Waterstones is planning to complement its newly announced digital offer by rolling out own-brand coffee shops in as many as 130 stores, The Bookseller understands. Meanwhile m.d. James Daunt has told staff that the controversial Amazon partnership will "inevitably cannibalise some physical sales".
The chain took the industry by surprise when it announced on Monday (21st May) that it was going to sell rival Amazon's Kindle devices, installing free wi-fi in its shops "in plenty of time for the Christmas buying season" and taking a cut of each Amazon e-book sale which was downloaded on its premises.
Waterstones is throwing its full weight behind the sale of the Kindle hardware and e-books, creating digital reading bays in stores, training staff to advise customers on devices and appointing a specific project team to involve "the entire business in bringing Kindle to Waterstones", according to a letter to staff by Daunt seen by The Bookseller.
The company is also planning to extend its own-brand coffee chain, Café W, featuring "ethically-sourced" coffee and food from local suppliers, into a number of bookstores. One source indicated that as many as 130 shops will be targeted over the next three years.
An initial trial of the concept in the Sutton branch of Waterstones is understood to have seen sales at the coffee shop jump from 2% to 10% since launch in October, leading to increased book sales. A second Café W opened in Greenwich Church Street at the end of April.
Meanwhile, the store refurbishment programme, which has already been piloted in Twickenham, will now move on to Glasgow, Brighton and Norwich, with 100 shops earmarked for a revamp before Christmas. The main focus of the refurbishment will be on enhancing the children's area, as well as front-of-store and related product sections.
A spokesperson for Waterstones said Daunt is taking a "hands-on" approach to the refits, which in Twickenham has meant wooden floors replacing carpet and a new design of tables, described as "less block-like", to increase the amount of light in shops.
Seeking to explain the Amazon partnership to staff - following his previous sharp criticism of the online retailer in the press - Daunt told employees that digital reading was now a "fact of life", but that he was optimistic it could lead to increased physical book sales.
"It's also worth noting that there is a strong link between customers owning devices and buying more physical books, so there is a potential sales upside for us," Daunt said.
However, Daunt also acknowledged the chain, which is continuing to sell its own e-books to customers, does risk harming its own book sales. "While we will inevitably cannibalise some physical sales, we do so strengthening our physical shops‚ by making money, but above all satisfying the reading requirements of our customers," he said.
Daunt is believed to have come to Waterstones with the clear desire to bring Barnes & Noble's Nook e-reader into the chain, but he said on Monday the business had left it "too late" to invest in its own device, admitting that the chain did not have the resources to go it alone. "We might have got a product out by next Christmas, not this Christmas, and that would have been too late. We'd have been out of this market, and that just wasn't acceptable," he said.