Who’s in charge of merchandising at your library? Anyone? Do you realize that you’re merchandising constantly whether you know it or not?
Yesterday I attended a vendor lunch where a couple of experienced collection development librarians spoke about the power of merchandising and how to do it better. Wendy Bartlett of the Cuyahoga County Public Library is an expert in merchandising, having worked at Borders for a number of years prior to her library life. She says that merchandising means making first impressions. When your customers walk in the door, they’re forming a first impression of your library. What they see there will influence their use (or non-use!) of your library, so she encourages libraries to think about how they want to merchandise.
She advocates for showing your customers what they want to see so that they’ll know that the library has what they want. It’s a common misconception that putting non-circing books on display will “save the books” by getting customers to check them out. While that might work occasionally, she says that more often those displays are telling your patrons: this is what we have; the stuff you DON’T want.
And you don’t have to display the topics that patrons are likely to find on their own as they need them. Science fair books was one example she mentioned. If customers come in looking for science fair information, they’re going to seek it out. They’re less likely to “impulse buy” a science experiment book when the science fair’s not going on than they would be to pick up an extra book on a subject you know they like.
Wendy encourages libraries to display in quantity wherever possible. She used the example of Sam’s Club vs. an exclusive high-end store. Our typical displays that only display a few face-out books at a time create scarcity, which can tell customers that these items are special and not for their use. Have you ever been asked “Can I check this out?” about a book on display? You’ve created scarcity.
Some shoppers like scarcity. They want to have the expensive high-end thing that no one else has. But in general our public library users are not those shoppers. Our users are looking for deal. Displaying in quantity tells customers that this is something they can afford and yes, it is for them. Picture bulk stores like Sam’s Club or Costco where items are displayed in quantity.
So how do you display in quantity if you generally don’t own more than 1 or 2 copies of any given title? Give the illusion of quantity by stacking books in your thematic display. Instead of putting all the books on wire stands, stack some up next to the face-out book. I’ve created an example with a few of the books I picked up in the exhibit hall last night:
And remember that your customers will always form a first impression of your library. Your merchandising influences their understanding of the library, whether you know it or not. So help your library put its best face forward by displaying lots of the things customers want to see. I’m so eager to get back to my library to try out these tips and see what happens to our circulation!
I used to be a retail manager, and my boss (the store’s owner) gave me a piece of advice that I use regularly at my library: at least once a month, walk through the door as if you are a customer/patron, and view *everything* with fresh eyes. It’s amazing the things that you pick up on when you do this!