Retail and Technology

Baker rethinks marketing approach

Christian bookstore attempts to draw more online shoppers to improved website.

August 24, 2018
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Baker Book House
In addition to its in-house inventory, Baker Book House is exploring ways to enhance its digital presence. Courtesy Baker Book House

One local bookstore is taking a page out of an online retailer’s playbook.

Baker Book House is remodeling its business approach as it attempts to keep up with Amazon.

According to DMR Business Statistics, 300 million buyers and sellers use Amazon, roughly 30 million people use the Amazon mobile app each month. About 80 percent of U.S. Amazon customers purchase from the online retailer at least once per month. The company’s net sales in 2017 were $177.9 billion, and its net income in 2017 was $3 billion.

Although Darron Schroeder, assistant manager of the Grand Rapids-based Christian bookstore, said his store will not be able to compete against Amazon, they are changing the tactics they used before.

“Obviously, there is not a direct competition with Amazon, but locally, what we can do is provide better pricing and better products for our key audience,” Schroeder said. “For us, churches and Christian conventions are our go-to-audience. We are reaching out to different churches and have created a Baker First program that asks churches to think Baker first when they are buying books and church supplies. They will get better prices if they order through us by comparing our prices with Amazon’s prices. If we can’t match the prices, we let them know.”

Among the changes the bookstore has made is the way it markets itself. Schroeder said it has partnered with Symposia Labs, a digital advertising agency, to draw more online shoppers to the bookstore.

Schroeder said the digital agency is helping with different digital platforms, including its new website that recently launched and still is a work in progress.

“The website we had before, we did not own,” he said. “A marketing group owned (the website) and because of that, we didn’t have a lot of control and flexibility to give personalized attention to each customer. So, what we are trying to do now is to have a much more interactive holistic website.”

Similar to Amazon, Baker Book House now has books from every publisher and vendor on its website. Schroeder said their search tool is built to replicate Amazon’s in terms of discovering and offering a wide range of products.

“We have strived in our Christian bookstore industry to have anything that is available out there that you can now get on our website,” Schroeder said. “So, our in-store experience has improved because we have the backing of the website to tell our customers that we can get you pretty much anything. If you can find it on Amazon, we can get it for you.”

Aside from the website, Symposia Labs is helping to market the bookstore on social media and other online platforms. Tim Haines, owner of Symposia Labs, said his company is helping the bookstore with social media advertising, email marketing, Google AdWords and overall digital marketing strategy.

“There is a pretty wide Christian reader base, and they are fairly easy to identify on digital channels based on what they are looking for or what they are interested in,” Haines said. “Our intention is to pursue all of them, anyone who is interested in buying any (fiction and nonfiction Christian books.)”

Once Symposia has detected Baker’s Christian audience anywhere in the country, it will do automated messages via email that will allow Baker’s customers to not just be one-time customers but regular customers.

While the bookstore ships books throughout the country, Schroeder acknowledged Baker Book House will not be able to keep up with Amazon Prime’s two-day shipping.

“Usually, we can get an order out to a customer within five days,” Schroeder said. “Amazon has created this new world where everyone expects everything in two days, and I think it is hard for everyone to compete with that. Retail has been hurting across the board but some of the changes that we have been making have really helped our business in the last year. We have actually been positive (earnings) month over month in the last year.”

Amazon has been a factor in many brick-and-mortar businesses struggling, including the recent closure of Family Christian Bookstore in Grand Rapids.

Bookstore giant Barnes & Noble also is having a difficult time keeping up with Amazon. According to The Guardian, Barnes & Noble’s sales have been on a downward spiral for 11 years — even in online sales. The Guardian reported the company has lost $1 billion in value and dozens of stores are closing, which has resulted in the loss of 1,800 full-time jobs thus far as “the big beast, Amazon, swallows its business.”

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