The latest virtual marketing roundtable hosted by the American Booksellers Association featured a group of booksellers who offer free and paid membership programs at their stores.
The October 25 roundtable — one of the biweekly online video conferences hosted by ABA on Zoom.us — featured tips from Cody Madsen of Book Culture in New York City; Christine Onorati of WORD Bookstores in Jersey City, New Jersey, and Brooklyn, New York; and Peter Makin of Brilliant Books in Traverse City, Michigan.
During the roundtable, each bookseller discussed what membership programs they offer and what benefits their customers receive when they sign up.
Book Culture — which has four New York City locations, with its Morningside Heights stores on 112th and 114th Streets specializing in academic course books — offers five different membership programs to its customers.
Madsen said that the store’s most popular program is its Free Loyalty Program, which tracks customer purchases at one location. For every $200 a customer spends on eligible purchases, they get $10 back, which works out to a five percent discount over time.
A key component of this program is that it can only be used on eligible purchases, rather than store-wide. Many titles, such as those at Book Culture’s academic locations, are not eligible for the membership program because the publisher or distributor offers them to the store at a lesser discount.
The store’s Sustaining Membership, which is most popular at its Upper West Side location, costs $49 a year. Members receive a 10 percent discount, free domestic shipping, and a complimentary tote bag or mug. For customers who frequently shop at Book Culture, it’s worth it, Madsen said, adding that the Upper West Side location’s clientele really appreciate being a part of it.
Book Culture also adopted a free membership service from its predecessor, Labyrinth Books, said Madsen, which offers customers who were members at Labyrinth a $10 credit for every $100 they spend on eligible purchases.
Book Culture’s academic stores also offer a faculty discount and a student membership, Madsen said. Professors that list their course books with Book Culture receive a 25 percent discount on anything they buy, and students can pay a one-time fee of $40 to receive 10 percent off of anything they purchase.
“We found that the student membership really increased retention for buyers, which is important for an academic store with a large student base,” said Madsen. “As opposed to our more general stores, where we don’t necessarily feel the pain of Amazon directly, the academic store definitely does because of textbook pricing.”
WORD offers a free membership that launched when the store opened as well as a paid membership that launched just last year, said Onorati.
For WORD’s free program, customers simply have to give the store an e-mail address they can be reached at in order to receive a five-dollar credit for every $100 they spend at either store.
“[The program] was something that was built into the POS system at the time and it always worked really well,” Onorati said, adding that 12 years ago, it was really a way for the store to get customer e-mail addresses. “I remember when I was first talking to customers about that program, people were so reticent to give us their e-mail. I remember having to train my staff to make sure to tell them they’re only going to get two e-mails per month. I don’t think that sensitivity is there anymore.”
WORD’s paid membership is now a way for the store to contact customers as frequently as possible, Onorati said. The store’s Inner Circle membership costs $75 per year; $50 of that goes toward the price of the membership, while the remaining $25 is placed in a house account to be used as a gift certificate. Customers can choose to auto-replenish this account to make shopping at WORD easier and cash-free.
Members of the Inner Circle receive a number of perks, including 10 percent off all purchases in either store; preferred seating at all in-store and offsite events; access to special member sales on store merchandise and signed copies of new hardcovers; and access to a special members-only holiday sale.
Having access to preferred seating has brought in members, Onorati said. She added that in November, the store will be hosting George R.R. Martin at a venue in Jersey City and five customers have signed up as members to get preferred seating for the event.
Onorati said that in the coming months she’d like to promote and market WORD’s paid membership program more, recruit new members, and retain the ones the store already has, as well as focus more on the perks members can receive.
“One of my sales reps told me that you have to create a velvet rope and make people want to get behind it,” Onorati said. “That’s basically what we keep talking about when we talk about our program. How do we make this an exciting program where people who want to be part of WORD and support WORD can do it by becoming an Inner Circle member?”
At Brilliant Books, customers can choose from a $25 yearly membership or a $50 version of that same membership for families.
“The idea of the membership was so we could find the most loyal people, and when they pledge to us, we would therefore be fabulous to them,” Makin said, adding that it also allowed the store to give a perceived value to customers without holding a store-wide sale.
Members receive 10 percent off all purchases; 15 percent off all purchases made during an annual unlimited shopping spree; a free tote bag or mug; exclusive e-mail notices for events and signed and personalized books; 20 percent off hardcover bestsellers; and more.
Makin said that the reason the store offers 20 percent off hardcover bestsellers is because it allows the store to carry considerably more copies. “These folks get used to the idea that they can get 20 percent off, and we’ve found that it’s enough of a discount that, while everybody knows you can always buy a book cheaper someplace else, it seems to be enough for the members that they’ll buy hardcovers from us.”
“We’ve had a lot of success in signing people up,” Makin added, noting that instead of offering an auto-renewal option, the store uses Emma to send members e-mail reminders about renewing their account 30 days, 10 days, and one day before their account expires.
“It’s wonderful for us not only because it has a great percentage in terms of its retention, but we also see instantaneous sales from that, and that’s really one of the reasons that we did this,” Makin said. “We have a great excuse to e-mail our customers and market things to them.”
“Folks are proud to be members, you can see that when they come in,” Makin added. “And we try to be really lovely to them.”
Booksellers who would like to participate in the next 30-minute marketing roundtable video conference, which will focus on co-op advertising, can send an invite request to ABA’s Phil Davies. All ABA members are invited to join. Conferences are held at 11:00 a.m. ET on two Thursdays a month.