Gardners to launch consumer website

Gardners is set to launch a new consumer website selling books directly to the public.

The wholesaler, which supplies books to independent retailers across the country, is in the process of developing, an online retail site, which it claims will be an 'Interflora' style intermediary for independent bookshops.

Rumours about the impending launch circulated late last week, with some independents expressing concern about the plan. Gardners has already presented the initiative to independent booksellers through meetings held at the Booksellers Association. The wholesaler denied claims from several independents that it pulled an early iteration of the site as a result of feedback. After being contacted by The Bookseller about the launch, Gardners confirmed it had created a company, Hive Stores Ltd, to provide the books and shopping basket functions on the website. It is also in discussions with publishers about the website.

The company is offering independent retailers the opportunity of being affiliated with the site as a way of boosting their online presence in a world of growing internet book sales. Indie retailers will receive a share of the net profit on every book sale made but the size of that percentage is yet to be determined.

In a presentation being sent out to individual outlets up and down the country, Gardners said Hive would offer “sophisticated web marketing and design” to local retailers and “investment and resource to drive traffic to their site”.

The scheme is being marketed as an extension of the company’s Independent Booksellers Affiliate Programme and was described as “a work in progress”  by Gardners’ commercial director Bob Jackson. Online shoppers to Hive will be able to opt to collect their book for free from their local indie bookshop, hence “benefiting from increased footfall into their store when customers visit to collect their purchases,” according to Gardners

Membership to the Hive Store Network is free, however it is still unclear how many retailers have chosen to sign up, or what they will earn. According to an early presentation seen by The Bookseller, Gardners planned to offer participating retailers  a financial share of each sale associated with an independent, thought to be in the form of a Gardners' credit note .

Jackson told The Bookseller: “More details about this exciting launch will be released over the coming weeks, but in the meantime I’d like to say how excited we are about this new initiative.

“The internet is affecting the way businesses operate and we’re delighted to be able to harness the awareness it creates amongst consumers for the benefit of our independent booksellers.”

However, reaction to the concept from independent booksellers has been mixed. One retailer who did not want to be named, said: “I think Gardners has shot itself in the foot, it has spent an awful lot of money developing a website that sells direct to consumers. It have been trying to find a way for booksellers not to go ballistic and have come up with a percentage offer – but it is tokenistic.”

However, others have been more positive about the new website. In the Gardners launch statement, Sheila O’Reilly of Dulwich Books, said: “Offering a website like Hive to our customers shows them that we are part of the future and not a relic of the past; shopping at Dulwich Books is not an exercise in nostalgia. We know that our customers shop online and we want to be able to offer them that option and we believe Hive will do this. We’re also embracing Hive believing it will provide an effective way for Dulwich Books to sell e-books to our customers.”