Ottakar's is finalising its return to online bookselling, and is overhauling its marketing approach so that store managers have more freedom to cater to local tastes. The plans were unveiled to 210 staff at Ottakar's managers' conference this week in Leeds ahead of the Competition Commission verdict on its possible takeover by HMV.
James Heneage, founder and managing director, said that, despite uncertainty over its ownership, Ottakar's had to press on: "We won't invest funds until we know the future, but we can do a lot of planning."] Heneage hailed the commitment of staff: "There's a remarkable spirit. In the last six months, we've lost practically nobody from head office, and only two store managers. People have chosen to stay."
Ottakar's closed its transactional website in 2001 after racking up losses in a bid to compete with Amazon. But Heneage said research by the Competition Commission showed that 11% of customers were buying books both on the internet and in shops. "The last people to feel comfortable in coming online were the older age group--the perennial customers of specialists. If you're lucky enough to have intense customer loyalty, the logic is that they'll also shop with you online."
The website will be built around Ottakar's staff microsites, in areas such as audiobooks and children's books. "We will offer warmth, customer empathy, and range authority," Heneage said. "Amazon will seem clinical by contrast." Some head office staff have been reassigned to the project.
Heneage said that high street bookselling is seeing a "perfect storm", meaning Ottakar's has to play to its strengths: a "profitable, well-sited" store portfolio and loyal, local customer bases. "Instead of chasing a price message, we will have a new marketing approach to emphasise the local." Revamped p.o.s. material will include shelf cards for customers to write reviews. In April Ottakar's will roll out a monthly Manager's Choice promotion. Acting marketing director Jon Woolcott said: "High streets are bland, and Waterstone's marketing is almost always about price. That gives us the opportunity to move into ground our competitors have abandoned."
New stores confirmed for 2006 are in Plymouth, Doncaster, Romsey and Knutsford.
From The Bookseller