Holiday Retail Walkthroughs: Waterstones Bookstore, London

Holiday Retail Walkthroughs: Waterstones Bookstore, London

This is the first of a series of Holiday Walkthroughs of some of the best (and worst) retailers in the US and globally, and features Waterstones bookstore on Piccadilly in London.

But first, a few things about walkthroughs and what that can mean.

A walkthrough is a first-hand physical look at a particular retail store. You walk through the store taking note of what’s good, what seems to be working, and what’s not working. It’s a learning experience. All retailers can benefit from an informed review of their operation and the operation of others. A practiced eye can discern a lot about trends and the current dynamics of the business community. Consumer spending accounts for the single largest segment of the total economy, so it’s worth taking a first-hand look at each retail store we’ll profile.

Observations through an informed walkthrough of a store should be structured into the major categories of

  • layout and presentation,
  • customer engagement, and
  • assortment content.

To these, you could add things like a wow factor—the experience that makes brick-and-mortar stores valuable. Or operational efficiency to enhance the customer experience. But broadly speaking, layout and presentation, customer engagement, and merchandise cover just about everything you need to know.

Layout and Presentation

Waterstones Piccadilly is a huge bookstore, and it is part of a successful bookstore chain in the UK. Whoever thinks bookstores are a thing of the past should visit this one. It is six floors and houses more than eight miles of bookshelves. In fact, it is the largest bookstore in Europe, and is housed in a beautiful art deco building in the heart of London’s shopping district.

Another very nice thing is that there are comfortable chairs and couches thoughtfully placed around the sections. Find what you want and you invited to sit down and stay awhile. It’s part of the overall experience. You could easily spend the whole day there.

Presentation: Books are books. They pretty much have to be on a shelf or on a table. There’d be no sense in hanging them from the ceiling. But because this store is so big, the merchandise is used to create environments. The children’s section, first floor up from the ground, has little chairs and seats, play things, bright colors, and generally looks like a playschool. The mystery section is a little dark and moody, with a whole area devoted to English murders. The entire store enhances the immersive customer experience. You know when you are here that you are with your tribe.

Customer Engagement

People who work here read. And read a lot! That might sound like a given, but it’s not always the case; bookstore chains have been know to hire just about anybody who could just as easily work in any kind of store. Not so at Waterstones. You want a cookbook? In the section housing cookbooks—about half of the third floor—you’ll find informed people who have read a large portion of the books offered and also love to cook.

If science fiction is more your thing, you’ll find an amazing selection that takes the front half of the fourth floor. The customer service representatives on that floor are straight from the Alpha Quadrant. Some people really love books, and that’s what you’ll find at this Waterstones. These are fellow booklovers who connect with you and your needs; they’re instinctively empathetic.

Assortment Content

This store carries over 200,000 titles. Each of the major categories—like business, children’s, or current events—is an immersive experience for the customer. Plus, if you don’t see a specific book you want, they’ll order it for you online, and it can be sent to your home or office or picked up in the store.

The ground floor is devoted to current trends. At this time of the year, that’s holiday gift giving—a whole assortment of cocktail books, for example. Pens, pencils, journals, and cards are another. What they do not have at all are items unrelated to books and reading like candles and T-shirts (which I have seen in some bookstores). The assortment is focused and hangs together. It does not appear to be a sort of desperate attempt to generate sales from anything.

This store is hitting on all cylinders. Not surprisingly, it is a successful retail company. They actually have bought Barnes & Noble in the US, and I look forward to major successes there as well. But any retailer can learn from what they are doing right and apply it to their business.

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