Friday, October 30, 2009

Powell's Books adds the personal touch

It seems like there are a bunch of bookseller updates these days, doesn't it? Next up: Powell’s Books.

The legendary Portland, Ore.-based retailer is gearing up to reach customers this holiday season with a targeted e-mail marketing campaign that delivers book recommendations to customers based on their preferences.

The company, which operates four general bookstores, two specialty stores and an e-commerce site, has been its testing e-mail marketing strategy throughout the year and has since seen an increase in online sales. In fact, its open-rate results are more than 70%.

The move to personalize the content of its e-mails comes as Powell's is expanding the reach of its e-mails and online marketing efforts with social media. It's done a lot to engage customers online -- and its strategies are worth a closer look. To find out more on what the company is doing, click here to read the Chain Store Age exclusive.

Click me!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Buy now, get 50% off later

The Paradies Shops, an Atlanta-based bookseller that operates more than 500 stores in over 70 airports and hotels across the U.S. and Canada, is well known for its Read & Return Book Program. First introduced in 2003, the program allows travelers to buy a book and then return it within six months to receive 50% of the purchase price back. Books that are returned in good condition are then resold at half price, and those that aren't are donated to a local charity.

Curious about how the program is doing during a time where many cash-strapped shoppers are looking for ways to save, I checked in with Bobbi Passavanti, managing director of marketing and communications for The Paradies Shops -- and her answer was surprising:

"The program remains as strong as ever, but we actually don't measure the results," Passavanti told me. "Our book business has steadily increased about 20% over the years, but we're not as focused on the Read & Return program's numbers -- we just know it's successful by seeing how many loyal returning customers it brings in."

It's hard to believe that the company doesn't officially monitor the program's results, but even still, it's obvious it's working for them. "It's really grown over the past few years, mostly through word-of-mouth marketing," she said.

Passavanti said the program is especially popular among airport workers and flight crews, who have frequent access to its stores across the country. And when a customer purchases a book, the cashier either staples or tapes the receipt inside, along with a bookmark that lists all its locations.

How's that for smart marketing? Shoppers start thinking about when they can make a second trip to one of the company's stores even before they leave the one they're in.

Borders wants you to stay awhile

Borders Group recently signed a deal with Verizon Communications to provide free WiFi service in "virtually all" of its more than 500 stores around the country. Although this is GREAT news, I'm surprised Borders is only offering this service to shoppers now. Booksellers and coffee shops should all be wireless by now -- though, I think in this case, the key word here is "free" WiFi.

It's also smart the company is informing its online shoppers of this new service with a bold message on A good move for Borders all around.

Wanna chat? Why yes, I do.

A new study from RightNow to investigate online shoppers' attitudes towards the technology used for customer service found that consumers are foregoing traditional methods of communication with contact center agents, such as phone and e-mail, in favor of self-service and chat.

In fact, more than 64% of consumers who have engaged with an agent through a chat session said they would rather use this channel than speak with an agent on the phone; 69% said they would prefer to use chat than e-mail.

I fit right into this statistic. I always choose this option if it's available rather than picking up a phone or going into a store to ask a question. Sure, some might consider it lazy, but that's the brilliance of it. It's minimum effort with personal one-on-one customer service. What's not to love?

* As a side note, plans to use its LiveChat tool to help answer questions during the holiday season. I suggest other retailers follow suit.

E-books to hurt booksellers

Just as downloadable digital music affected the entire music retailing industry, analysts are expecting that a shift from physical to digital books will hurt traditional brick-and-mortar booksellers, analysts said as Barnes & Noble launched its new e-reader. Introduced last week, the Nook is designed to compete against’s Kindle, which has dominated the e-reader market, and Sony’s Reader.

While Barnes & Noble might become a major player in the digital book business, its e-reader could actually speed the downward trend in its revenue and profit, said Credit Suisse analyst Gary Balte, in an Associated Press report.

“As the math currently works, each sale through a Nook is not just unprofitable but potentially replaces a higher-margin sale at stores,” Balter wrote in a client note Friday.

One obvious risk is that downloading books reduces the need to go into stores, Balter said.

E-book readership is small, but growing fast. Forrester Research predicts 3 million e-readers will sell in the United States in 2009, and twice that many in 2010.

Although there will always be something special about walking into a bookstore, perhaps it's inevitable that consumers will choose immediacy and convenience over that in-store experience ...

Hhgregg goes social

Appliance and electronics leader Hhgregg is opening a store in Memphis, Tenn., and in the Southhaven, Miss., area today -- the Southaven store is Hhgregg’s first store in the state of Mississippi. To introduce local-area shoppers to its brand, the company is turning to Facebook .

The Indianapolis-based retailer is launching its "Show Me Your State" Facebook photo contest to Tennessee and Mississippi residents until mid-November. Residents can download a picture of Hhgregg's mascot, "hh," take a picture of him at their favorite location in the state, and post it to his Facebook page for a chance to win a prize. It's another great way to encourage in-store shoppers to interact with the company online.

What is your company doing to bridge the gap?

PS - How cute is 'hh'?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Gap wants to connect

Looking to create more interaction between its brand and customers, Gap Inc. is encouraging shoppers to click through to its Facebook, YouTube and Twitter pages via the bottom of its e-mail marketing initiatives.

Embedded flash messages occur within the e-mail: "Born To Fit," "Born to Party" and "Born to Connect." Then it asks, "What were you born to do?"

Shoppers are then pushed to information about the company's new "Born To Fit" campaign. On Facebook, for example, Gap's page is filled with videos, style ideas and tips to find the perfect jean for your body type.

Retailers are looking for new ways to push shoppers to their social networking pages, and e-mail marketing is another smart way to cross that bridge.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Embracing the shopping bag

Express first started to get the word out about its social networking initiatives by encouraging shoppers to visit its Facebook page or follow its CMO on Twitter (@ExpressLisaG) via their receipts. Now, the company is taking it a step further by placing its messaging on the bottom of its shopping bags.

Although it might seem like an unusual place for this type of marketing, the shake up is surprisingly eye catching since customers are used to blank-bottomed bags. The attempt is successful in my book.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Amazon gives Twilighters a sweet treat is celebrating its 10th anniversary with 10 weeks of sweepstakes starting today and ending in mid-December. Prizes range from $10,000 diamond earrings to a high-def home theater and a dream kitchen.

This week, Amazon is taking a stab at luring Gen Y shoppers to its site by offering two tickets to attend "The Twilight Saga: New Moon" premiere in Los Angeles and a chance to meet members of the cast.

It's not a quick and simple enter-and-run giveaway, though -- you have to create, add to, or share an Amazon Wish List to automatically be invited to enter. And then the site will surely keep tabs on your list, reminding you it's there and encouraging you to purchase.

It's smart -- they're giving a little with potential to get a lot back.