Why shop at a comic store?

When you collect trade paperbacks and graphic novels there’s Amazon and everything else.  They have the market share, deep discounts, availability, free shipping, recommendations and even preview pages.

There’s no denying it so retailers need to recognize, adapt and overcome.  Now compare Amazon and their shopping experience to your local comic shop.  Give it some thought and then answer this question: why do you shop at your local comic shop instead of Amazon?

Most, including myself, would say customer service.  But it goes beyond that: it’s a personal experience for you to discuss your hobby with like-minded others.  Yes you can do that in a forum but the dynamic that comes from a face to face conversation can’t be recreated via text.  Of course the store needs to be neat, well stocked and organized while the staff must be friendly, knowledgeable and helpful.  Let’s look at Amazon’s main selling points and see how they compare.

Deep discounts, normally 37% or higher, on books.  Your local comic shop can’t compete with that since they’re getting a 35-56% discount from Diamond who distributes most comics.  They need to have the store, stock the shelves, pay employees and keep the lights on so you can get that personal experience when you walk in the door.  That being said most shops offer some sort of loyalty program that gives customers a discount around 10-20%.

Availability and free shipping are great but that means you’re waiting for that hot book to arrive.  You can circumvent the wait by pre-ordering books if you’re organized.  Every Wednesday your comic shop puts out the new books for sale, all laid out for you to peruse, thumb through and establish a firm opinion on whether you should be buying that new material.  While Amazon has previews it’s not on every book and it just can’t mimic the opportunity to hold the book in your hand and give it a good going over.

I was using Amazon’s wish list as a placeholder for upcoming books I wanted but found Comixology and their pull list a better free alternative.  I receive an email every Wednesday letting me know what books I “pulled” are available.

Last but not least are recommendations, based on purchases, browsing and wish lists.  Amazon does a good job at this and I’ve discovered books I didn’t know about.  Your local shop can provide great recommendations based on the same criteria if they’re on the ball.

And really that’s what it boils down to: the local comic shop has to be a retailer on the ball.  Let’s address the comic retailers now.  Customer loyalty programs work because people need to feel special.  Point of sale (POS) systems allow you to know what your customers have purchased and what they plan to purchase if you have them in a loyalty program and are getting preorders from them.  With this information you can make recommendations on other products by the same creators, same genre or same characters.  Hopefully your POS can show you similar items but if not then develop something yourself, but most of all know your inventory.  When someone says “I loved whatever” book then show them something in the same vein to get the next sale.  I’ve never forgotten a used bookstore who had signs in their various genre sections that said “if you like X author then try these X authors” and listed five authors from the same genre.  I ended up trying a lot of new authors based on these signs.

New readers are a market that cannot be tapped by Amazon since they have no data to recommend anything.  If a store is set up for young readers then they’ll fall into the books and find what they like; I’ve seen it with my own children time and time again.  Something brings them in but you have to get them coming back.  Endcaps, product displays and well organized inventory work in all retail and will work in a comic shop.  A well stocked store with all books in beautiful shelves only showing the spine will sell much less than stores that have displays showing the covers.  They’re bright and eye-catching for a reason.  Material out of the reach of the customer loses it’s “thumbability” factor, especially for children.

I Want to come back to the store being neat, well stocked and organized and the staff being friendly, knowledgeable and helpful.  These factors make or break any retail store and can’t be neglected.  There’s a big difference between a retailer and a fan owning a shop.  Customers know the difference and speak with their dollars.

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Scott VanderPloeg
Scott works in I.T. but lives to eat and read. His other ramblings can be found at AE Index and eBabble. Art collection at Comic Art Fans.
Articles: 1231

3 Comments

  1. Amazon is one of the major reasons why local comic shops need to step up their game. If my competition for trade paperback sales can offer 37% off, I need to ensure that the experience of entering into my store is a good one. I need to give customers a reason to pay more for the same product.

  2. I agree completely. The presence of online booksellers with deep discounts and free shipping is game changing. It’s one of those cart before the horse situations. Everyone likes cheaper books, but the reality is that retailers can’t afford to give such huge discounts. A 37% discount = just 13% profit margin on each item (supposing the retailer paid the standard 50% unit cost for the book itself). I think I can safely say that MOST if not ALL comic shop retailers can’t regularly offer those kinds of discounts on new books – they would go out of business trying to match that. The best that any comic book retailer has offered me (and I buy a lot of books – as you know) is 30%. Now the publishers do regularly discount backlist book items for much less and then those savings can be passed along, those are the items you usually see discounted heavily at cons…

  3. I completely agree, if comic retailers have an issue with online competitors they need to step up their game. If a customer is choosing to pay more for a comic, they need to get more from their local shop. If they aren’t getting what they need they will go for the cheaper alternative. Something as simple as a recommendation might be all it takes to have a customer chooses a local shop over an online retailer. I know, with comics, I like to stick with what I am comfortable with, and usually don’t stray without a good recommendation. If a sales person is doing their job right, when I come in for one book I should be leaving with at least two.

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