How can bookstores compete with amazon?

Kinokuniya Book World – Dubai Mall (photo by Time Out Dubai)

Let me start off by stating that I am a learning junky so, naturally, reading is one of my favorite hobbies. But because I’m also a very sociable person, I don’t like libraries. I like to read at the cafe with my headphones on, where I can lose myself in my ideas and pause for people watching or talk to someone.

Consequently, a bookstore feels like a playground to me.

But not just any kind of bookstore. It needs to have a good selection of books that interest me (I browse mostly the business section) but more than that, it needs to be a comfortable place. When all I want is to quickly buy a book, I order from  amazon.

Back when I was living in Europe, Fnac was my place of choice. It has tons of books and a café inside the store. Anyone is allowed to read books as they please – the store’s reading spaces with comfy couches and good lighting invite customers to do so. Readers can even do it while enjoying their coffee and then walk away without buying anything.

When I moved to Dubai I was introduced to a whole new level of NERDY awesomeness that goes by the name of Kinokuniya Book World. It’s a japanese book store so HUGE it could fit 5 Fnacs inside of it. I’m guessing it’s called Book World because it’s the size of the World and the oceans are made of books.

This store is located in the Dubai Mall, which is in my neighborhood… Walking Distance! I’ve spent countless afternoons there, browsing, reading or working on my MacBook while enjoying the beautiful Burj Khalifa view from their Japanese-themed cafe.

This store is no joke: 68.000 sqft! You will find books on everything and anything in there, the same way you would find them in amazon’s warehouse. It beats the crap out of Fnac in terms of book selection.

The problem is, it lacks the customer experience Fnac has been so cleverly providing for more than 50 years.

Yes, they allow you to read their books but you have to either stand or sit on a sort-of-bench (?) adjacent to the shelves. It’s not a very pleasant reading experience. I’ve seen people sitting on Fnac’s carpet floor who looked more comfortable.

If you get hungry you can head on to their cafe over by the manga & comics section but oh, wait… books stay at the door! The security guard makes sure they do. And don’t even think about taking a picture to share what you’re reading on instagram because then comes another security guy to tell you “no pictures!”

C’mon!! Haven’t you heard of Social Media Marketing? Other brands are dying to have customers and fans instagram their stuff and tag their name. The very Dubai Mall where you are renting your store space encourages that!

I’m a marketer so I know better than to make assumptions about the market based solely on my experience as a customer, but I started by sharing it because – in this case – I am exactly the kind of customer book stores should target when planning their customer experience strategies.

Book enthusiasts are not only the people who will buy the most books from you over their lifetime but also the people who will sell more books for you. We make recommendations to friends, we review books online, we advocate for good book stores. We sell your books.

For us, book stores aren’t a place to go to but a place to be at. We like to spend time.

Yes, we may read a few chapters of 5 different books and not buy any. We may even read an entire book and leave it. But we always end up buying something. We may have a kindle or an iPad full of ebooks but we are still proud to have physical books filling our shelves at home.

Yes, books may occasionally get ruined if people eat and handle them at the same time. But that’s called a business operating cost. Correction: that’s called an investment. Spending money to make customers feel more comfortable and stay longer in your store is an investment that pays off.

Apple Store lets you download an iPhone App that allows you to use your phone as an express checkout payment option. You just walk out of the store with the items you purchased on your phone. And when interviewed, Apple was asked “aren’t you worried about theft and shrinkage?” Well, the company with the most brilliant marketing on earth said “the risk of shrinkage is not worth losing the convenience”.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Kinokuniya. In fact, it may be my very favorite store in Dubai. I’ll keep going there.

But as a book enthusiast I’d love to see their marketing team take it to the next level in terms of customer experience. The potential is all there and that is the only way a brick and mortar can compete with the likes of amazon.

Rute Silva Brito
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How can bookstores compete with amazon?

One thought on “How can bookstores compete with amazon?

  1. Anonymous says:

    I had the opportunity to spent a couple of hours at Kinokuniya and I left with mixed feelings about it. It is great, but at the same time it’s not that great.
    It feels like a good place to go and buy books. Not a place to be and “meet” books. I felt so overwhelmed that I ended up leaving without buying anything.

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