Because I’m constantly thinking about how to attract more customers through the front door, I was intrigued by a recent story on NPR that described how the Walgreen’s chain is experimenting with a wider range of products as a way to attract shoppers away from department stores.
The online version of the story includes a photo of the beauty section in one Walgreen’s and the text informs us that, “The soft, pink glow of the floor helps makeup look more flattering – and there is a team of smartly dressed beauty attendants to help you find your shade.”
Stay with me here – I’m not suggesting that Annie Bloom’s, or any bookstore, should start selling lipstick and eye shadow as sidelines. And having the staff wear white lab coats with monogrammed lettering that says “Reading & Beauty Specialist” would make us look extremely pretentious.
The main point in the NPR story is that many retail businesses are now focusing new attention on creating an environment that makes browsing the aisles interesting and fun. This sentence says it all: “The early allure of department stores was their wide product selection and pleasant atmosphere. Shopping was a form of entertainment.”
I agree completely, and I also think bookstores are uniquely entertaining because they offer each visitor access to fiction, history, current events, science, religion, children’s stories, and everything else that comprises the universe of human experience. But no one can enjoy the entertainment unless they step through the entrance, and that’s where another “e” word is crucial: enticements.
If you think of shopping as a chemical reaction, enticements are the catalyst that kick starts all the molecules into motion. Our bargain bin on the sidewalk is an enticement. It catches the attention of passers-by and gets them talking about what other books we might have on the shelves. Ditto for the window displays. I’ve seen and heard it happen repeatedly. Once they’re inside, we have a Reader Reward program for frequent buyers and a Birthday Club for Kids. And then there’s Molly Bloom, our inimitable store cat, whose mere presence on the sales floor enhances customer satisfaction to an extent that cannot be calculated.
What I’m discovering in our area is a growing number of consumers who understand that neighborhood stores are part of the cultural framework that holds a community together, and every time you shop locally it’s like applying a dab of personal glue on the framework that helps prevent it from coming apart. It’s great every time a customer says, “I’m glad you’re here.” My immediate reply is, “Thanks, and we’re glad YOU’RE here because this is a two-way process, and we can’t keep it going without you.”
The best way to keep this mutual support network thriving is to constantly be on the lookout for new ways to expand and improve that early allure of wide selection and pleasant atmosphere that adds some fun and entertainment to every visit. The products we sell are more than skin deep. What bookstores offer is a multitude of literary excursions that will expand your intellect, challenge your imagination, or just give you some relaxing mental recreation.
In fact, it wouldn’t be inaccurate to say our staff at Annie Bloom’s is much like a group of beauty consultants. No, we don’t sell cosmetics. But I think we are helping each one of our customers develop a more beautiful mind.
Jeffrey Shaffer is a bookseller at Annie Bloom’s Books in the historic Multnomah Village district of southwest Portland. His relationship with Annie Bloom’s began in the 1990′s when the store’s booksellers enthusiastically sold his two humor collections I’m Right Here, Fish-Cake and It Came With the House. He continues to blog about politics and popular culture for Huffington Post and also contributes to the “Modern Parent” blog at the Christian Science Monitor.