Publishers Need To Match The Amazon Experience To Grow D2C Sales
More than ever before, publishers are attempting to sell books directly to consumers. But, what if this trend plays right into Amazon’s hands? What if the effort to shift sales away from Amazon actually gives them more power? Could the direct-to-consumer (D2C) movement backfire and create a worse dynamic in the industry?
We live in an era when ecommerce is being perfected by Amazon, Apple, Wal-Mart, and other innovative retailers. Consumers can buy with one-click, get free two-day shipping, purchase goods at ridiculously low prices, return items at no charge, and even receive same-day delivery in major cities. The standards set to win marketshare are higher than ever and consumers expect these terms. Publishers who wade into the ecommerce world must put their best foot forward. Otherwise, they will wind up steering consumers right back to Amazon.
How are publishers currently faring at D2C marketing and sales? Aside from a few standout companies, such as O’Reilly and Writer’s Digest, the industry isn’t faring very well. For instance, a large publisher told me their ecommerce system moves mostly discounted backlist titles, overstocks, and remainders. Total D2C book sales account for less than 2% of annual revenue, which barely seems worth the effort and expense to manage an online store. Why such mediocre results?
I recently conducted an informal D2C study for my consulting clients and visited over 25 publisher websites of various sizes and genres. I subscribed to each publisher’s email newsletter and tested buying a book at their online stores. But, I was shocked by the amount of problems I encountered that diminished the online shopping experience. The issues could be summed up by these two concerns:
- Publishers send boring D2C marketing campaigns via email and social media.
- Publishers set up ecommerce stores that lack competitive quality.
Common D2C Marketing Pitfalls
Let’s address the marketing concern first, because if you don’t attract consumers you won’t sell many books direct. Below is a list of common mistakes made by publishers when it comes to D2C marketing:
1. Always Asking and Rarely Giving
Most publisher website homepages, email blasts, and Facebook pages constantly ask for the book sale without giving anything of value first. If you’re business is new to ecommerce, you need to create goodwill with skeptical consumers. For example, offer free content first to gain people’s interest and encourage them to join your email lists. As a publisher, you’re loaded with good content. Consider asking less and giving more.
2. Unwise Uses of Content
Speaking of content, most publishers are too stingy with their free stuff. For instance, I visited a publisher’s website who offered four free downloads -- but the samples were only two pages long! Another publisher sent people away from their site to a separate third-party company to view book samples. When you have customers on your site, don’t hoard your content and don’t send them somewhere else. Offer enough material to satisfy readers and keep people on your website.
3. No Incentive to Purchase
Another common D2C marketing mistake that publishers make is failing to offer compelling incentives to buy. After subscribing to numerous email newsletters, I received very few promotions that utilized special coupon codes, time-sensitive offers, or bonus features that retailers can’t match. Most newsletters were downright boring. Publishers seem to think they can compete against Amazon without doing anything special. Amazon would love publishers to continue thinking that way.
Marketing mistakes are just part of the problem with publisher D2C efforts. Consumer apathy is intensified when people visit lackluster ecommerce stores. For example, these issues were experienced when testing the buying process on publisher websites:
1. Ridiculous Shipping Policies
Amazon set the standard for free shipping with orders over $25, and Prime members get free 2-day shipping on most books. In contrast, several publishers require customers to spend at least $50 or more to get free shipping. One publisher I visited required a minimum purchase of $89! These types of pointless policies lead consumers to question the benefit of shopping on a publisher’s site.
2. Inaccurate Search Functions
It’s difficult to sell products when people can’t locate the item they want to buy. I visited a large publisher’s online store and searched to buy one of their recent New York Times bestselling books. Even though I correctly typed the desired title into the search field, the book didn’t appear in the initial search results. Instead, eight other titles appeared. A publisher’s online store shouldn’t have these basic problems. Shop your system and be sure to test the search functionality. People cannot buy what they cannot find.
3. Long Shipping Times
Many publishers aren’t competitive when it comes to quick shipping. Some publishers use slow shipping options and make consumers wait a week or more to receive their purchase. In today’s marketplace, shipping must be quick. Everyone knows that buying directly from the publisher means the publisher makes more money. Use a little of the extra profit to make fast shipping a standard feature. Successful businesses do not nickel-and-dime their way to growth.
Publishers will struggle to gain D2C marketshare over Amazon and other retailers until their online stores become competitive. Consumers will not tolerate substandard quality. The purpose of highlighting these problems is not to create negativity. The point is to help improve best practices in order to achieve the desired result. Publishers should fight to increase their D2C sales. However, publishers won’t win until they improve their online stores and stop handing Amazon even more power.