Books are at the root of e-commerce. After all, e-commerce pioneer Amazon started life as an online bookstore 20 years ago. But what many people overlook is that the sector is still going strong, with opportunities for international growth.
The rise in e-books hasn't stopped the flow of printed books being sold
The closure of high street bookstores in recent years hasn’t heralded the end of print. In fact, the popularity of online book buying has been a major cause of this, with e-commerce spend on books overtaking high street sales for the first time in the UK in 2014, and in the US a year earlier.
The rise in e-books hasn’t stopped the flow of printed books being sold and shipped either. In January 2015, Deloitte predicted that 80 per cent of all book sales worldwide would remain in printed products for the foreseeable future, as sales of e-readers has levelled off over the past 18 months
Some retailers were left questioning how much extra revenue the sales event generated in 2014, arguing that it focused sales that might have been more evenly spread across the pre-Christmas period. But Europe’s leading beauty e-tailer, Feelunique.com, has claimed it tripled sales volume and that new customers were responsible for half of that increase. It also aims to double those sales figures in 2015.
That’s ambitious when retailers including the UK’s Marks & Spencer had to delay home deliveries by up to two weeks in 2014 so that its logistics could cope with the demand. IMRG referred to the issues experienced across the industry as a “delivery tsunami”.
But Craig Wheeler, the retailer’s e-commerce and retail operations director, said in an interview with The Drum*, that the industry was still learning and that managing expectation of delivery was fundamental to ensuring success. “If someone knows an order is going to take a week to get to them, they’re happy with that if they know,” he explains.
Today, books sit alongside fashion and consumer electronics in the top three e-commerce categories in most major markets. And they are particularly well suited to online sales and shipping, says David-Alexandre Krupa, sales manager at Asendia. “They’re flat and often small,” he explains. “They can probably fit in most people’s letterbox.”
That fact makes cheaper delivery a possibility, especially as consumers don’t necessarily expect tracking to be provided because books are generally low-cost items.
On the flip side, this puts pressure on the retailer to optimise their logistics to preserve their profit margins: “Price becomes extremely important. If consumers don’t pay much for the book, they won’t want to pay for shipping,” says Krupa. In order to retailers to make the most of the opportunity, they will need to find the most efficient means to get their products from A to Z. Smarter packaging solutions – like those developed by Amazon – also become a priority.
There are several growth areas in print – most notably in children’s books. And cross-border sales are an increasingly interesting area to explore.
Here, Krupa points out that the opportunities are limited by language. But that in itself can help retailers to target new audiences. Retailers in Spain are increasingly selling to consumers in South America, he says. Similarly, UK and US booksellers are attracting consumers in other English-speaking countries.
And as the world gets smaller, people move abroad and language learning gets more popular, booksellers in any market have the chance to find new audiences anywhere.
About David-Alexandre Krupa