being phased out in the next couple of years, they will become unavailable, and many retailers are offering low prices (as low as $1 a bulb in some cases, like Excel energy has done in our area) to entice consumers to make the switch. Also, since a CFL can save you up to $50 in energy costs over its lifetime,  you could be looking at a savings of $1,500 or more (over the next year or two) when you switch all of your bulbs to CFLs.

2. Hand out seed packets. What a fun way to spread some green! Make "gift baskets" for customers, friends, or kids that include seed packets, handouts and stuffers with green living tips, or other items (a small portion of potting soil, perhaps?). Starting a few flowers on the deck or some herbs indoors will bring out the gardener in everyone--adults and children alike.

3. Hand out stuffers with tips for living green. Many people feel overwhelmed by the idea of "living green;" a handout that includes quick and easy tips can be a great way for them to feel more comfortable with the idea. These can be included with your seed packets (see number 2 above) in a fun and creative gift basket or other package. We have a stuffer with Natural Homemade Skin Care Remedies on our downloads page that could be included as well.

4. Encourage customers to bring their own re-usable bags. Encourage customers to bring their own re-usable bags (saving on plastic and paper) by offering a discount to those that do. You can also encourage friends and children to use re-usable cloth bags by giving them as gifts. Many stores, from Amazon to Ebay to Etsy, have a vast collection of styles and patterns; some sites will even let you customize your own design, making them a perfect gift for anyone.

5.  Ride your bike to work--and encourage your co-workers and friends to do the same. Bicycling can be great fun, as well as good exercise. It's also a great way to save on gas costs and automobile emissions harmful to the earth. Bike together to work with co-workers that live near you, or set up a challenge to see who can bike to work the most days in one month. For more ideas on how to take up bicycling as a primary mode of transportation, read our article, "Bicycle Commuting and the No-Car Life."

6. Save on printer paper. Set your printers (both at work and at home) to print everything as double-sided. This has the potential to cut the amount of paper you use in half, reducing not only your carbon footprint for paper (including trees used and carbon emissions released during the creation process) but also could therefore cut your printing paper budget in half. Have a document that is one-sided, or papers you are about to recycle? Staple them together, un-printed back side up, so that it makes a great note pad for jotting things down at work or an art pad at home on which kids can draw and sketch.

What are some other fun and innovative ideas on green living?