A bookstore begged shoppers in a viral tweet to stop coming in and taking pictures of books to buy on Amazon

Facebook/Fountain BookstoreThe Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, Virginia.
  • The Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, Virginia, called out shoppers for “showrooming” in a viral tweet.
  • It said that customers have been coming in and taking pictures of books, then buying them on Amazon.It said some are even bragging about doing it.
  • Showrooming is still a problem for small, independent retailers without an online presence, but both indie bookstores and print books are on the rise.

Fountain Bookstore has a bone to pick with some of its customers.

Well, maybe customers isn’t the right word. According to a viral tweet from the bookstore, these shoppers come into the store and look around, taking pictures of books to later purchase on Amazon.

The store says that some of them even brag about it.

“This is not OK, people,” the store said in the tweet.

This idea resonated with many on Twitter, as the tweet amassed nearly 10,000 retweets and almost 50,000 likes.

The sentiment is rooted in the idea that independent bookstores’ key attribute – what they bring to the retail table – is a curated assortment for shoppers. These showrooming shoppers realise this, so they come in to see what’s on display but ultimately purchase online, where prices are almost always lower.

Independent bookstores usually charge the publisher’s suggested price and have to pay overhead like rent and staff salaries, resulting in slim margins.

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Most bookstores have given up the fight that Fountain is still waging, however. They realise that changing consumer behaviour through shame is difficult, if not impossible.

“There’s no way to compete against Amazon, which doesn’t care if it makes a profit,” Erik Sanstad, a former manager of a Wisconsin bookstore in a chain called Book World, told the New York Times in 2017. Book World went out of business at the beginning of this year.

“I’m a little reluctant to say the internet killed Book World. We never advertised, never got our name out there,” Sanstad said.

Many shoppers are sentimental about bookstores, which offer a sense of community for book reading, which is primarily a solo activity. Many independent bookstores have capitalised on that, now hosting increasingly more events with authors and industry professions.

“They’re seen as authentic members of the community that have been there for, often in many cases, decades or generations,” Ryan Raffaelli, a Harvard Business School professor, told Vox. People “can come not only to buy a book, but to have a conversation with other people who are interested in similar ideas.”

The Last bookstoreThe Last BookstoreA highly Instagrammable feature at the Last Bookstore in Los Angeles.

And that focus on community could be a unique feature for bookstores that can’t be replicated online, bringing repeat business and engagement with a community that is predisposed to spend. After all, it’s not all bad news for the indies. Looking at the numbers, encouraging signs abound in recent years.

The number of independent bookstores in the US grew by 35% between 2009 and 2015, according to the American Booksellers Association. Sales of print books have increased every year for the past five years, and they are up over 10% since 2013, while sales of e-books have declined 10% from 2016 to 2017, according to Publishers Weekly.

Bookstores are persisting, and part of the reason may even be online communities like Instagram. It’s a lot easier to post a picture of a hardcover or a beautiful display of books in a store than it is to show everyone what ebook you’re reading, Vox argues.

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