Booksellers need to start “building in resilience” now for a possible second virus spike later in the year by embracing technology and phasing their re-openings, Mark Thornton has warned.
Speaking to The Bookseller as part of the weekly #booksellerchat series on Twitter, the Unwin Trust bookshop mentor and former Mostly Books owner said stores should prepare for setbacks in the coming months.
He said: “If—as might happen—trade will be disrupted again at some point later this year with a second (or third) wave, you need to be thinking of everything in terms of building in resilience now.
“There will be no 'all clear' sounded on this. Even if things get back to normal quickly, there will still be a lot of people around who will be anxious and nervous about returning to shops (staff too).”
Expanding on a recent blog for The Bookseller, Thornton said indies could build resilience by harnessing the power of social media tools alongside mailing lists and newsletters.
He explained: “I think booksellers sometimes think: we need to build an Amazon platform. When actually, a couple of social media feeds, a newsletter and a blog/website is all you need to take orders and process payments. And it occurs to me now that most booksellers' superpower is the ability to curate—and using tech is really just a case of curating tools that enable to extend your goods and services to your customers (old and new)."
A survey for The Bookseller last week showed 40% of booksellers wanted to re-open from 1st June, with the remainder either against the idea or undecided. Thornton said stores could learn from other businesses by having phased re-openings. He gave the example of Currys PC World which is moving to a click and collect model and then on to limited browsing before having a broader re-opening.
He explained: “I call it the 'throttle' or gearing model. Come up with four or five 'phases' of re-opening. That might be: online, click and collect at door/deliver to car, in-shop collection, limited browsing. You move up through the gears.”
Thornton added: “Booksellers have faced the terrible dilemma of duck and cover (to protect everyone) or keep going with home deliveries. Neither was *right* but both now present unique difficulties: exhausted bookshop owners or bookshop owners starting from cold.
“That's why I like the phased approach: everyone can start planning, building out the phases, seeing what's working and what's not—but you need your team back in place.”
Asked about how stores should cope with stocking issues because of the crisis, he suggested booksellers would have to rethink merchandising because of concerns over how to handle browsing.
He urged booksellers: “Use this as an opportunity to reduce down and curate more. This is where having a fantastic organisation like the Booksellers Association is so important, as they can co-ordinate and liaise with publishers and wholesalers. I would be surprised if there isn't some sort of 'amnesty' coming for returns, just to get the supply chain moving.
“But have the conversations! Talk to small presses, local authors, find ways through this. We always told self-published authors to put themselves in our shoes in terms of taking their books, and bookshops should do the same further up the supply chain.”