With Online Book Sales, Time is of The Essence
Now is better than later because later might never come.
Among the many tragic losses related to the above wisdom, one of the most trivial revolves around the topic of shopping behavior. (Apologies to the Maharishi inside us all.) And this matters a great deal in the world of books, where we know from our own behaviors that we postpone buying that particular title we want for a variety of lame reasons.
The degree of delayed book buyification (DBB) varies given macroeconomic conditions. Shopping gets hurt badly when times are tough. The rate of money-flow slows to a trickle in hard times and extracting money from someone becomes as difficult as extracting sap from a maple tree that is in fact a well-disguised cell tower. Even in good times, when customers are walking around with their wallets already out, dropping bills on sidewalks like chewing gum, anything that delays a purchase puts the likelihood of that purchase ever happening at great risk.
This seems obvious but there is another problem here. You see, every author, every publisher, every manufacturer of every product known to humankind, makes the same mistake. They believe just because they think about their products all day that others care as much as they do. Just go ask that person who LOVED the book she’s reading to name the author. Or the title. It’s always revealing. Most people approach everything they encounter with two defense mechanisms fully locked and loaded: So What? And Prove It. These are two critical tests for every promotional message crossing your desk. Most will not pass.
I remember way back in the last century when Kmart finally conducted store intercepts of those throngs leaving their stores empty-handed, only to discover the obvious problem was all the rows of backed-up cash registers with lights a blinking and zombie customers waiting for nonexistent managers to magically appear. It was a major problem. Quantifying the value of all those lost sales -- loaded shopping carts just abandoned off to the side because customers couldn’t take it anymore -- brought home the full magnitude of this failing. This was right before Kmart went into Chapter 11, allowing Walmart to roam wild.
But now with the Web and all the constant distractions we face on mobile devices, I wonder who really knows what the heck is going on? Again, common sense says making the book impulse-purchase online is far better than “risking” venturing out for retail. My hunch is that bookstores are increasingly becoming social gathering spots for discovering printed books (and drinking coffee), while online shopping and ebooks are much more about buying that specific book I want to read now before I forget. Ebooks bring new meaning to the power of now in this example. Sure, go to the store and discover something new that grabs your fancy. But go online to get what you know you want now.
There is an additional complication in all this, which is the number of free previously-read books floating around, which mysteriously find their way onto bedside tables. (Toilet paper does not face this challenge.) I’m married to a librarian so between Goodwill and the local dump, she is keeping my table in a permanent overstock position. Our dump (excuse me, I mean transfer station) features an outstanding collection of classics and fine literature, but then again I’m lucky enough to live in one of them there fancy towns, with real maple trees.
DBB is a problem for the future of bookselling. There is no room for error. In a bookstore, those helpful book gurus need to offer advice quickly, and then politely -- with great gratitude -- take the money before it steps outside. And in the world of mobile purchasing, online ordering systems and shopping pathways must be simple and fast, with positive reinforcement provided all the way to the confirmation.
I would be curious to know if anyone has any solid data on whether the titles being purchased in physical bookstores vary meaningfully from the titles being bought online, as suggested above. Are physical stores more about browsing and discovering, while online shopping and ebooks are more about getting what you already know you want, fast? Any research out there?