BOOKSTORE chains have been on the decline for some time now. But while physical stores have been rapidly closing their doors, online stores are open for business.
And in this web space, Rachel Ang has set up her online bookstore, Books and Bobs.
As a voracious reader, Ang would source her books from secondhand bookstores instead of buying new ones at full price to save cost.
“One day it occurred to me that book lovers consume a lot of books. Bibliophiles who walk into a bookstore seldom come out with just one book, ” she points out.
Convinced that selling books could be a lucrative business, Ang created a Facebook page and put up 50 books, a mix of her own and new ones, to sell.
“My husband suggested the name Books n Bobs, a play on the British slang bits and bobs which means objects of different kinds. I also wanted to carry book-related merchandise such as bookmarks and book stands, so the name tells you what we do, ” she explains.
Sales were slow-going and Ang thought she would have to wrap up the business and organise a clearance sale after a year.
Somehow, things took a turn north after that.“It was so good that I changed my mind!”
Ang restocked and changed her marketing tactics.
“I experimented with different kinds of photos and tried to post more regularly on Facebook. I became more diligent in writing the synopsis because when people understand a book better, they are more inclined to buy it.”
But just as sales started to pick up, so did the workload.
“There is a lot of work behind the scenes. When you sell on a Facebook page, the communication is done through direct messages.
“I have to record and update each order manually in a spreadsheet. Then I have to weigh and pack them, carry them to my car and line up at the post office. If a customer changes their mind, I have to repeat the process all over again because the prices, weight and postage fee would have changed, ” she says.
Realising that the current workflow was unsustainable, Ang decided to migrate to a full-featured website in March this year with a payment gateway that accepts payment by cards, online transfer and e-wallets. Postage is calculated automatically and the books are organised by tags for ease of searching.
But like any big change, there were teething pains. Initially, Ang continued to accept orders from long-time customers who preferred to use Facebook. This led to a new problem.
“Because the process is manual, I sometimes forget to update the website and end up double-selling. I have had to refund the customers and give them something extra to make them feel better.”
From this experience, Ang came to realise that she can’t do everything and please everyone at the same time.
“If I have to lose a few customers because of this transition, that means they are not my target customers, ” she says.
So she concentrated on growing her target audience through her website and gained other customers along the way.
A professional-looking website, she notes, conveys trustworthiness, which translates into more sales. The full migration to the website has certainly upped the ante for Ang. Within six months, revenue has doubled.
Books and Bobs has over 3,000 titles under its listing from a wide variety of genres, including historical fiction, contemporary fiction, business and self-help.
As there is enough sales volume, Ang can now leverage on despatch services instead of posting the books herself. Improved bottom lines also mean that she can afford to hire an assistant to help with the day-to-day operations.
While sales transactions go through the official website, Ang maintains an active presence on social media, whether it’s posting inspirational quotes, conducting FB live sessions, or organising competitions and giveaways, to maintain effective engagement with her customers.
“No matter what nature of business you’re in, you must engage meaningfully with your customers. When people have fun, you build a positive vibe for the brand. Even those who don’t win in the competitions will have fun participating and everyone leaves with a good impression of your brand, ” she emphasises.
Books n Bobs currently operates out of her living room, but Ang hopes to move to a warehouse someday. She is convinced that book retailing is not a sunset industry. People have not stopped reading; it’s their purchasing behaviour that has changed, at least for certain segments.
“My customers are people who dislike crowds, already know what they want and are internet
Surprisingly, or perhaps not surprisingly, a majority of her customers are millennials.
Bookstores don’t necessarily have to build an online store, but it’s imperative for them to develop a strong digital strategy, whether to drive traffic to their physical stores or sell through their website.
“In an age when we look at our phones more than anything else, you cannot neglect digital marketing, ” she says.
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