What Does 2021 Have in Store for British Bookshops?
Throughout 2020, we witnessed bookshops adapt in various ways to be able to continue selling stock during times of national restriction. Having made it to the other side of the weirdest year in history, the Bookshop Highlights team thought now would be a great time to look back on what sales strategies worked for bookshops in 2020 and to also offer some predictions for what the year ahead might have in store for our favourite places.
So, what worked in 2020?
Online orders for books surged. This was cause for concern for smaller local stores who found it difficult to compete with the likes of Waterstones and Amazon, companies able to offer a quick and easy way to shop online. This sudden change in shopping habits prompted independent shops to think creatively, and we saw many smaller bookshops engaging with customers in new ways. A great example is the uptake of book delivery by bike or skateboard, a method used by Glaswegian bookshop, As Is.
November saw the introduction of Bookshop.org to the UK, a site giving customers the opportunity to support local independent bookshops online. As a B-corporation dedicated to doing public good, the organisation gives away 75% of their profit margin to bookshops, authors and the wider bookish community. So far, Bookshop.org has raised over £700,000 for indie bookshops.
As lockdowns and restrictions continued towards Christmas, we saw our favourite bookshops offering exciting and creative shopping experiences online. Daunt Books began offering book bundles for each day of lockdown consisting of a selection of three books following a particular genre or theme. These included Great Women Writers, Food Writing, and memoirs, amongst many more.
What didn’t quite hit the mark?
One aspect of book shopping that was sorely missed was the browsing and communal feeling of shopping in a real shop alongside real people. Many of us took to Instagram, or “bookstagram”, to try and foster that feeling of a bookish community, but website algorithms will never be able to improve upon the feeling and inspiration you are offered whilst wandering through a bookshop.
Our predictions for 2021
It seems clear that more bookshops will have to increase their ability to provide a click and collect service and postal deliveries. Even after lockdowns, people are likely to be nervous about returning to shopping centres and crowded places. This could mean more job opportunities will become available in bookshops as the role of booksellers look to focus on fulfilling online orders.
Independent bookshops and physical-only stores will certainly have to do more in order to compete with giant wholesalers who offer a streamlined method of ordering books. This might include signing up with Bookshops.org which shares a percentage of the profits from each book with independent shops. Bookshops will have to continue offering unique online shopping experiences (such as book bundles or personalised orders) in order to stand out from the crowd.
Shopping online will never top idly browsing filled shelves and picking up new books that catch your eye. Recreating that feeling for online shoppers will prove a challenge for bookshops in 2021. The staff at Liverpool’s News From Nowhere are now seasoned professionals when it comes to social media, consistently sharing images of obscure or less well-known titles to spark your interest. Social media seems to be the key to replacing the feeling of browsing. Perhaps sharing images of bookshelves or videos touring the shop might be a way to satisfy readers who are hungry to get back to that “real” bookshop experience.
Finally, the impact of COVID-19 means that many of us no longer have as much disposable income. Bookshops may start offering products that cost less than the average price of a book (e.g. literary gifts, postcards, stationery etc) so customers can still support their favourite bookshop without having to spend more than they can spare.
Bookshops are certainly under pressure once again. However, we are hopeful that this pressure will continue to spark creativity and innovation from our beloved booksellers which will only improve the way we can shop for books. We can’t wait for what the future holds.