Kepler’s – death of independent bookstore a missed opportunity?
Rhett Butler, mongabay.com
September 9, 2005
MENLO PARK – Last week Kepler’s bookstore in Menlo Park suddenly and
unexpectedly closed its doors after 50 years of bookselling on the
Peninsula. The independent bookseller was considered one of
California’s literary landmarks, a place where well-read employees could
make informed recommendations on virtually any genre. While high rent
is reported to have played a role in the closure, Kepler’s employees
cited slow sales and competition from discount and online retailers as
reasons for shutting the doors.
While the environment has become tougher for independent bookstores, did
Kepler’s really need to close? Could Kepler’s have merged some of the
benefits from online retailers while harnessing the advantages of the
pleasure of an in-store experience? By teaming up with an online major
like Amazon.com, Kepler’s might have been able to improve its customer
experience while building its margins and traffic.
Under one possible arrangement, Kepler’s could install kiosks that would
enable in-store customers to browse books on Amazon.com — often books
that Kepler’s did not carry in its inventory. If the customer placed an
order with Amazon through the in-store computers, Kepler’s would earn an
“Amazon Associates” commission — currently on the order of 3-7%, and
the customer would avoid shipping charges because Amazon would be making
regular shipments to Kepler’s. Kepler’s would benefit by reduced
inventory costs, getting the sales comission, improving customer
satisfaction by offering books not otherwise available to Kepler’s
browsers, and attracting customers back to the store when they returned
to pick up their Amazon orders. Kepler’s customers would see a wider
selection of books, free shipping on all orders, and a business model
that supports their local independent bookseller. Those customers
willing to pay an “impulse premium” could buy books off the shelf at
regular prices. Customers could eliminate the guilty feeling of going
to Kepler’s to browse books and then returning home to buy them at a
discount online, while Keplers would have a sustainable business model
that could attract investor capital.
Penn Ayers Butler contributed to this editorial.