Using technology to boost bookstores

Technology and innovation probably aren’t the words that come to mind when you think about your local grocery store. Bar code scanners in the 1970’s were probably the last recent advancement in the grocery store industry. As you’ll see in this article, however, at least one grocery chain is leveraging a new form of technology to improve the shopping experience and I believe it offers guidance for a terrific lesson for bookstores.

The smart shelf technology described in that article describes how Kroger plans to provide more information for shoppers with LED displays that display accurate prices and other product information. It’s not exactly rocket science but it’s a much-needed first step towards an improved and more efficient in-person shopping environment.

Imagine your local bookstore with this functionality. OK, accurate prices on the shelf edges on shelves aren’t exciting but take it a few steps further. What if the store knows who you are and what you tend to read? Once again, we find ourselves in an area that freaks out the privacy advocates, but keep in mind this would be a 100% opt-in model for consumers.

As you go through the store the shelves communicate with an app on your phone to surprise and delight, taking the shopping experience to a whole new level. You’re greeted with information about new releases that interest you and special deals offered exclusively to you and available only during your current visit. You prefer ebooks over print books? No problem. The app already knows that and offers similar information and focuses on ebook deals which are only available while you’re in the store.

This sounds a lot like what e-retailers are able to do with email blasts and “buy x, get y” campaigns, right? The missing piece online is serendipity.

When was the last time you went to an online bookstore to simply browse? If you’re like most consumers, impulse buys are far more likely to happen in a brick-and-mortar store than on a website. Yes, there are exceptions, but serendipity is more of an in-store experience than an online one.

It’s time for technology to boost serendipity in the brick-and-mortar environment. That mobile app needs to tell me about the book I just walked past and why it’s perfect for me. And the message needs to have a button for quick, one-tap sample downloads to my mobile device. Make it a more enticing sample than what I can find anywhere else though (e.g., longer, richer, etc.) And don’t forget to dangle the special discount in front of me to make buying an irresistible step.

In short, give me a reason to go the brick-and-mortar store. I’ve only visited two bookstores in all of 2015. I used to go every week but there are fewer reasons to go now. Ironically, just as technology contributed to the struggles brick-and-mortar stores currently face, technology could also be part of the solution to make them more relevant again. If bookstores offered this sort of in-store experience I’m quite certain I’d go out of my way to discover the new products and deals that await me.

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