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A disappointing trend

Posted in the following categories: Creativity, Problem Solving

I love walking into a bookstore and discovering new books.

Not the bestselling books sitting on everyone’s bookshelf. But undiscovered gems. Books that have yet to break through. Books that have fallen out of mainstream awareness. Books published by smaller publishing houses without massive marketing budgets.

Over the past few years, I’ve noticed a really disappointing trend. The trend carries important lessons regardless of what you do for a living.

My experience last week at a local bookstore in Portland is typical: You walk in, and are greeted by a massive “bestsellers” section displaying all the usual books. You make your way past all the new bestsellers, and the books highlighted on the other shelves are the old bestsellers. You ask a staff member for recommendations, and he suggests three books from—you guessed it—the bestsellers section.

All the books on all the shelves are organized in alphabetical order by the last name of the author—designed for the rapidly shrinking category of people who walk into a bookstore knowing exactly what book they want to buy.

There’s no personality. No quirkiness. No charm. Nothing that’s remarkable. Nothing that’s an improvement over the online retail experience. So why should potential customers go out of their way to visit you?

As a bookstore, you can’t compete with Amazon on price, delivery speed, and availability. You just can’t.

But you can do what Amazon can’t do: Give people a personalized experience. Provide real curation by real human beings that goes beyond ads, algorithms, and bestseller lists.

Organize your shelves in a delightful way that will help people discover books they’re going to love. Instead of putting books in alphabetical order, create categories like “Time Travel,” “Page Turners You Can Read in a Weekend,” “Must-Read Books You’ve Never Heard Of,” or “Young Adult Books that Adults Will Also Love.”

Start a monthly book subscription with two thoughtfully picked books delivered to your customers.

It goes beyond bookstores to every business that’s in a race to the center, doing what everyone else is doing and competing for an ever-shrinking slice of the pie.

Step back and ask, What can we offer our customers that will delight them (and us!)? How can we share our unique personality in a way that will set us apart from every other business offering the very same thing? What can we do that’s remarkable?

There may have been a really good reason 20 years ago for organizing all your proverbial shelves in alphabetical order by the author’s last name.

But if you don’t reimagine how things are working today, someone else will.

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