Holidays Tough for National Retailers, Not So Much for Independent Booksellers

With our U.S. economy so intimately linked to consumer spending, much attention was given to retailers, specifically how they would fare during the holiday season. There was concern over having fewer days between Thanksgiving and Christmas and the impact of severe weather. Then the credit card security breach at Target made the headlines. As the last few days of the most important shopping season drew near, online retailers and national chains pushed heavy discounting strategies. Many gift purchases were delayed until those last days, catching both FedEx and UPS both unprepared for the volume. It was a rocky ride for the national and international corporate retailers.

The American Express promotion has helped reinforce that where you shop makes a difference.

The American Express promotion has helped reinforce that where you shop makes a difference.

Meanwhile, back in the neighborhood, independent booksellers were busy talking about books, recommending gifts, wrapping presents, and enjoying the gift of renewed mindfulness that came from the “Shop Small” promotion initiated by American Express. Authors decided to do their part as well, showing up to work on the sales floors of independent booksellers across the country. The media went wild as Sherman Alexie (brainchild of the idea) praised the cultural value of independent bookstores and rallied his colleagues to help promote the neighborhood bookstore. It was a very good holiday season for many.

So, we say farewell to 2013 and are grateful for the unfolding of events during the year. There was more and more evidence that e-books will not take over the book industry (although we already knew that from customers who went back to reading in print for most of their leisure reading); online shopping proved not so reliable when you needed a timely gift; and it feels good to shop where people know your name, will make sure you pick something that will be enjoyed, and will even ask whether the book was well-received when you’re back next time.

Those of us in indie retail often look at the tactics of multi-national retailers and wonder why they continue racing to the bottom … with cheap products, constant discounting, and obsession with a barrage of instant and repetitive offers. As soon as customers find an item that is cheaper somewhere else, they’re off. Downward pressure on margins, inability to pay fair wages because of constant cost-cutting, plus a lack of true connection and relationships with customers makes us wonder where it might end. It’s hard to imagine many of these retail execs being proud of their work and fulfilled by what they do for a living.

Instead, you’ll find us at the neighborhood bookstore, where we’ll focus on creating a wonderful experience in the store, employing local people who love to talk about great books they’ve read, operating a business so it remains vibrant and sustainable, and contributing to the strength of the community. Seems those tried-and-true business strategies still work.

 

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