Christian Retailing

Data Management: Make the sale with better backlist selection PDF Print E-mail
Written by Erik Ernstrom   
Wednesday, 06 January 2016 02:33 PM EST

How to determine which classics to keep on your shelves

Erik ErnstromAmazon just opened a store—an actual store. They have shelves, a front door and even a real cash wrap. Amazon just confirmed what the rest of us have always known: Having a physical location is a vital part of the sales process.

However, for stocking purposes, Amazon is focusing heavily on reviews to determine what books will be on its store shelves. Books must have a certain number of stars from online reviewers to even be considered for placement in the store. I’ve been asked if this policy might be a good idea for Christian retailers.

This system could work when it comes to new releases and best-sellers, or even when picking titles to promote. You have limited space to display best-sellers. You only have so many endcaps or top shelves to put promoted products, so being overly selective is OK.

But what about those best-selling backlist titles that are stalwarts—the ones that customers expect to be on the shelf and that continue to sell? These aren’t the rare, special-order titles. These are the titles that have proven themselves over time, some of which are classics or were best-sellers when you first opened your store. They likely don’t sell dozens a month. In fact, you might only sell one a month, but you need to have them on the shelf when the customer asks for them.

Stocking these core backlist titles is what sets us apart from general market bookstores that attempt to have a “Religion” or even a “Christian” section. They are cherry-picking the top titles, and even then, they don’t always do a good job at it. Stocking the breadth of inventory that represents the best backlist in our industry shows our customers we’re in the book business, and it gives them a reason to shop with us.

But our industry sold over 40,000 unique books in the last 12 months! How do you decide which titles to carry? And what about the 6,900 Bibles that sold last year? Or the 8,300 kids’ books?

You know which books you’ve sold, so you can re-stock those. But what about the ones you never stocked in the first place? Or the ones you tried for a month or two, but returned? How do you determine which of these titles you should add to your shelves? The answer is: We need each other. The father of the “Just in Time” inventory philosophy for bookstores, Leonard Shatzkin, agreed: “You need sales from at least seven stores before you know how well a product is selling.”

Deciding on a backlist inventory mix based on data from one location just isn’t enough. That’s why you need to make sure your sales information is being reported to industry lists such as CROSS:SCAN. Including your information will help fellow store owners as they strive to provide their customers the best products available. In turn, having access to nationwide data will enhance your ability to serve your customers.

But your time is precious, so that data needs to be easy to navigate, and it must be actionable so you can make fast decisions. Chuck Wallington, owner of Christian Supply in Spartanburg, South Carolina, and president of Covenant Group, said, “We’ve been delighted to have access to a Web-based system of tracking and reporting inventory ... as it is enabling us to monitor and manage items quickly and easily.”

Utilizing a program that gives access to this type of data will enable you to keep those best backlist titles on the shelf. This will improve your sales because you now have the titles that customers are looking for. It will also improve your bottom line because backlist titles are the ones that always sell at full retail.

And it’s going to save sales. We all know we lose sales when a book isn’t on the shelf when a customer wants to buy it. Yes, some customers will ask you to order it, but in general, people are too busy these days to make another trip back to your store. It’s just as easy to order it online and have it shipped to their door. But when you can pull it off the shelf and put it into their hand, you’ll make the sale.

Improving your backlist selection will increase your workload. Your staff will need to ring up more items, you’ll have to re-order them as they sell, and you and your staff will have to re-stock them when the shipment arrives—but those are good problems to have.

If you’re not already transferring your data to CROSS:SCAN, contact me for information, including the benefits to your store. If you need information about backlist programs that can improve your stocking levels, don’t hesitate to email (erik.ernstrom@parable.com) or call me (800-366-6031, ext. 525).

Whether you’re a church store, an unaffiliated independent or part of a marketing group, we’re all part of the same body. Let’s stand with one another, support each other and succeed together. cr


Erik Ernstrom has worked in the Christian products industry for 24 years. He started as a receiver in the backroom of an independently owned Christian retail store, eventually managing that store. He has also managed a customer service department that served 300 Christian retail stores.  He now works for The Parable Group, managing the business analytics department that yielded nearly 100 million customer contacts last year.

 

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