20 Oct What can libraries learn from retail?
I’ve just finished reading Paco Underhill’s book Why we buy: the science of shopping, which was recommended during Rachel Van Riel’s talk at the CoFHE conference earlier this year. It’s a fascinating book for anyone interested in marketing, retail or human behaviour. The version I read was the 2000 edition so there have obviously been more developments in the way we shop since then (in one chapter he talks about the futuristic way we may scan our own shopping in at the supermarket!), but a lot of the principles discussed I imagine remain. This is of particular importance now that we are experiencing the “consumer generation”
The main points I took from the book include the following (many of which are common sense but rarely considered):
- The transition zone – first few metres of a store require people to adjust to the lighting, temperature and other environmental factors and we therefore do not tend to notice much in this area
- Product placement is crucial – the area of the store it is located in, the adjacencies (e.g. Charcoal near BBQs), and the way it is displayed on the shelf (also the shelf level bearing in mind potential consumers – lower for children, not too high or too low for elderly)
- Flow of traffic can affect sales – queues may restrict browsing if there is little room, as may high traffic areas or smaller areas (due to a problem Underhill describes as “butt brushing” – being knocked into from behind, which is especially off putting for females)
- People will buy more if they can carry it around the store more easily and especially if their hands are free to rummage and touch
- People are more likely to buy something once they have touched it
- Correct placement of signs is extremely difficult – need to think about where people are likely to look, not just where there is space
- Sales aren’t the only record of how successful the store is (how many people browse but do not buy? How many begin queueing but give up after waiting? How many people are in different areas at a specific time? How easy is it to navigate? etc etc…)
It got me thinking about how some of these principles could be applied to libraries, and I can certainly see why Rachel recommended the book and where some of her research in libraries stems from.
I thought I’d share some of my initial thoughts on how the browsing experience could be improved in libraries:
- Books facing out on shelves – preventing what Rachel referred to as “browser’s neck” (bending to read the spines). Outward facing books can grab people’s attention but can also help if someone is looking for a particular book; I frequently get students who are looking for “the green book on study skills, I’ll know it when I see it” and it’s a lot easier to find covers rather than spines.
- Book displays – can be a useful way of increasing borrowing as you encourage people to touch the books, however also need to be aware that displays should not be perfectly neat as people could assume it is just for show and not to be touched or borrowed. Underhill recommended in some stores that employees purposely mess up some displays and found that their sales increased.
- Bestseller lists – Underhill recommends large freestanding bestseller lists for bookstores and video stores; these could be used to good effect for book lists, particularly in public libraries (e.g. Richard and Judy lists), but how about lists of the most commonly borrowed books, recently received books or books on a particular topical issue?
- Utilising queues with impulse borrowing/buying and information – queues are one place where Underhill recommends using information leaflets and boards for two reasons – to take advantage of everyone looking in a certain direction for an amount of time, and aso to help reduce customer perception of waiting time (anything over 2mins and customers will feel like it was a lot longer and can lead to dissatisfaction of service). How about some impulse bookmarks, bags, leaflets, marketing materials or stationary too? It’s certainly made me think about the other areas people may be waiting – for example utilising space outside study skills advisor rooms so that people have something to read whilst waiting (and we have a way of getting our messages across!).
- Ensuring there are enough chairs around the building – generally I don’t think libraries are too bad at this but I have seen examples where all the seating is in one area and the shelves in another; there really should be somewhere to sit near the books so that people can examine them more clearly if necessary.
- Giving people something to store their books in – this is something I’d particularly like to do as I know it’s a common issue for our students. Wouldn’t it be great if on the edge of the shelves (not at the entrance as people don’t tend to know if they’ll need one until they’ve examined the stock) there were a collection of reusable bags, like supermarket bags for life, that people could use to carry their books around the library (thus enabling them to carry more) and then offer them the option of purchasing when they borrow the books. I know I’d appreciate something like that and am sure I’d buy one that I could then reuse. I’ve seen some of our students bring reusable bags from public libraries and I think we’re really missing a trick by not having our own. This could increase revenue, make life easier for our users, and also market the service if people use them around campus.
These are some of the initial thoughts I had; I really enjoyed the book and would certainly recommend it – it’s given me a lot of food for thought! Are there any other things libraries can learn from retail, or any you have already seen evidence of? Please share in the comments, I think there is scope for really improving libraries by following the success of the retail environment. 🙂