Alibris Has A Sale
By Michael Stillman
Those who have been watching the listing sites may have noticed this past month that Alibris has been running a sale. Not a very large or very prominent sale, but in a field where such promotions and active marketing strategies are few and far between, this was an unusual and interesting event. Indeed, having spent many years in the field of direct marketing, it surprises me how little is done by the listing sites to promote sales.
Alibris promoted a $1 off sale for searchers on AddAll. The discount did not apply to regular Alibris purchasers, but for those who found their books through AddAll, a $1 discount code was provided. That may not sound like a lot, particularly if you are buying a $200 book. However, it applied to all orders. If you were buying a minimum, $2.95 book, the discount amounted to 34%. Not bad.
We asked Alibris' A.J. Kohn a few questions about the promotion. He told us that this was not the first such promotion. They have done them before with AddAll and BookFinder. They usually will not do the same promotion on different sites at the same time, but may rotate multiple offers. All promotions are temporary, but Alibris is constantly working on new ones. The $1 AddAll sale was instituted on March 1 and was set to end on March 31.
We asked about the success of the program. Mr. Kohn replied, "I can't give specific figures for this or other campaigns, but in general it's been successful. That being said, promotions will often drive order volume, but we're cognizant not to overuse promotions as a way to derive loyalty." When it comes to the expense of the promotion, Kohn noted that Alibris picked up the full cost. "Alibris picks up 100% of the cost of the promotion - this one or any other Alibris promotion." As for the future, he explained, "We've done this before and will do so in the future, further refining our offer and our targeting. There are some interesting ideas on the horizon for both offer and targeting, but nothing I can mention at this point."
As we said, this is not a promotion that will blow away the people hawking their wares on late-night TV. There's no "But wait!" to sweeten an already huge discount being offered. Nevertheless, it is a step forward in a field for the most part devoid of marketing skills. Certainly it is understandable that the listing sites do not want to turn their sites into bazaars of ever increasing discounts and ever increasing list prices to support those discounts. However, any marketer can tell you that a large percentage of the population needs to feel they are getting a good deal before they are willing to buy, and that is not easy if you never promote sales or discounts. Perception can be as important as the actual price, but there is little to perceive in the way of bargains on the listing sites. What Alibris is doing may not be major, but it is a step, and one marketing step forward in the listing site business is sufficient to make you the leader.
Alibris Has A Sale
Here are a few suggestions Alibris and the others might consider. A $1 discount is great on a book that costs a couple of dollars, but is not much incentive on a more expensive book. Perhaps a sliding scale or percentage discount could extend the reach of that incentive. Alibris will still make more on a $100 book after a $5 discount than on a $2.95 one after a $1 discount. It is also wise to make use of deadlines. People act when they know a deal is about to end, but can put off action indefinitely if there is no stated ending time. As of this writing, Alibris' AddAll discount is set to expire in two days, but potential buyers don't know that, so there is no urgency for them to buy now! Deadlines are one of the greatest marketing tools ever devised.
Alibris might want to find ways to encourage their dealers to discount, especially with stock that has been sitting around for ages. The listing sites frequently like to brag about their number of listings. Alibris has something like 60 million, Abebooks now claims 90 million. That may sound impressive to some, but to us it signifies a whole lot of books that are not being sold. I'd rather list on a site that has nothing left at the end of the day! Come to think of it, that sounds a lot like eBay's formula. Clear it all out about once a week. Perhaps Alibris could cooperate with dealers on discounts. If they provided matching discounts instead of carrying the whole burden, those $1 discounts would be $2. Of course they would need to be sure their dealers didn't simply raise their prices to pay for their share of the promotion.
In a separate article this month, Bruce McKinney suggests eBay's "Make an offer" button to the listing sites. This enables potential buyers to negotiate on prices. The selling sites have discouraged such negotiations in the past as they have sought to discourage direct seller-buyer contact, obviously from fear of sales being conducted outside of their sites. However, "Make an offer" negotiations could be conducted in anonymity. Booksellers may not want to offer this option on all of their stock, but if something has been sitting around for a few years, it's a safe bet that the price they want is not one the market is willing to pay. Successful retailers understand that when something doesn't sell, it is time to move on. Many booksellers do not yet realize this.
This just scratches the surface. There are unlimited marketing possibilities, and the listing sites and their booksellers are capable of devising enticing new promotions, especially if they work together. It is time to start turning over some of that huge backlog. Congratulations are in order to Alibris for lifting their booksellers on their backs and starting the journey.