Guest Column: Book Pricing: Rein in the Aggression
But shopping online is only part of the story. Many book buyers still eschew the online world in favor of the bookstore. Barnes & Noble reported that core comparable bookstore sales (which exclude NOOK sales) increased by 7.6 percent in its latest fiscal quarter (ending July 28, 2012).
Granted, 67 percent of the respondents in our study said that online is their usual channel of choice when they plan to buy a new book, versus just 17 percent who said they would usually plan to buy a new book in a traditional store. The remaining 16 percent are "in play" and usually include a store visit in their decision-making. Why do consumers still buy books in stores, or at least keep the option open? Their top motivations are that they can get the product right away (31 percent of respondents) and the social experience of going to the store (21 percent of respondents).
A critical question for bookstores, then, is how to woo back readers for whom online shopping has become the primary option, and how they might ensure that the "in play" consumers walk out of the store as buyers, not browsers.
Book buyers were pretty clear that lower prices are not the answer. Allowed to select multiple motivations, only 13 percent of respondents selected "lower prices than online" as something that would lure them back into bookstores. Gift cards (37 percent) and better selection (36 percent) exerted a much stronger pull. Gifts cards are a form of restricted currency; you can spend the money only in one place. In theory, lower prices may tempt a book buyer to visit a store. Having a gift card forces them to. We infer that such selective promotions would prove much more effective than sweeping price cuts, than the kind of "price matching" Target and Best Buy have announced, and than an all-out price war.