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.