Put B&N out of your mind. As the market leader, the company is allowed to be generic. You’re not. You’d be naive not to turn the conventional model on its head. To make money selling books, you better give your shoppers an experience worth telling their friends about.
How could you create a store so remarkable that Fodors and Frommers would call it a not-to-be-missed experience? An outrageous and expensive retro sci-fi store design? Probably not good enough, because with each visit, users would experience less joy and enchantment.
Suppose you didn’t break the bank by hiring an A-list designer. Suppose your store closed during the day and stayed open late into the night. That may be a risky business model, but it’s a story worth spreading. Make sure the “We’re Closed Until Dark” signs yell loudly enough to intrigue the daytime window shoppers, and make sure the in-store experience is charged with enough energy to attract folks on their way to the bars or couples who want to get to know each other after dinner and drinks.
No good? Here’s another.
Suppose the store is open during ordinary business hours and the employees squirt you with water pistols as you walk in. If you address your cashier by name, you get a gift card good for 10% off your next purchase. Nobody tells you this, and cashiers don’t wear name tags, but their names are printed on the receipts (along with the rules of the game). The gentleman in line behind you might tell you your cashier’s name, or you might think you’ve beat the system when you find it posted online, and that’s fine. This strategy builds community among shoppers because they must converse with each other and the cashiers. You have to make a purchase to learn the cashier’s name, make a second purchase to say the name and get the gift card, and make a third to redeem the gift card. Three visits for 10% is pretty modest savings in a bookstore, but it’s worth telling a story about.
No good? Here’s another.
Suppose you open a hybrid bookstore + specialty cheese shop. Customers sample havarti dill and romano while they shop or read, and the gift cards make sophisticated presents. Murals of rural Europe cover the walls.
In all of these imaginary cases, the bookstores create playful, fun experiences for the customers. They bring customers into the store’s world, then set them loose with stories to tell. And that’s a rare achievement for a bookstore or a cheese shop.