Home » Amazon, Bookstores » What Dallas-based Half Price Books has to say about Amazon opening bookstores: Print is alive

What Dallas-based Half Price Books has to say about Amazon opening bookstores: Print is alive

5 February 2016

From The Dallas Morning News:

When the big kahuna in your category wants to expand on your turf, it’s usually nothing for a retailer to get excited about. But here’s an honest reaction from Dallas-based Half Price Books to the prospect of Amazon.com opening lots of bookstores nationwide.

First, Amazon is probably finding out with the one store it opened in Seattle last year, that “it’s not as easy [as] running a warehouse,” said Half Price Books executive vice president Kathy Doyle Thomas.

But more importantly, it’s a bit of vindication for Half Price Books that Amazon wants in on the brick-and-mortar scene. “I’m excited that they see what we believe that the printed word isn’t dead,” Thomas said. “We’ve known for 44 years that people like to browse and shop bookstores.”

Half Price Books with 126 stores in 16 states and sales of $260 million last year, is the third largest U.S. bookstore chain behind Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million.

. . . .

A little reconnaissance shopping at the Seattle store revealed some issues, she said. “We know how to manage stores with smart intelligent people who have to know about authors and subjects. It’s harder to do that than putting a book in a shipping box,” Thomas said. “Plus, space is valuable and you have to put every square foot to work.”

. . . .

“I worry that they’ll keep other bookstores out of shopping centers if they expand,” she said. There’s been a small resurgence in independent bookstores as entrpreneurs combine cafés and books like Serj Books & Local Food in Downtown Dallas and The Wild Detectives in Oak Cliff’s Bishop Arts District.

Thomas said if Amazon does move forward with brick-and-mortar stores, it may have more to do with the cost of shipping returns. That’s something that online customer service tracker StellaService said is likely encouraging Amazon to at least explore stores in its future.

“If this report is true, it is a clear move by Amazon to respond to how brick-and-mortar retailers have successfully invested in technology to leverage their physical stores to close the speed-and-efficiency gap with Amazon,” said Kevon Hills, StellaService vice president of research.

It would allow Amazon to offer free returns, which only its Prime members get now. “Buy online, return in store” has become an advantage major chains have carved out over Amazon, Hills said.

“Today Amazon can process refunds within a day or two, but cannot compete with retailers who offer ‘free return shipping’ by allowing shoppers to drop off a return at their neighborhood store,” he said. “Best Buy, Wal-Mart, Target, and other brick-and-mortar retailers operate at an advantage because they don’t charge shipping when consumers make returns in stores.”

Link to the rest at The Dallas Morning News and thanks to Darren for the tip.

On the few purchases PG has returned to Amazon, he’s never had to pay for return shipping unless the return was the result of his own mistake – ordering the wrong size, etc. Even with those, a lot of items offer free returns – you’ll see a designation next to the price of the product in the product description.

Additionally, it’s much easier for PG to drop a return into a UPS box than it is to drive to a retail store, figure out where he goes to return something, then wait for the right person to show up and process the return.

Amazon, Bookstores

9 Comments to “What Dallas-based Half Price Books has to say about Amazon opening bookstores: Print is alive”

  1. I’m not a serial returner, but I’ve printed more than a dozen shipping tags and taped them to Amazon purchases, clicked a few clicks online and placed the boxes outside my front door. Poof! Gone. Sometimes I wonder if I live in a different world.

  2. While Ms. Thomas is busy crowing about how great her company is, she neglects to mention the #1 reason HPB’s business model is successful: it completely eliminates content creators from participating in the profits. The books that HPB stores sell are all used copies and remainders — so the authors didn’t receive one penny of that $260 million her customers paid for books last year.

    Say what you will about Amazon, at least they pay the authors of the books they sell.

    • That’s not entirely true. My local HPB has the best consignment program for local authors of any bookstore in town. It’s easy to sign up and deliver books. They display the books prominently, right in front of the store. They encourage & facilitate author events and don’t charge for them. And they send me a check every month! (Small ones, but I don’t sell many books.) They provide meeting space for local writers’ groups and are very indie friendly. That varies from store to store, as it should.

    • The majority of their sales are used. They have some remainders but they also sell new bestsellers via normal distribution channels. Regarding the used books, the authors were already paid. Should they get paid twice? In addition, buyers purchase the first copy in a series and then might buy the rest on Amazon (My daughter did this). Their operation encourages the purchasing and reading of books. They let authors do book signings and consignments.

      Your #1 statement suggests they’re selling books for the same price as new sales, but cutting out the author. The vast majority of their sales are discounted books that had already earned their new sales price. So, I’d suggest their business model is discounted book sales in a clean environment. I’d suggest they’re the author’s friend, not their enemy.

  3. Actually, Half Price has a deal with publishers where they sell discounted new copies as well. They’ve done okay by authors for a used book store. Jenny Lawson, of Furiously Happy, did a book signing at one of the big stores in Dallas.

  4. “the #1 reason HPB’s business model is successful” – is because they buy their stock at fire sale prices. Go pull up the yelp reviews for any HPB store and scroll through them. Most of them praise the store and the prices – until you get to someone who tried to *sell* books to HPB. HPB buys books from the public at pennies on the dollar of even a wholesale price. I do not fault them nor begrudge them that, but that’s what makes their particular hamster wheel turn.

  5. …people like to browse and shop bookstores.

    People who want to buy print books like to browse and shop bookstores. I used to spend hours at a time in bookstores, including HPB, hoping to find something I wanted badly enough to add to my too-large collection (most of which I sold to HPB two house-moves ago). Nowadays, I drive right on by. Browsing and shopping isn’t exclusive to bricks and mortar. I still do lots and lots of it from my comfy chair.

  6. I used to haunt Half Price Books, the flagship store on Northwest Highway in Dallas and the two stores in Austin. The flagship store took up a full Texas city block with building and parking lot. It set off the northwest corner of the store for community events. I learned sign language there.

    The store in south Austin looked coiffed and corporate. The store north of the UT campus looked like a garage that stored books. The latter was more my kinda place even though I was so organized at work that my PA told me that my trash can looked neater than her apartment.

    If you were an author, you wanted me to find your work in HPB, because I would then go to Borders and buy your new stuff. HPB is what existed before the first-in-the-series free funnel.

    • “HPB is what existed before the first-in-the-series free funnel.” Yes… this.

      Also, you ever see anyone in B&N use their phone to check the price on Amazon? They then return the book to the shelf. And maybe buy it later. They do this at Half Price but realize the price is better and make the purchase in the store. The more avenues that are saying “yes” to my brand the better for me in the long run. I buy most books new on Amazon and but of those I buy used, they get reviewed, posted, and recommended to my friends.

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