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Allison Hill’s most memorable moments as CEO of Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena, CA, include the…

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MAILING LIST - How do your customers find out about the current promotions you offer? Customer mailing lists are one of the most effective ways to keep in touch with customers and improve the profitability of your business. The people who sign up for your list are giving you permission to contact them. These are your hottest customers. If you haven’t started a customer mailing list, you seriously should start gathering one immediately. The process of creating a free MailChimp account is both fast and simple. You will want to integrate a subscription form into your website, blog, and social media pages. All of this information can be found at MailChimp.com. We don’t get paid for referrals. We’re just customers who use and love MailChimp.

Explain on the form what customers should expect to receive and how often. Don’t ask too many questions because you want the decision to join to be a simple one. Usually, a name and email are more than enough. An excellent way to entice customers to join is to offer them a 25% Off Your Next Purchase coupon. Let them use the coupon the same day they join. It’s important to explain that you’ll never sell, trade, or share your customer’s information with any other party.

EMAIL CAMPAIGNS - Once you have a significant list (this is determined by your shop’s geographic location and overall customer base, but I’d suggest no fewer than 50 emails), it’s time to start notifying customers of store events, specials, book clubs and any other news you’d like to share. However, take caution, no one likes spam. NO ONE!  It’s never a good idea to send more than one email a week to your list, and make every email count. Think about it this way, if you wouldn’t want it in your inbox, don’t send it to your customers’.

MailChimp makes creating email campaigns simple for everyone. They offer a variety of predesigned templates, as well as simple tools to custom-make your own. You don’t need to understand coding or be a designer. But if you are those things, you can create anything exactly the way you like it, making your eNewsletter resemble the theme of your store. In the world of marketing, it’s important to stay consistent. Your website, social media pages, emails, and blogs should all have the same look and feel. Too many different looks and your customers will get confused and eventually request to be removed from mailing lists. It’s a good idea to have trusted friends and customers receive “test” mailings, to ensure that the eNewsletter looks good on different mobile devices as well as laptops and desktops. 

Act like your eNewsletter is a local paper by including as many names and photos of local customers and store visitors in each edition. Highlight the best and most relevant reads. Include a monthly calendar highlighting store events, new releases, pre-releases, book clubs, author events, etc. Always include a way for customers to get in touch with you.

SATISFACTION SURVEY - One great way to get to know your customers better and provide them with superior customer service is by creating a customer satisfaction survey. Post the survey on your social media pages, website, and eNewsletters, and have it available in your store. Use the responses you receive to improve offerings, communications, staff training, events, etc. Surveys are an important way to keep customers happy.

Example questions:

  1. How many times a month do you visit bookstores?
  2. How many books have you purchased in the past 6 months?
  3. What types of books did you purchase?
  4. What genre do you enjoy?
  5. Are you interested in a reward program?
  6. Are you interested in a book club?
  7. Would you recommend our store?
  8. Why or why not?

MEMBERSHIP - Store membership helps people feel connected and engaged in what you’re doing. Providing discounts such as “buy one get one free” adds an extra incentive to join and will encourage members to shop more. But beware, these types of programs should always be free. Customers should receive something tangible for being a part of your program. A simple, small keychain with your store’s contact information listed is perfect for this purpose. They’ll see it and touch it every day, and that makes it nearly impossible for them to forget about your store.

FACEBOOK - If used correctly, Facebook can be a fantastic tool. Facebook is a place where most, if not all of your customers tend to be on a daily basis. Use that to your advantage by posting updates, recommendations, and reminders for upcoming events. You could also give a book away once a week, but only to followers of your Facebook page. Post the winner each Friday morning and promote these winners in your eNewsletter. This will increase awareness of a particular book and attract and excite your Facebook fans and eNewsletter recipients.

LOCAL MEDIA - Send a copy of your flyers, bookmarks, catalogs, along with a press release, to local media outlets (newspapers, magazines, websites, and those local event calendars and bulletins) at least a week––maybe two or three weeks––before any special event you plan to host at your store. And remember to pop these same materials in the shopping bags of all your customers as they check out in the weeks and days leading up to an event.

COUPONS - Love ’em or hate ’em, coupons can play a major role in the success of any retail establishment. A well-played coupon can bring in dozens, if not hundreds, of new customers. Most people don’t like clipping, however, so make it easy with a digital coupon you can scan directly from their phone. Don’t forget to include an expiration date. You may also want to add a clause that the offer is subject to change, anytime, without notice. This way you can feel comfortable with making a big offer, knowing that if you royally messed up, you can modify the offer. But be warned, promising something, then changing your mind WILL severely anger people. So carefully consider what we’ve talked about when creating your coupons.

IN CLOSING - I’ve been in marketing for decades. I know any marketing pro worth a hill of beans (forgive the cliché) will tell you that there isn’t a single marketing idea or method that works 100% of the time, for 100% of their clients. There is no magic bullet, and there are no promises in life or in business. Everything we do is a risk. However, I have found that this isn’t entirely the truth. If there is one thing that I can assure you––something I can downright promise––it’s that the worst thing anyone can do in this life, is nothing at all. Always remember, do what you love, and love what you do, and the world will eventually follow.