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Online Vs Offline Bookstores – Mapping experiences…

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Call me old-fashioned but I am yet to accept books in electronic version (now called e-books). For me, reading a book is about the whole experience rather than consuming the content. The touch and feel of the book in my hand makes a significant contribution to the pleasurable experience book reading is. So, the discussion shall not even remotely discuss any parallelisms with e-books.

The love of physical books being established, it is no wonder that buying a book is one part of the overall experience. Landmark has been and continues to be my preferred bookstore for a lot of reasons or rather the lack of too many bookstores. However, I am also a huge proponent of E-commerce and the sudden surge in online book selling portals has made book buying easier to say the least.

One critical differentiator that these online book stores offer is a hefty discount on the marked price which often tilts the scale in their favor. Why should one buy a book from say a Landmark then?

But then people still do….

Infact, I have seldom come out of the store empty handed. According to me , there are some key attributes which kind of force me to buy a book anytime you visit a book store. Lets see if the same attributes can make a positive impact should one apply them to online book stores..

You may not go looking for a book, but the store finds you

This is one aspect that is near impossible to replicate. There are times when one does not intend to make a book purchase but is in the vicinity of a book store. To kill time or just for the heck of it, a chance visit happens and once you are in, the books take over. So even if you did not intend to buy a book, chances are that you will find something worth reading even while casually browsing through.

Mapping it to the Online bookstore:

As I said, this is more from a physical presence perspective, so it might be difficult to replicate. But, I really like what online stores like Flipkart are doing in this regard through their presence on social media. An active presence on twitter, Facebook and they are coming to me instead of me going to them. For a book lover, it is difficult to contain himself to buy more books than could be digested in a given time. Online bookstores using Social Media can effectively ensure that they bring the bookstore to the reader

The option to stop and flip through the pages of countless books

This is a clincher for me when it comes to purchasing books from Landmark. There are always some comfy stools lying around near the stack of book shelves. I casually pick up a book and sit down with the book. There are times when after reading a few pages I am so hooked that I have to buy the book. The whole flipping through a few pages of any random book works like a bait for me and I often end up buying a book I never heard of before

Mapping it to the Online bookstore:

This approach again is questionable given the technicalities involved but still worth discussing. It is near impossible to replicate the touch and feel of the book in an online bookstore but then can’t the customer be allowed to flip through a few pages. One might say that there are excerpts given for every book but how about  a hoverlet on book images which on a  mouse over or click highlights the book cover and allows me to flip through the first few pages. Now, that is bound to have me hooked and I might purchase an additional book I never intended to. But I am not sure of the viability of the approach given the copyright laws et all..

Books never leave my eye sight

Every time I visit a bookstore with only a specific list of books I want to buy, it seldom works. No matter how focused I am to pick up only the book I want, the books never leave my eyesight. Even if I manage to reach the payment counter, there will be a variety of magazines on the small shelves that I end up purchasing. A contrast to ‘Out of sight, out of mind’, while in a bookstore all you see is books when while making the payment

Mapping it to the Online bookstore:

To a certain extent most of the book stores do it in the form of “Related Books” section which highlights some other books either by same author or genre. However, the recommendations are mostly at the end of the page (below the fold) where the visibility factor is reduced.

Moreover, leading online book stores in India like Flipkart, Indiaplaza stop showing these recommendations once I have clicked on the ‘Purchase’ button. This is where I think Amazon does a brilliant job of ensuring that books never leave your sight. Here is an example of the penultimate page which you get before making the payment

Amazon;s buy page

amazon_checkout

Flipkart’s buy page

flipkart_checkout

Notice the difference?

Amazon displays me a list of book that other customers bought along with the book I want to buy. The choices here are personalized to your interest tempting you to atleast explore the titles recommended to you.

So, like brick and mortar book shop, Amazon does a very good job at ensuring that books never leave your eyesight. Even though it does not guarantee that I will always buy the recommended books but then there is no harm trying. I do not have the facts to justify the thought process but my guess is that it does help in deeper sales.

For comparison, I took Flipkart as a reference but similar story exists at Indiaplaza and the likes. The page just before the final checkout shows me just the book I have selected. Neat and clutter free, yes, but then if you don’t show me any related options, you have taken other books out of my sight.

Now I am no UI/UX expert but I won’t mind a few related books being catalogued in place of the ‘Your Recent Searches’ (highlighted) section. Give me a few book reccos there and 4 times out of 5 I am bound to click on a book. The conversion rate may not be high but then every book sold counts, right Smile

The post basically came as a result of my recent visit to Landmark. Flipkart has become my favorite place to buy books for obvious reasons, but then all it took was one visit to a store to realize the value of other factors in influencing my buying behavior.

What are your thoughts on the validity of the mapping of brick and mortar book shop attributes to the online bookstore. Are they too unrealistic or not with enough merit to drive the sales higher?

Share your thoughts…

  1. deal of the day says

    There are lot of benefits in online shopping for consumers to get a variety of services and items for 24X7 without having to move physically and also helped in time saving.

  2. Rajat Mathur says

    Nice write-up…i strongly believe that onset of sites like flipkart has put us away from visiting a brick and mortar book store for buying the books we want.

    It is also interesting a fact that these online book stores offer unbelievable discounts which can not even be though of of at a standard book shop.

    For example i just saw this ad of a new e commerce website tradus.in these guys had taken a full page on HT city and were offering flat 50% off on authors like raghav bahl, paulo coelho amongst other…and what was more unbelieveable was the same day delivery promise in delhi.

    I bet that offline bookstores are breathing their last breath…

  3. Venugopal says

    Good one Ankit – I’m sure all the avid book readers can certainly relate to this blog post..keep reading more books and writing more blog posts! :-)

  4. Altaf Rahman says

    I never visited Landmark or shopped at the online book stores.

    What attracted me to read the article is the ‘habit of reading books’ itself. Also I would like to mention here that the habit of book reading is dieing. I have observed that none of my present job aquientences or business aquientences have a habit of reading books. (May be I am in bad company or really the habit is dieing, I dont know) So I thought of putting my feelings here.

    In small towns the source of books is a street where you find second hand book stores (the store keeper himself do not know the value of the book, he simply sells gems and trash at same fixed prices) I used to buy books from here.

    How ever I could not cultivate the habit of maintaining a vault of books as most of my friends (who themselves are book lovers) used to borrow books from me and never return :)

    One negetive about reading a book by holding it physically in hand is the pain one feels in wrists :) I am not complaining but its a fond memory. But I know even holding a book in hand and flipping pages using fingers is an art.

    Recently one of my friends copies few books to my EHD (external hard drive). Most of it is trash. However few authors have merit. So after a gap of almost 15 years I started reading books in e-format, which is a different experiance compared to holding a book in hand.

    In college, it used to be a topic of discussion among friends while squatting in canteens. So like minded friends used to exchange books and references to books.

    I used to read Mark Twain, Sidney Sheldon, Leon uris (matters related to ME), Mario Puzo (Italian imigrant stories), Wilbur Smith (South African author) Herold Robbins (I feel sheepish to admit the name), I remember reading Anna Karenina, Das Capital, Mien Komf (Both english versions)

    I request Ankit to refer me to few books (I dont know what my interests are but I prefer books which improve GK). I can send you books of an author Arther C Clarke (writes about space, future times etc) I have in e-format (word format to be specific) and also ‘My War’ by Adolf Hitler.

  5. Anaggh Desai says

    I agree with you. I use Flipkart only for the convenience, deals compared to a Landmark, Shankar’s, Crossword

    1. Ankit says

      In complete agreement! The idea of getting a better price at the convenience of a click makes Flipkart a preferred choice
      However, the experience that a Landmark or Odyssey offers satisfies the old fashioned book lover in me. It was on those lines i was wondering if online bookstores can adopt some of the attributes that complete the book buying experience
      Based on my own usage of the website, i mostly use it when i have a specific book i want to buy and the discovery/impulse buying does not happen but its opposite while visiting a offline bookstore.
      Was wondering what are your thoughts on the mapping that i have suggested which could help online bookstores make an attempt to match the experience

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