Last week Amazon launched their back-to-school campaign by attacking independent college bookstores on their own turf – literally.
As reported by Shelf Awareness and GeekWire, they set up displays on at least four college campuses across the US and college-aged promo teams approached students with the Amazon Student program and offering the chance to save $1,000s on text books.
There was outrage. How dare big, bad Amazon be so cruel to independent bookstores?
“New Amazon Low: Trying to Steal Customers Outside Indie Store” – Shelf Awareness
The outrage was misplaced.
I don’t know a single independent bookstore who should consider Amazon a competitor.
Really, I don’t. And I can explain.
Do you know who your competitors are? Why are they your competitors? There are many different models you can use to do this. I like looking at the customers/target market, after all, they’re the ones handing over the cash.
Let’s use the Amazon and independent bookstores situation as a case study. To make it easier, I’m going to refer to all independent bookstores as one organization.
First make a buyer persona of your customers. Current and ideal works well. To keep this concise, I’m only going to look at the buyer motivators of customers from each organization. You will have multiple buyer personas, but I’m cutting this down.
– passionate: genre-focused geeks
Next list your competitors, and make possible buyer personas for whom you assume are their customers.
– wants range and choice
– often geographically diverse
Have a look at the motivators for each buyer. Are they the same across organizations? How vast is the difference?
Your competitors are only the ones with the same customers.
Going back to our case study, you’ll notice the motivators never overlap; they are not the same customers.
An Amazon customer will seek out the lowest price.
An independent bookstore customer will pay full price for their books, knowing they can ask the bookseller for recommendations, attend book clubs, meet their favorite authors, etc. Sure, they love a bargain, but that’s a bonus, not the reason.
Should the Independent Bookstores Ignore Amazon?
Business plans are dynamic, so never totally ignore your “not-competitors”. They may change tactics, or you may change tactics and try to reach their customer. Just don’t focus on them and ignore your customers. The Amazon campaign was cheeky, but not something the college bookstores should be worried about. Leave the low margin customers to Amazon, and focus on providing value to your customers who may initially purchase text books, but come back for gift books and stationery.
Disclaimer: While I haven’t included any information or inferred anything that isn’t public, I do need to state that I am current contracted to the University Bookstore in Washington. I’m the Husky photographer for the online store, and help out with PR in any downtime. I wasn’t in the office during the Amazon campaign or involved in any of the communications around it.