Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Does online book shopping kill impulse buying?

Sandra Parshall

Anybody who likes to hang out in bookstores has discovered a new favorite writer by browsing and impulsively purchasing a book that looked intriguing. But when we shop online because our local bookstore has closed or we lack time for leisurely trawls through the aisles, do we buy fewer books on impulse?



A new study by Bowker and Publishers Weekly indicates that we do. According to the 2010-2011 U.S. Book Consumer Demographics & Buying Behaviors Annual Review, 44% of respondents said they went online to buy a specific book, while only 11% said they made an online book purchase on impulse. By contrast, 26% of people who browsed through physical books in a store said they made an impulse buy.

Results were consistent across all trade segments and all categories of customers: browsing in a store leads to far more impulse purchases than buying online. As Publishers Weekly points out, understanding the way people buy online has become a major concern in the industry because in 2010 online retailers surpassed the chain bookstores in sales for the first time, taking in 30% of the money spent on books. Online retailing is now the single largest outlet for books. When all types of brick-and-mortar bookstores are combined, they still outsell online merchants, but PW expects that to change this year as Borders fades and Amazon continues to grow.

The big worry is that as readers shift their book-buying online and go in search of specific titles, sales will become even more lopsided in favor of well-known authors. The challenge for online retailers is to find a way to create the browsing experience on an electronic screen and allow readers to discover new-to-them authors.

Meanwhile, bookstores in Canada are hoping to get a cut of e-book revenue by making it easy for customers to browse through and purchase electronic books in a store setting. A Calgary company called Enthrill is on the verge of offering cards that display book covers and contain electronic access codes. The cards are thin and take up little shelf room, but they’re touted as a way to give the customer the “tangible element” that is missing from e-books. They’re also an easy way to purchase e-books as gifts. Small specialty stores that can’t afford to stock a variety of printed books can expand their offerings with the e-cards. Enthrill will make the cards available in up to 150 stores this summer in a test run with a limited number of titles in a broad spectrum of genres. A similar approach with the Zondervan/HarperCollins Symptio card was a flop – and ended just before the e-book boom took hold. Enthrill believes its book cards are coming on the market at the perfect time.

So the online merchants have to be more like brick-and-mortar stores to capture the profitable impulse buyers, while the stores want to find a way to profit from the e-book revolution.

Anybody brave enough to guess what bookselling – and buying – will look like 10 years from now?

24 comments:

Sheila Connolly said...

My husband is one of those who rarely buys books, particularly fiction, but he loves to browse in bookstores (a form of self-torture?). The on-line experience is not the same, no matter how often Amazon or B&N tries to tell you, "if you like this book, you'll like these." That makes me feel manipulated, even when they're right.

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

And they're often wrong. Alan Bradley's latest Flavia de Luce mystery is A Red Herring without Mustard. I wouldn't put it past Amazon's computer to tell me I'd also like a book by George C. Herring or a fish book called Herring: A History of the Silver Darlings.

Also, as a veteran of brick & mortar book tours including many a B&N, I can tell you that browsers not only look at the cover and jacket copy but flip through the book and read, some starting on page one and some in the middle.

Peg Brantley said...

When I shop online, I normally have a specific item I'm looking for. In and out. Fast. On one hand, I think it has saved me a lot of money. On the other hand, I miss the tactile experience of closely inspecting the item and choosing it on the spot. And, I rarely make an impulse purchase (there's that saving money thing, but losing the sense of fun in finding a treasure).

It will be interesting to see what online retailers might try to increase the number of people willing to take the time to browse.

kathleenjeanemclaughlin said...

I love to browse bookstores; the feeling of taking the time to wander leisurely is a respite from a hectic day. The reading nooks and the quiet atmosphere reminds me when I was a child and libraries were places of solace. Ever been in a library lately? Fingers clicking on keyboards, children running down the aisles unsupervised, voices above the whisper of days gone by? Give me a bookstore over a library any day. Maybe its just my local library, but I wish the days of decorum returned so others that use it in peace. Yes, this does date me, pegging me as an old-fashioned girl, but give back the library of my youth! In the meantime, you'll find me in the bookstore crosslegged on the floor in the mystery aisle surrounded with a fortress of stacked books.

Harbingerdc said...

There is nothing like spending time in a brick and mortar bookstore, but I have limited travel ability and a Kindle.

I've discovered the books of so many new authors on Facebook and not so much the recommendations of Amazon.

After "friending" the first one or two and reading their blogs, I "met" several more whose works I might never have picked up otherwise.

Sandra Parshall said...

I'm glad to hear Facebook is helping readers find writers. I know that many authors wonder whether FB is just another way to goof off and postpone the moment when they have to get back to work. :-)

Msmstry said...

Great post, Sandy! I rarely buy a book online (only for out of print titles), but I use their databases daily. Give me the brick and mortar stores, and I'm as happy as Br'er Rabbit in the Briar Patch!

Even though I get review copies from publishers almost daily, I find lots of books I need to read just by walking and browsing through stores. Yesterday I found a title by a favorite author I thought had stopped publishing—and after debating whether to spring for last year's hard copy edition, I spotted a 2011 paperback!

No database is smart enough to do that for me.

Julia Buckley said...

This makes sense. When I browse in person, my impulse buys are often based on a gorgeous cover (and THEN intriguing back cover copy) or even something innovative the publisher did with paper or raised letters.

None of those attention-getting techniques affect me online. The key thing that might trigger an online impulse buy is a good editorial review.

Kelly McClymer said...

Interesting survey. I wonder, however, what impact the ease of online browsing adds to the mix. For example, I'm in a brick and mortar bookstore no more than once a month (used to be once a week). I tend to quickly look up books on Amazon at least every other day, if not daily. In the bookstore, I know I'm not coming back, so I intentionally browse, almost opening myself up to impulse buying. But in overall terms of buying? I think I buy more at Amazon, but I go there looking for a book I heard or read someone talk about (not necessarily the latest bestseller).

JJM said...

In her comment about Facebook, Harbingerdc said: After "friending" the first one or two and reading their blogs, I "met" several more whose works I might never have picked up otherwise.

That is so, so true. When I first got back to reading mysteries after over a decade of reading almost no genre fiction at all, I had a lot to catch up on. I cannot tell you how many times I "bumped into" a new writer on Facebook or through a blog post or via an e-mail list, felt it only polite to read one of their books, and thus discovered a new and treasured writer.

To me, this is the equivalent of the serendipity of stumbling upon a book with an interesting cover in a bookstore. Amazon's AI does play its part, too, with its Kindle recommendations. Not quite the same as browsing, but ... certainly the big bookstores are no longer fun to browse in, face it. :(

Patricia Rice said...

I can't begin to guess what book shopping will be like in the future, but readers will find books, no matter what. My shopping habits are probably not common, but I can't believe I'm the only one out there who cruises the $2.99 specials or looks for the beginning of series online that I can now buy in ebook format, whereas I wouldn't have been able to buy them in any bookstore. I've bought many more books since buying my Nook than I ever did in a bookstore. (I've been ordering print online for years.)

carl brookins said...

we live in a changing world and this means that authors and those who merchandise books are going to have to change techniques as well. While browsing a bookstore may be good for general impulse buying, there's little evidence that it helps unknown or midlist authors very much.

It is becoming increasingly clear that social networking is a valid marketing tool, just as it is becoming clear that authors and agents are going to have to rely on their own instincts to market their work.

The Cat Bastet said...

I find buy most of my ebooks after reading about them on mystery blogs like this or Facebook. I buy authors I like, books recommended by authors I like, and books recommended by friends.

I still love printed books, but my ebook buying is pretty impulsive.

Cathy Akers-Jordan

Dru said...

I buy more books online and for my e-reader than I do when I walked into a book store.

I still love to browse bookstores, but sometime the book I want is not in the store so I have to order it online.

Sandra Parshall said...

Carl, your point about midlist and unknown authors is truer than ever now, when it's difficult for those authors to even get their (our) books into stores.

As bookstores disappear and the remaining ones shrink their inventory, avid readers will no doubt learn to "browse" online. You can't keep a booklover away from books.

ChelSierra Remly said...

I've done searches at bamm.com for a certain title, (Don't Look Down, Crusie/Mayer), and found other books with the same title that interested me, (Don't Look Down, Enoch), and ended up buying more books than I had aimed to.

Before bamm.com added their wish list, I'd browse for other books to add to the cart in order to get the free shipping. And sometimes now, if I really want a book asap, I'll still browse for books to get the free shipping. Usually I browse the bargains, and have found a lot of good books I would not have found/gotten otherwise.

Marilynne said...

Because of the huge selection of books for the Kindle, I sometimes spend an hour or so browsing through the selections. I am exposed to books I never would have found in the more limited mystery section of our local bookstores.

Even so, I love the feel of a book in my hand. I browse the bookstores too.

Lyn Cote said...

I think that the opposite would prove true. It seems to me from my sales that people buy more ebooks than print.

And social networks are the new gathering places.

I love bookstores, but I got tired of store employees who didn't know a book from a brick.

Brenda said...

I'm definitely MORE impulsive about buying online, especially now that I have a Kindle. It's just so EASY to read something online about a book that sounds intriguing, click over to Amazon, and immediately download the book to my reader. I'm guessing I buy books at about three times the rate I did before I had an ereader. Not saying I'm typical, of course, but . . . I HOPE I am! :)

Anna Jacobs said...

Bowker may find this for paper books, but ebooks are changing things, I believe. People using ebook readers often post on line that they buy more books that way. They do this on impulse because it's so easy to click and download.

I buy books on line for a different reason. I can't find the sort of books I want to read in most Australian bookshops. I do a lot of impulse buying.

I live part of the year in England and there isn't a bookshop in my local town, so I have to buy on line or not at all. Maybe on line bookshops are saving books!

Shelly Thacker said...

I think online e-book shopping increases impulse buying. It certainly has in my case. I used to get to a bookstore once or twice a month. Then I got a Kindle and I now buy books every day. Every. Day. The free samples and instant gratification just can't be beat. As a reader, I'm trying many new-to-me authors. As an author, I'm excited to have the chance to reach new readers so quickly & easily.

Steve Moore said...

I know many people who browse in brick and mortar bookstores, enjoy their coffee and pastry treats, and then go home and order the books they discovered in their browsing. This also applies to many people I know where bookstore is replaced by public library, sometimes AFTER reading the book.
I broke down and purchased a Kindle (initially the idea was to see what my own eBooks look like) and have found that it has increased my impulse buying on Amazon. I rarely go to a bookstore now except when I'm looking for out-of-print editions in second-hand bookstores.
We each adapt to modern technology in our own way. How it will all shake out is beyond me. I used to think that selling one of my eBooks for a very low price was devaluing my work. Now I recognize the importance of doing that as a marketing device...sigh....
r/Steve

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