London bookshops to offer one-hour delivery through NearSt

London bookshops to offer one-hour delivery through NearSt

A new website selling books has launched offering one-hour delivery in London, and connecting readers to bookshops in the capital through the “near me” search on their smartphones.

The retail tech start-up, called NearSt, hopes to simultaneously challenge Amazon and support high street retailers by offering fast-delivery of products to customers in the local vicinity.

The NearSt technology, called NearLive, works by enabling shoppers to type in their postcode, search for a book they want, see where it's in stock nearby, and “in a few taps” order it for one-hour delivery or instant collection.

Altogether 35 bookshops in London are on board for the launch, including Blackwell’s in Holborn, Belgravia Books, West End Lane Books, Ink@84, Brick Lane Bookshop and Lutyens & Rubinstein.

Booksellers get to keep 94% of the retail price of sale, with just 6% commission being taken by NearSt.

The company is based in Google’s co-working offices near London’s Old Street roundabout and backed by TrueStart, described as an investment fund which aims to “look to work with genuinely disruptive and innovative businesses”.

The company is also working with Google to allow the website’s contents to be more easily found, its founder and c.e.o Nick Brakenbury told The Bookseller.

The business aims to roll out to thousands of other products besides books, including consumer electronics, DIY goods, health & beauty products, sportswear, stationary and gift shop services, by the end of this year. In 2017, it will look to roll out to the rest of the UK and has designs of launching in Europe too.

Brackenbury said: “NearSt isn’t shying away from going head-to-head with Amazon. While we are currently focussing on growth in London, we are actively working on wider coverage of our offer in cities across the UK and Europe. Our 2020 ambition is to have every product, in every shop, on every high street easily available through NearSt.”

He added: “As shoppers increasingly demand products when they want them, where they want them, the advantage in retail is rapidly swinging back to high street shops to fulfil this need. NearSt is perfectly placed to serve this trend and unlock the value to retailers.”

Brakenbury told The Bookseller the start-up wanted to begin with bookshops because “we think they have a very important role to play on the high street and that they bring character to it”. Although he added: “From a technology and search point of view it has been challenging, because a lot of products only have one of each books...We think this will really help how people shop in the next few years, if you think how easy it is to get something straight online.”

One of the bookshops signed up to the service has called joining it a “no brainer”.

Andy Barr, manager at Belgravia Books, said: “The technology is enviably easy. I just make a few tweaks to a spreadsheet every day and our stock appears online.” He explained that when the bookshop receives an order from someone using NearSt, he will get an email which they will have to respond to within five minutes. If they don’t see it, they will get an automated phone call “so we can’t miss the order”. NearSt helps to co-ordinate the one-hour delivery.

Barr hopes it will not only help the bookshop to pick up new customers online but also bring new readers in to the shop. “I am going to stick with it, because for me it is a no brainer,” he said.  

Lutyens & Rubinstein assistant manager Tara Spinks said she thought the website was a “really good idea”.

“We liked it because it was based on stock we already had,” she said. “We are hoping that it will bring people into the shop to collect their orders.”

Co-owner of new bookshop Ink@84, Tessa Shaw, said if the website took off, it could be “a nice little revenue stream for us”.

“It is a hard task to take on Amazon, but I think a lot of people who come into our shop don’t want to shop at Amazon anymore, they want to support shops in the community, so in that sense this could do very well,” she said. “It is a nice website too, which makes all the difference.”

Hive website, launched by Gardners in 2011 also invites customers to collect their online orders from local bookshops, however, in that case the wholesaler fulfils the order but the bookshop acting as a collection point takes an average of 8% commission.