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Will online booksellers kill the high street bookstore?

By: Ashish Phanse

Books and Music The emergence and evolution of the internet in the last decade and especially over the past few years has made it an inseparable part of human lives. Ecommerce technologies have facilitated the opening of web stores; so that people can make their purchases directly on the internet and have them conveniently delivered them at home. Popular items that have found favour with online customers include DVDs, videos, toys, apparel, and games, amongst a host of other items. Books have emerged as an extremely popular item over the web. According to a recent study by Nielsen online, more than 50 percent of internet users purchased a book over the internet in the last quarter of 2007.

The study also discovered that nearly 85 percent of the total online population had made at least one purchase over the internet in the recent past.

The emergence of books as popular online item has seen the rise of internet giants like Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and EBay catering to book orders from around the world. Many of the customers come from developing countries like China, India, Vietnam, Brazil, and Egypt.

Traditional independent brick and mortar bookstores have always benefited from the ongoing demand for books. However, virtual bookstores are slowly making inroads into minds of people around the world.

Traditionally, customers browse through brick and mortar stores and search for books of their choice. Online bookstores replace the conventional bookshelves with highly structured websites. These website display a range of book categories and books in stock along with their prices, description and virtual browsing abilities.

Customers conveniently click on the category of their choice to select the books they want. These books are added to the virtual shopping cart, and the sale is completed using a secure ecommerce gateway that is linked to a bank or a credit card processor.

Traditional stores are finding it difficult to survive the onslaught from online chains like Amazon and Barnes and Noble. However, several studies by the American Booksellers Association have discovered that traditional stores still contribute a significant proportion to the local economy.

It may be partly correct to assume that online bookstores are pulling away business from conventional independent bookstores, but the fact is that independent bookstores also keep up their businesses by inducing a loyalty factor amongst their existing clientele.

Many people still love to browse through books before they ultimately make a purchase. This is where most local bookstores benefit by proving amenities like ambience and space for reading and browsing within the store premises.

According to a recent survey, in San Francisco, independent bookstores accounted for 50 percent of sales compared to 10 percent across the United States.

There is yet another dimension to this entire issue. It may appear that online bookstores are taking away business from local stores, but there is extreme competition between online bookstores as well. For example, there are customers who would never go to Barnes and Noble to purchase their books if they are habitual Amazon users. Other online bookstores utilize a number of internet tactics to drive traffic to their websites.

To summarise, at present it is too early to say whether online sales will force independent bookstores to close down, but the present scenario makes it evident that both will compete for supremacy in the human mind.

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