Samantha Dover
Samantha Dover is Mintel's Category Director - Beauty & Personal Care, identifying and analysing emerging beauty and personal care trends and writing in-depth market research reports in multiple sectors.

Book retailing is going through a period of dramatic change. Following a trend of declining book sales in the UK since 2012 the sector has seen a boost in trade, driven by the uplift in physical book consumption.

Three in five consumers have purchased a print book in the last twelve months

As lifestyles become increasingly digitalised, consumers are now elevating the value of physical goods. And demonstrating the resilience of printed materials, Mintel research found that three in five consumers have purchased a print book in the last twelve months, compared to just a quarter who have bought an e-book. Additionally, use of e-readers has declined during the past two years. These figures are likely driven by trending books as consumers yearn for a digital escapism, displayed by the fact that adult colouring books and healthy lifestyle books were prominent across the bestseller lists in 2015. As a result, there was a revival in traditional publishing last year.

Price remains a key driver in book purchasing. The majority of Brits say they are influenced by price when buying a book. This figure correlates with the dominance of Amazon in the sector. The retailer’s competitive pricing strategy continues to give consumers a compelling reason to shop online for books, and as a result, Amazon has established itself as a market leader. Although Amazon is going from strength to strength with book sales, independent bookshops are struggling – highlighting the need for such retailers to offer consumers a compelling reasons to shop with them.

In addition, Mintel research shows that consumers often go online to check the price of a product they have seen in-store, further confirming the threat of pure play retailers in the book sector as people are likely to browse books in-store but make the final purchase online to find the best price. Amazon has used this price sensitivity to its advantages, extending in its move into physical stores, where prices align with those found online.

Driving consumers back in store

In an era where nearly everything can be bought online, traditional bricks-and-mortar retailers need to offer something a little different to continue to engage consumers. As a result, there is an increasing number of retailers using innovation to drive people back to traditional book shops.

Highlighting staff expertise and offering an oasis of calm to harried consumers can prove effective in drawing consumers back in store. In a bid to establish a point of difference and tap into the consumers who are influenced by a pleasant bookstore experience, London store Libreria is amongst numerous retailers taking a strong stance on the purity of the retail environment by not providing Wi-Fi in store. The bookshop has streamlined its stock offer into themes to encourage customers to make new discoveries, celebrating human curation over algorithmic rhythms. It also owns its own printing press in the basement, running courses that allow customers to print their own works.

Another example of book retail innovation is Morioka Shoten in Japan. The retailer stocks just one featured book which changes weekly, often accompanied by art and photos that complement the title. The owner, Yoshiyuki Morioka, created a space to spotlight just one literary work in a bid to address decision fatigue caused by having too many options.

Speed is everything

Another key driver in book purchasing is speed of delivery. NearSt is an online platform which aims to make it easier for independent and local stores to compete with market giants, by offering fast product delivery. The retail tech startup allows consumers to browse local shop assortments and enables retailers to offer a one-hour delivery service. At present the service is only available in London, however, the company has plans to extend the offer across the UK and Europe.

The opportunity to grow a community of loyal shoppers

There is a real opportunity for book retailers to learn from other sectors. A trend which is increasingly apparent in the sports goods sector, creating a localised community is an effective way of engaging consumers. For example, introducing free book clubs could further engage shoppers. The sector at present sees a low level of channel hopping, signifying a certain level of loyalty in book consumers. Therefore, building a strong relationship with such a shopper is undoubtedly a wise move. Furthermore, this allows specialists to harness their expertise and knowledge.