How Bookstores Are Managing Online Sales

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Here’s a special update from the American Booksellers Association’s IndieCommerce team.

With the huge increase in online sales volume that started in 2020, we wanted to get some insights into how stores managed processing all those orders and what difficulties they experienced.

On January 7, 2021, we sent survey invitations to more than 1,000 email addresses of staff at ABA member stores who have ecommerce-enabled websites. We asked them what changes they had made to improve online order processing and what friction points they were still experiencing.

Two hundred and thirty people replied to the survey. These stores reported processing between 1 and 100 orders on an average day. Reporting stores were using several different ecommerce-enabled website platforms for selling books. Although there was a wide variety of store sizes represented in the survey results, the friction points were very similar regardless of the store size. How stores resolved their order processing problems varied, but we saw many common friction points and solutions that many stores were very happy that they had adopted.

Split Online Orders Are a Pain

The biggest friction point noted by stores was dealing with split orders. As an example, an online customer places an order with three different titles in it.

  • One is available on the store’s shelves now
  • One is a pre-order that will be available in a month
  • One is not in stock and needs to be fulfilled by Ingram’s Direct-to-Home (DTH)

Solutions to tracking and managing split orders ranged from Post-It notes and spreadsheets to automated POS order management and numerous other variations. All of the stores with this issue emphasized that communicating with their customers regarding their delivery expectations was critically important. Staff managing these types of orders are reporting that it takes up a big chunk of their time and they are struggling to make sure that all the titles within a split order get delivered to their customer, with nothing slipping through the cracks. Many, if not all, stores reporting this issue are looking for more efficient ways to manage split orders.

Other stores have addressed this issue by exclusively shifting all online orders to for fulfillment. Some are only offering their in-stock physical store inventory (Local Store Inventory, aka LSI) on their website. Some are offering a hybrid of LSI and Ingram’s Direct-to-Home.

This is a complex problem that each store is currently addressing with a solution that works best for them. This topic and possible solutions will be addressed at the upcoming session on Managing Online Sales Growth at Winter Institute.

Website Integration With Your Store’s POS

Manually cutting and pasting orders from your website into your POS can take up a huge amount of time. Over the past year, many popular bookstore POS systems began accepting order information from ecommerce-enabled websites, such as IndieCommerce. Those that do share information seem to have different levels of integration. If your POS and your website are exchanging data but it’s not making your life easier, tell your POS vendor or website hosting company what you need. There may be a solution that you are not aware of, or you might get them to develop a new feature that addresses your issue. For stores with a good integration between their POS and their website, this can be a game-changing time-saver.

Shipping Your Orders

Don’t wait in line; purchase and print shipping labels in your store. If you don’t want to pay for a shipping service like, there are now several free services with no monthly fee, such as, ShipEasy, and AMS Webship. The IndieCommerce system supports all of these services, allowing you to print shipping labels for online orders. If you have the space and the sales volume warrants it, consider setting up a dedicated shipping area with a scale and a label printer. Many stores reported this was a big time-saver.

Staff Processing Web Orders Only

Many stores reported that as sales volume increased, they hired or shifted staff to processing website orders full time. Another solution for stores with lower sales volume was training staff who are not usually involved with web orders, so that they could assist with order processing when order volume spiked. Another advantage to having dedicated staff is that they are very familiar with order processing and strive to find more efficient ways to complete pending orders. Stores reported that their dedicated website staff are continuously improving their efficiency. 

Curbside Pickup & Buy Online Pickup in Store (BOPIS)

Over the past year, online consumers have wholeheartedly adopted these services when offered by retailers. Prior to the pandemic, more than 50 percent of IndieCommerce and IndieLite orders were bought online and picked up in-store (BOPIS) fulfilled. Regardless of the ecommerce platform your website is on, you should be offering and promoting these online order pickup options to your customers. The other big deal about offering these services is staff does not need to spend time dealing with packing and shipping.

Local Store Inventory (LSI) on Your Website

Your ecommerce website should display what you have in stock in your store right now. Customers online can either go pick it up, or purchase it online and pick it up later. Most POS systems will allow you to export your current in-store inventory, including available quantities for each title. Displaying LSI on your website also helps you decrease the number of split online orders your staff needs to manage.

If you are on the IndieCommerce platform, you can update the LSI data on your website several times a day. Contact your POS vendor and your ecommerce store provider to see about offering LSI for your online customers.

Find Out More

For more information on how stores are managing their online orders, be sure to attend the upcoming Winter Institute education session on Managing Online Sales Growth. The session will take place on Friday, February 19, from 2:40 p.m. to 3:40 p.m. ET. It will be hosted by IndieCommerce Senior Manager Geetha Nathan, who will be moderating a panel of booksellers.

This session will explore how bookstores are successfully fulfilling their online sales. The panel will consist of booksellers from small and large stores who are managing high-volume online sales on a variety of ecommerce-enabled platforms. Topics will include what they learned over the past year as well as shortcuts and tips that are making their lives easier. There will also be time allotted for Q&A. If you are struggling with managing your store's online orders or looking for tips to make things easier, this session is definitely for you.