A Holiday Preparations Checklist

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Here is BTW’s annual holiday checklist, modified to help guide independent bookstores through the unique challenges the coronavirus outbreak may pose during the holiday season.

In September 2020, the American Booksellers Association launched a webinar series called the “Top 10 Things to Know About…” The series covered topics like cash flow, operational workflow, customer and sales data, ABA’s fall marketing campaign, virtual events, and more.

Booksellers who would like more information on these topics can visit the Top 10 Resources page on BookWeb.org, and can also view a recording of each webinar here. Additionally, booksellers can reference the first part of ABA CEO Allison K. Hill’s 4th quarter preparation guide here. The second part can be found here.  

ABA also hosted a Marketing Meetup dedicated to holiday marketing in September 2020. Booksellers can read a recap of the session here.

As a reminder for those looking for air filters, masks, and other PPE, there is a Resources for Reopening page on BookWeb along with a Coronavirus Resources page, which both have valuable information. The supply lists are continually being updated.

This year, keep the following in mind:

Increase marketing efforts online and in-store (if open to customers)

  • In all communications with customers, be sure to voice the importance of indie bookstores.
  • Use marketing to break through the noise of the current moment and reach customers. Take advantage of ABA’s holiday marketing assets, such as the #BoxedOut and “November is the new December” campaigns.
  • Use industry book lists such as the Indie Next List, Kids’ Indie Next List, the Indie Gift Guide, Reading Group Guides, and the ABC Best Books for Young Readers catalog to spread the word about anticipated releases. Send them by mail and digitally to customers.
  • Apply to be featured in a Small Business Holiday Gift Guide. Bookstores can apply to be featured in Small Business Majority’s 2020 Holiday Gift Guide. This is a great opportunity to promote your bookstore for free during the holiday season. Approved applicants will be featured on Small Business Majority’s website from November 16, 2020, to January 1, 2021, and will be given a toolkit to share the gift guide with their customers. The deadline to apply is Monday, November 9. Apply to appear in the gift guide here.
  • Reach out to the media to get news coverage for your store, and consider sharing your store’s story in an op-ed.

Update websites with current store information, hours, and policies

  • Update store hours and refund policy if they change for the holiday season (and make sure your refund policy is posted year-round).
  • Let your customers know about social distancing policies and other requirements if offering in-store browsing.
  • Reinforce your store’s brand by featuring online content that complements in-store displays, such as pictures of your store’s interior and window displays, including marketing signage.
  • Update your website homepage, footer, and header with seasonal graphics. People respond to visual cues that the holidays are approaching.
  • Consider offering free or reduced shipping as well as coupons for the holiday season. Curbside pickup and in-store pickup are also excellent shipping alternatives. If you’re offering free local delivery, be sure to make note of it.
  • Post your shipping policy, along with a delivery schedule: For example, “Usually Ships in 1–5 Days,” “On Our Shelves Now,” or “Order by [fill in the date] for Delivery by December 25.” Be sure to also make note of shipping delays and delays in order processing due to high online sales volume during the holiday season. Whatever language you choose, make sure customers know that books ordered after a certain date may not arrive in time for the holiday. And remember to check your orders page frequently for new orders.
  • Create a block to promote gift cards and gift certificates and set it to appear on your front page.
  • Advertise your site’s “wishlist” feature, which customers can use to share gift ideas with their family and friends.
  • Promote sales of e-books and audiobooks by curating content on your site; create a selection of five to 10 titles that would have special appeal to your customers. Check with your audiobook and e-book vendors for holiday-themed graphics.
  • Add any key non-book inventory to your website. IndieCommerce stores that have more than 100 non-book items they would like to upload to their website should consider using the new bulk upload feature.
  • Familiarize yourself and staff with the website and prepare for questions by going through the online checkout process as a customer. Post what methods of payment are accepted so customers don’t have to go through the checkout process to figure it out.
  • Gift cards and gift codes sell very well in November and December. Prominently promote this service in your store and online. If you don’t sell these on your website, activate them now. Additionally, stores should consider promoting online gift codes, which don't require shipping and make for last minute gift ideas. 
  • Keep an eye out for credit card fraud, and familiarize yourself with what a fraudulent order might look like. The increase in online sales has spawned an increase in credit card fraud. If you suspect fraud, email [email protected] so that we can check the IndieCommerce system for similar orders.
  • Sign up for Libro.fm’s Indie Partner Program, which allows ABA member stores to sell audiobooks through integration with IndieCommerce websites. IndieCommerce also offers integration with Hummingbird for e-books and audiobooks. Questions about signing up for either service can be directed to [email protected].
  • Be sure your website URL appears on instore signage, cash register receipts, bags, bookmarks, printed and/or electronic newsletters, gift cards and gift certificates, store letterhead, business cards, and in all staff email signatures.

Pay attention to supply chain disruption, vendor schedules, and rapid replenishment offers

  • Check for the most up-to-date information regarding publisher, wholesaler, and vendor support here.
  • Expect delays — publishers and wholesalers will be filling orders more slowly due to social distancing at their warehouses. Printers are also at reduced capacity due to social distancing and may not be able to reprint out-of-stock books in a timely manner.
  • Prioritize ordering anticipated titles early this year; this will ensure booksellers have what they need regardless of disruptions. Orders placed later in the season may be unavailable or delayed.
  • Ensure the appropriate staff members are aware of changes to publisher and wholesaler/distributor fulfillment schedules.
  • Booksellers signed up with PartnerShip can take advantage 50 percent off FedEx Express with no weight tiers and 30 percent off FedEx ground with no weight tiers. (Already participating members must re-enroll to receive the new rates.)
  • Double-check the shipping rates you’re charging customers and posting on your website. If you’re offering customers free or reduced shipping, offer them the option of supporting your store by paying the full shipping price.
  • Anticipate the need for gift cards, gift certificates, bags, register supplies, toilet paper, and other critical items. Order up and order early.

Use social media, send newsletters, and leverage customer sales data

  • Customers are more active on social media than ever before. Take advantage by tracking and analyzing engagement with your posts to see what customers are interested in.
  • Use social media as a way to communicate with your customers about store policies during COVID-19. Show customers your safety measures in action, demonstrate the normalcy of the store environment, and remind them how much they miss your bookstore.
  • Host livestreams and live book recommendations to foster community. Consider sending targeted newsletter mailings with recommendations.
  • Target your social media posts to be sure they reach the right customers.

Rethink your store’s layout and merchandising

  • Order titles with new trends in mind. Review your top 100 books since March and use Google trends to look for other clues.
  • Modify book sections in your stores. De-emphasize some sections to make room for face-outs in other sections. Create new sections for our time: antiracism, politics, quarantine, self-care. These can be in-store displays or themes for website categories or social media.
  • Rethink your sales floor to reflect the way people shop. Customers may be in your store for a shorter period of time, because of your social distancing design (appointments, limited shopping times) or due to their own comfort level. There may be less browsing and discovery. Think about how to expedite shopping for customers while maximizing sales.
  • Ingram recommends stores stock up on anticipated hot titles as early as possible.
  • To help Ingram predict demand, communicate with your Ingram rep about anticipated hot titles and books you plan on featuring in your store catalog or promotions.

Offer curbside pickup and delivery services

  • Make a dedicated space for customers to safely pick up their orders. In cold weather locations, make your pickup spot a place where customers can pull up in their cars.
  • Provide clear instructions that outline exactly what customers should do, and consider setting up a phone number that customers can text when they arrive.
  • Be sure to keep a solid paper trail to track all the steps taken during curbside pickup and delivery — having a record helps you know exactly what went into a box or when it was delivered.

Take care of your staff

  • Gauge staff comfort levels around working in-person and listen to their feedback. Follow local, state, and CDC guidelines and regulations, and keep up to date with your town’s COVID policies. Post clear signage around the store outlining these policies.
  • Discuss expectations around customer service, as well as potential scheduling conflicts and requests for time off.
  • Make a backup plan in case staff members get sick. If anyone on staff tests positive for COVID, get everyone possibly exposed tested. If you must scale back operations, update your website, answering machine, and social media accordingly.
  • Allow for breaks in staff schedules.