HalfPrice Books Finds Own Path to Success
As the liquidation of Borders has demonstrated, it’s tough making a go of it in the book business today.
RetailWire spoke with Kathy Doyle Thomas, executive vice president, marketing/development, HalfPrice Books, earlier this year to discuss what the 115-store chain with locations in 16 states was doing to achieve success in this highly competitive market.
"HalPrice Books is definitely a niche bookstore. We sell 50 percent of our merchandise used from the public and 50 percent are overstocks that we get from publishers all over the world," said Ms. Doyle Thomas. "It really is a nice healthy mix and we do have off-the-wall, weird, wonderful collectors books that people come and shop us for. So, we’re different then the main stream. I think that’s helped us."
Digital is becoming a significant factor in the book business. Industry watchers have pointed to slow adoption of e-books as playing a significant role in the demise of Borders. Ms. Doyle Thomas also sees the segment growing, but said it has less of an effect on HalfPrice Books’ business, largely based on price.
"If they can find a paper book for less than an e-book, people will continue to buy the book," she said.
While so much of the book business is migrating online, HalfPrice Books has sought to upgrade its in-store experience.
"There are things that we’re doing that basically say this store will be well worth your time. Our employees are going to be up on all the books and will be able to refer a book to you and recommend a book," she said. "When people come to the store, we want them to say, ‘This was worth getting out of my pajamas and getting out of the car and driving over because I got more than just a book. I got experience, great book recommendations from the people that are knowledgeable. I learned more about the book business and that experience was worth my time.’"
HalfPrice Books also has sought to bolster its business with an online marketplace.
"We have a relationship with 20 thousand independent sellers and bookstores around the world that list their inventory. … We have 120 million titles that we offer at any time. So, if people can’t find it in our stores (or aren’t near a HalfPrice store), they can buy it from someone in England or Canada or in Montana where we don’t have a physical location."
Social media is also part of HalfPrice Books’ customer outreach practice.
"It’s amazing how many followers we have on Facebook (85,665 likes). Our customers are eclectic, wonderful and absolutely love us. So, we have to consistently give them new things to make them come back," said Ms. Doyle Thomas.
"What’s nice about the social media is being able to ask our customers if we’re doing a good job. They want to respond and that’s kind of the different, because in the past if we wanted to do research, we would have to hire a research company. … Now, it’s not that way. They want to talk about your brand — good and bad."
HalfPrice Books has adjusted its policy to respond to consumer issues expressed on Facebook and elsewhere. The company monitors responses to its blog along with comments on Facebook and Twitter 24/7.
"We can’t have it be Saturday night and somebody who had a bad experience in a store basically talking negative about the company, (waiting to) respond to it Monday morning. It has to be done, and immediately. It’s everyone’s expectation now."
Discussion Questions: Has HalfPrice Books identified a sustainable niche in the marketplace? Where do you see the greatest opportunities for HalfPrice Books to further grow its business?
How soon will the price of e-books and e-readers fall to a point where they make sense for budget readers such as those who shop at HalfPrice Books?