This article supports a presentation for the Public Library Section of the Kansas Library Association at Hesston, Kansas on September 11, 2003 by Chris Rippel, Central Kansas Library System, Great Bend, Kansas, U.S.A. Email compliments and criticisms to firstname.lastname@example.org
Bookstore owners and managers have spent much time and money experimenting how to entice customers into their stores and help them select and buy books. This article explores how librarians might adapt the technics bookstores use to communicate to customers.
Some librarians will ask whether bookstore staff merely push the latest bestseller or do they try to match readers to books? Though Barnes and Noble staff are not trained to match readers and books, B & N staff are encouraged to take books home and read them. The front of Barnes and Noble stores have shelves for "staff recommendations." In the independent Watermark bookstore in Wichita, Kansas, staff recommendations are grouped by staff name because customers learn which staff recommends the books they prefer. Even if library staff know more about books than bookstore staff, few libraries have staff recommended shelves. In most libraries, patrons must ask library staff what books the latter recommends.
This article is not suggesting that librarians should alter their focus on building collections, matching readers to books, promoting education, preserving culture and local history, access to information, etc. This article does invite librarians to study and apply technics bookstores use to communicate with customers so that librarians can communicate better with their patrons.
This article summarizes numerous articles about browsing and displays in libraries, store design, creating atmosphere in stores. Micheal Hadden, Director of the Schaumburg (Illinois) Township District Library, generously provided excellent pictures of the Hanover Park Branch Library. This library was designed in the bookstore style.
Jane Fink, head of the Creative Services and Promotion Department of the Daviess County Public Library in Owensboro, Kentucky, emailed me excellent pictures and descriptions of their creative displays. Library Director Deborah Mesplay says her library "works very hard to promote community events ... via the library displays. We now have numerous organizations contacting us and asking if we will put up a display on a particular subject or issue that relates to an organizational activity."
Finally, I received valuable insights into the workings of Barnes and Noble bookstores through an interview with Linda Flanders, an ex-supervisor of the children's section of a Barnes and Noble bookstore in Wichita, Kansas. Linda has also served on a library board and now works for the Central Kansas Library System in Great Bend, Kansas.
The interview with Linda began talking about how Barnes and Noble staff do their jobs.
Everyone is cross-trained to do everything. My source, supervisor of the children's section, was taught how to make lattes. The café staff can direct customers to the mystery section or any other place in the store. Lists of the bestsellers are posted in strategic places (e.g., near the cash registers). Everyone is expected to be able to rattle off the top ten or so bestsellers and where they are in the store. Staff is constantly fed sheets warning when titles will be released or are coming to the store. Everyone takes daily turns at the checkout counter.
Cross-training would benefit libraries. Training circulation and reference staff in the mysteries of interlibrary loan would increase their ability to answer questions and advise patrons about the interlibrary loan process. Cross-training catalogers and reference staff could produce better cataloging for use by reference staff and improve reference staff's understanding of the access provided by cataloging.
Barnes & Noble floor staff spend most of their days in an assigned area shelving new books and helping customers. When customers enter their section, staff makes contact with the customer to show help is near. In many libraries, by contrast, staff are not trained to great people walking in the front door or invite patrons to ask questions. Many library staff appear unaware that patrons need to be invited to ask questions.
Differences between bookstores and libraries
During the interview, I eventually asked for a list of differences between bookstores and libraries. Linda began talking about atmospheric differences between bookstores and libraries. According to Raynet Business and Marketing Glossary at www.raynet.mcmail.com/Business&marketingglossaryR.shtml, retail atmospherics is "designing buying environments to produce specific customer emotional reactions that enhance purchase probability. It includes ... layout, color, smells, music, lighting, materials etc."
- Smell. Linda says customers entering Barnes and Noble stores smell coffee and pastries in the cafe and patrons entering libraries don't. Joseph Weishar in Design for Effective Selling Space (p. 43) identifies the associations of different odors.
- Cinnamon, coffee, apples - home cooking, warm, family, cozy (By the way, men may be especially susceptible to the smell of cinnamon buns.)
- Orange - healthy and bright
- Lemon - fresh, clean
- Wood - general country hardware store
- Mildew - damp, basement
Too many libraries smell of must and mildew. Such smells are unpleasant for everyone and unhealthy for many. Library staff should smell donations and not add stinky books to their collections.They should track down and eliminate the causes of musty and mildew smells. Here are tips for eliminating musty smells.
Consumers perceive higher quality goods in scented stores. Burning scented candles is expensive and dangerous in a library. Retail consultant Linda Cahan advises opening all windows and doors and use fans to blow in clean air when possible. This makes everyone, staff and customers, feel better. Immediately before the store opens burn a mixture of cedar chips and sage in a small frying pan. When the mixture has burned, blow out the flames. Carry the smoking frying pan all over the store, backrooms and even the basement. This fills the store with a wonderful scent.
- Source: "Stores with soul" by Linda Cahan in Gifts and Decorative Accessories, Vol. 103, June 2002, p. 20+
- Music. When we discussed music, my interviewee explained differences in the target markets for Barnes and Noble vs. Borders. B&N's target market is baby boomers. Border's target market, she claimed, is generation-Xers. This difference in target explained three differences between the chains. Barnes and Noble has a stricter dress code than Borders, B&N stores are more spread out than Borders. B&N plays classical music provided by headquarters in New York. Borders plays more jazzy music.
Experimenters discovered that music makes a big difference in customer behavior. Slow music increases supermarket sales 38% and liquor sales in restaurants. Classical and pop music increases sales better than easy listening and silence.
- Source: "The effect of music on atmosphere and purchase intentions in a cafeteria" by Adrian C. North, et. al. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, Vol. 28, pp 2254-2273. Music also affects what is bought. During a two week experiment in a restaurant, on the days when French music was played French wine outsold German wine. On the days German music was played German wine outsold French wine. Only 10% of customers said the music affected their choice.
- Source: "The Influence of in-store music on wine selections" by Adrian C. North, et. al. Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol. 84, 1999, pp. 271-276. Music is controversial in libraries because many library lovers prefer quiet. Nevertheless, music may be appropriate in some libraries or in some areas of the library. During non-peak times at the South Branch Library of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library a boom-box on the circulation desk plays Latino music. Music can also enliven the waiting period before programs start. My Barnes and Noble interviewee is a preacher's wife. She says music is played before the church service to encourage people to visit rather than sit silently waiting for the service to begin.
- Lighting. Barnes and Noble stores are brighter than most libraries. Experts claim high levels of light suggest lower prices. Discount stores have equally bright lighting over the entire store. Lower levels of light suggest good quality and even exclusivity. Luxury stores have low general lighting so spotlights can illuminate displays.
Before adding florescent lights to brighten the entire library equally, consider variation in brightness. Circulation, reference, and stacks need bright, even lighting. Lower, general lighting, however, is useful for highlighting certain areas. Here are two examples.
- I believe libraries should be second homes for the community's readers. Consider a creating homey reading areas in a generally lower lit area with good reading lamps on side tables lighting comfortable chairs. Incandescent bulbs in reading lamps provide a warm glow inviting readers to sit down and read.
- Lower general light allows easy illumination of books displays. Illuminated displays receive twice the attention of non-illuminated displays. Illuminating displays is discussed below.
- Layout. Experts in customer behavior claim that people entering a store drift toward the right. For this reason, a store's prime display area is 5 to 20 steps inside the store to the right of the front door. Customers are then expected to move through stores counter clockwise to the check out counters to the left of the front door.
Barnes and Noble store follow this pattern of display area on the right and check out counter on the left of the front doors. Barnes and Noble places bestsellers inside the front door on the right. Behind the bestsellers are staff recommendations. Other new books are directly in front of the front door. The check out counters are to the left of the front doors.
Though we often praise libraries for having open space, most patrons come to libraries to look at books. Barnes and Noble customers standing 10 steps inside the front door and read the titles of a hundred books. Library patrons standing in the same spot see empty space or the circulation desk.
Placing the circulation desk to the right of the front door makes returning books convenient. If the display space near the front door is limited, a slatwall pillar like the one shown on the right has a smaller footprint than a table and provides an attractive and effective way to display numerous books.
The area around Barnes and Noble cash registers contains numerous displays to attract the impulsive buyer. Daviess County Public Library uses book stands on the circulation desk and all other desks to promote books on hot topics "In the News."
- Power aisles are major aisles leading customers to all parts of the store. Power aisles also contain major displays of merchandise. Barnes and Noble has two power aisles cutting the store into four quarters. One aisle leads from front to back of the store. This aisle leads customers back to the music section in those stores with music sections. A second aisle, perpendicular to the first aisle, goes from left to right. This aisle leads to the children's section on one side of the store and to the computer software section before B&N dropped software from its inventory.
People tend to walk faster on hard floors and slower on carpet. Many stores have linoleum or tile aisles leading people through the store. Carpet is used between racks of merchandise. Extra plush carpet is used in areas where especially luxurious merchandise is displayed.
Librarians should observe how patrons move through your library. Here is a way to discover patterns of patron movement in a library. Make a simple map of the library. This map does not have to be to scale, but it should record furniture, collections, and other objects patrons may use. As patrons enter the library draw lines recording their path through the library. Record the paths of 25 to 50 patrons on the same map until traffic patterns begin to emerge. Major book displays should be located along major paths of traffic. These patterns will also show which parts of the collection are being used and not used.
Reducing Information Overload
During the interview, Linda said, "I could walk into a Barnes and Noble and in ten minutes walk out with a book and a latte. If I walked into a library it would take me a hour to to find a book and I would leave without the latte." Linda was referring to Barnes and Noble's practice of shelving by genre. Studies of patron behavior reveal the benefits of shelving by genre in libraries.
In 1907, William A. Borden pulled books from the fiction shelves to set up special shelving for historical novels and detective fiction. During two years of observation, Borden noticed patrons who previously only browsed the new books began selecting books from the genre shelves as well. Readers also began picking lesser-known authors within their chosen genre.
- Source: "On classifying fiction" by William A. Borden. Library Journal, June 1909, pp. 264-265.
Librarians frequently complain that patrons read mostly new books while good, older books remain unread. For patrons unfamiliar with authors and titles, trying to select one book from shelves of thousands of books, is like trying to select the best brick in a wall. They all look alike. Borden's observations suggest that:
- Patrons are most attracted to new books when this is the only collection presentation of books in limited numbers browsers can comprehend.
- Patrons will select older books when they too are presented in limited numbers.
Sharon Baker's experiments during the 1980s found that circulation of classified fiction (i.e., shelved by genre) increased with the size of the library. In a library of only 2,500 volumes, circulation of classified fiction increased use only 39%. In a 6,000 volume library, 49%. In a library with 15,500 volumes circulation increased 349%.
- Source: "Will classification schemes increase use" by Sharon L. Baker. RQ, Spring 1988.
Short ranges of free-standing shelves more clearly separates genres. Barnes and Noble uses short free-standing shelves in the center area. Hanover Park Branch Library also uses shelving short in height and length. The short height establishes an openness to the small space. The short length provides more end-panels for displaying items face-front. The top shelf is also slanted for face-front displays. Above each section is a large attractive sign identifying the contents.
Librarians sometimes object to shelving by genre.
- Some fiction books are hard to classify. Barnes and Nobel solves this problem by placing copies of books every place someone may look for a title and by training staff where books are and asking patrons to tell what kind of book it is. "Is it a mystery?"
- When authors write in several genre, patrons can't find all the books by that author. One solution to this problem would be book dummies with messages telling patrons other locations for that author's other books.
For those librarians not wishing to arrange their collection by genre, other methods for reducing information overload are described below.
- Signage. Barnes and Noble uses some signs to entice customers to stop and look at displays. Barnes and Noble does not use many signs because they expect staff to maintain personal contact with customers.
In Why we buy: the science of shopping, Paco Underhill writes, "Take a look at that [bookstore] wall, over near the information desk. What do you see? This week's New York Times 'Best seller list,' or rather a grimy copy of it, taped up. Next to it is a rather grimy photocopy of the Modern Library list of the so-called one-hundred top novels of the twentieth century. Have you ever seen a more pathetic display of such useful and interesting information?" Underhill advises that such lists should be reproduced in large print for easy reading over displays of books on the list.
Sign readability is a combination of the color contrast between the letters and their background, the shape of the letters and the size of the letters.
- Color contrast. Studies reveal that the difference in the amount of light reflected by the colors of letters and background are important for readability. Readable signs have either the letters reflect a lot of light on backgrounds reflecting little light or the reverse. The smaller the letters on a sign the greater the contrast that is need to keep the sign readable. Below is the ranking of color combinations from most readable to least readable.
- Black on yellow
- Black on white
- Yellow on black
- White on blue
- Yellow on blue
- Green on white
- Blue on yellow
- White on green
- Source: Sign systems for libraries by Dorothy Pollett, et. al., page 238
- Shape of letters.
- Block lettering (i.e., san serif) is most easily read for signs.
- Signs of less than four words can be written in capital letters. More than four words should be written in combinations of upper and lower case.
- Source: Sign systems for libraries by Dorothy Pollett, et. al., page 239-40
- Size of letters. How far away will patrons be when they read the sign? Size the letters so they are easily read at the furthest distance patrons are likely to read the sign.
- At 8 feet, make 1 inch tall letters or, in word-processor, 95 point size.
- At 16 feet, make letters 2 inches tall, 190 point size.
- At 32', 4 inch letters, 380 point size.
- At 64', 8 inch letters, 760 point size.
- Signs intended for people far away can be hung from ceilings. However, if signs are too high they will not be easily seen. Peoples easily see objects from eye level upward about 30 degrees.
- At 5 feet away from the sign, the sign can be as high as 6' and still be easily seen.
- At 10 feet away, signs can be 7' off the ground and still be seen.
- At 20 feet, signs can be 8' 8" feet off the ground.
- At 30 feet, signs can be 10' off the ground.
- Source: Designing and space planning for libraries: A behavioral approach by Aaron Dohen, et. al. 1979, pp. 205-206.
- Making the books important
- Linda says Barnes and Noble organizes many displays around holidays, the release of movies and other current events.
Daviess County Public Library promotes local events in their town with displays of library materials related to these events. On the right is their display of Civil War books and videos in cooperation with a Civil War exhibit at the local Museum of Arts & Science. The display included fliers advertising the exhibit. At the museum, an extensive bibliography of the library's Civil War materials was available.
Daviess County organizations have grown to value library displays in promoting the local events. Library Director Deborah Mesplay writes, "We now have numerous organizations contacting us and asking if we will put up a display on a particular subject or issue that relates to an organizational activity." Jane Fink of the library's Creative Services & Promotions Department writes that the library has done displays on adoption and foster parenting for CASA, nutrition for the local County Extension Office, women in politics and women get the vote for the local League of Women Voters, water resources for the utility company and many more.
- Recommending books on display dramatically increases the number of books taken off the display. The Miami Township Branch of the Dayton and Montgomery County Library in Ohio found displayed books with recommendations are 2.6 times more likely to be taken than displayed books without recommendations.
Library staff and patrons write recommendations on the cards. I created a template card that can be printed out and photocopied.
Whenever patrons mention liking a book, staff ask patrons to write a one- or two-sentence recommendation on the card. Here are two sample recommendations. "A gut-wrenching thriller, sensational thriller! Not for the faint of heart." "I laughed so hard chocolate milk came out my nose."
The card is placed in the book with "Recommended book" written on the top of the card showing above the top of the book. Recommended books are placed on shelves in slotted endpanels. Many patrons zip into the library and go straight to these displays; quickly choose a book, check it out and zip back out to their car. When recommended books are checked out, cards are removed and kept at the circulation desk to be replaced in books are checked-in.
Below are links to more book display ideas.
This page was originally posted September 10, 2003 and last revised November 1, 2003.
The URL for this page is www.ckls.org/~crippel/marketing/bookstore.html