Half Price Books is the perfect example of a company that deserves our loyalty, not because they care, but because they care enough to institute systems that preserve their values.
Retail Touch Points: At Half Price Books, Empowered Associates Create Curated, Store-Specific Assortments, 2019-Apr-19 by Bryan Wassel
Half Price Books is unafraid to take its time when expanding to new markets. The retailer needs the right combination of demographic makeup, population growth and size for a city to become a good target, and it recognizes that not every scouting mission will be successful.
“Unlike a shoe store, we need lots of people, just because such a small percentage actually buys the printed word,” said Thomas.
With such a small audience, the key to success is making sure those that do shop there are dedicated. One way Half Price Books achieves this is through its ambiance. The retailer builds its own wooden shelves for a “homey feeling” inside the store, and its eclectic selection of both popular and unknown authors recalls the experience of visiting the famous Strand, an independent New York City store that claims to house 18 miles of books.
“Stores are a destination,” said Thomas. “If you’re a reader, and you live in New York City, you go to Strand. You want to browse their sections and discover new authors and discover new books, and we are a browser’s paradise. People love treasure hunting.”
The other key to the Half Price Books shopping experience is the staff. These associates aren’t just passionate readers who are experts on their favorite genres — they are also the ones purchasing used books from customers to further develop their relationships. Half Price Books uses a comprehensive onboarding process that includes author and category tests, as well as training on how to price incoming books.
“We give them a lot of autonomy and a lot of responsibility and authority,” said Thomas. “We’re giving our employees a pot of money and telling them, ‘You decide how much to pay for this book.’ So they feel an ownership, they love it, and they know how important it is. We have to train them thoroughly because we have 3,000 employees, and over 2,500 are deciding what to buy that book for, and what to price that book at.”
The extra effort and responsibility gives the staff more to do than the average retail associate, creating a deep sense of investment in the company.