Four reasons we all love Waterstones at the moment - and what you can learn from that

Waterstones is nailing it on the social media, PR and customer services fronts

Sophie Hobson is the editor of LondonlovesBusiness.com. Follow her @sophiehobson. Got a great story? Email her at sophie [dot] hobson [at] londonlovesbusiness [dot] com.

Do you remember those halcyon days? When the word “Amazon” still conjured an image of a great big rainforest? When books were things made of paper, with pages, real pages. Pages! Remember those! You couldn’t swipe them to find out what happens in the next chapter!

That’s right, dear reader. We’re lovers of real books here at LondonlovesBusiness.com. Not to say that Kindles and iPads don’t have their place – they’re particularly useful for reading The Goldfinch or War and Peace on the tube, and for travel-light holidays.

But there’s something we just can’t resist about being able to feel the grain of the page under your thumb, the kerning of a carefully thought-through font that reflects the elegance of the writing, the beauty of a cover illustration.

And bookshops. We love bookshops.

There are loads of independent and small bookshops around London that we love. You can discover some of them in our list from a couple of years ago of London’s best bookshops.

But today, we’re loving Waterstones.

This is why.

1. Someone just got locked in a Waterstones last night, and this is how Waterstones reacted

When one David Willis got trapped in Waterstones in Trafalgar Square last night (16 October), he tweeted them to let them know.

After releasing said accidental captor, @Waterstones tweeted this:

We’re pleased to announce that @DWill_is a free man once more. Thanks for your concern and tweets!

— Waterstones (@Waterstones) October 16, 2014

 

Then it followed up with a guide on what to do when you’re trapped inside a bookstore for two hours, including recommendations for novellas, children’s books and poetry.

The business insight: This is brilliant, quick-turnaround  PR, allowing @Waterstones to fully capitalise on the Twitter activity around the lock-in by plugging its own products. Being uber-reactive to hot social media topics can get you some serious social and press attention, if you move fast enough.

Also, we’ve done a hilarious round-up of Twitter reactions to the man locked inside Waterstones.

2. Waterstones’ Twitter strategy in general

How do you create a voice for a retailer selling everything from The Hungry Caterpillar to Heidegger to The Hairy Dieters: How To Love Food And Lose Weight?

It would be all too easy for Waterstones’ social media presence to settle with a Twitter stream of nothing but book promotions and recommendations, or to try to engage book-lovers by becoming a kind of University Challenge production line of intellectual asides, esoteric references, literary allusions and insider references that only serious readers would really get.

Now, @Waterstones, the main account, is largely promotional stuff, and it’s amassed 105,000 followers. But it makes sure it does some fun stuff too, like the tweets above and this rather natty recent hashtag:

 

But we love the fact that individual Waterstones shops’ accounts have been given a freer reign on Twitter, giving each store its own identity and voice (without digressing too far from the overall Waterstones brand).

Our fave is @WaterstonesOxfordSt, with almost 70,000 followers, which offers tweets such as…

 

 

We’ll leave you to explore some others.

The business insight: With more than 270 stores, Waterstones is the UK’s biggest high-street book-selling chain. But that doesn’t mean its strategy is irrelevant for smaller businesses. Waterstones has excelled at social because it’s trusted its branches to do what they know is best for their local customers. The insights? Provide guidelines on social media profiles, then trust managers to get on with it. Autonomy is much more likely to breed creativity, fast reactions and personality on social media - which is kind of the whole point. Many businesses get social media wrong because they want to approve every last tweet that staff send before it goes out and very risk-averse about social media. This outdated attitude means they struggle to build traction on social media and they miss out on real-time engagement with customers.

3. Brilliant stunts, like explaining how it will start using owls to deliver books

What do you do when your world-dominating rival says it’s working on delivery by drone?

You do what any sensible manager would do. Tell customers that you’ll start using owls to drop off their purchases.

Amazon’s super-speedy PR team obviously worked overnight to pull together this hilarious video, explaining its new O.W.L.S. delivery system.

Read the full story: Waterstones “will use owls to deliver books”, winging ahead of Amazon’s drones

4. Amazing customer service

However many clever calculations Amazon’s automated algorithms can conjure per click to recommend us more things to buy, the world’s biggest online retailer will never, ever beat the experience of talking to a real person with real passion for the author or genre or subject you’re interested in, and getting the type of book recommendation that only someone who works in a bookshop would be able to give.

Waterstones staff are particularly good at recommending books – well, as far as I can tell, from the Waterstones on Piccadilly that I frequent (which happens to be Europe’s largest bookstore). Every time I’ve been in there, I’ve received truly insightful recommendations, even when I’ve asked for recommendations for presents, about interests I can outline only vaguely. People working there will always direct you to “Alberta on the floor below, who has long dark hair” and who just happens to know a lot about contemporary Syrian art.

Also, there are lovely hand-written cards everywhere explaining staff-member’s personal favourite books of the season, and stands that group titles into themes that you can’t help but be tempted by, to lure you into new reading territory (and, of course, buy more books).

The business insights: It’s not rocket science, but as high-street shops fight off the pressures of online’s low prices and convenience, hiring people full of passion for the actual products is essential. Shops have to offer customers something beyond what website copy can offer – inimitable real-life joys such as talking to experts, events and magical in-store displays. Expertise and enthusiasm – qualities that CVs can rarely convey - can count for a lot more than direct experience in high-street retail roles. (Do your recruitment processes have a way of discovering these traits?) Also, encourage staff to make it personal – most consumers will be more likely to buy “Our store manager Alfie’s personal fave…” than “Our business recommends…”.

Sophie Hobson is the editor of LondonlovesBusiness.com. Follow her @sophiehobson. Got a great story? Email her at sophie [dot] hobson [at] londonlovesbusiness [dot] com.

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