The Strand: How an 86-Year Old Bookstore Uses Technology

Strand Bookstore in NYC is one of the largest independent bookstores in the US. Bookstores are a generally challenged retail sector as ecommerce and ebooks have resulted in many local shops closing their doors. Yet the Strand is still strong, adapting with their customers and utilizing social media to connect with their community. Lilly Wyden from the Strand shares how: 

Q: The Strand is a pretty famous bookstore. Can you share a bit of history and your role?

The Strand is an 86 year old independent bookstore and family business. Founded in 1927, the Strand’s first home was on 4th Avenue in Greenwich Village, in an area then called Book Row. It was a place where writers, readers, and publishers gathered – where books were loved and book lovers could congregate. There were 48 bookstores and today the Strand is the sole survivor. In a strange, small world, I now live in the exact location of that very first Strand.  It’s beshert.

While my title is Product Marketing Manager, I’m also the de facto Business Development, Public Relations and Product Manager. Such is the life at a scrappy small business. It’s great. My job is to determine and seek out opportunities that will enhance our customer’s experience – primarily online but offline as well.  Through developing partnerships, launching new and iterative products, and sourcing creative sales channels, my goal is to ensure the Strand shopper is a satisfied one.

Q: Independent bookstores have really been hurt by the move to online shopping, e-readers and big box retailers. How has The Strand weathered this change?

This is a loaded question, albeit a totally fair one. For one, partnerships have been really great for us. Just last year alone, we partnered with kate spade, Club Monaco and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. It’s through these partnerships that we can engage with our customers, show them we are experimental but enterprising, and also expand our reach.

In this same vein, I’d like to think Strand has really set itself apart via creative content and messaging. Our owner Fred is 85 and he came up with the idea to have a table in the very front of the store called “Real Books Cheaper than E-Books.” It is a huge hit. Likewise in December, we had our best sales day in the history of the store and I tweeted out “Bookstores are not dead.” It went viral – almost 2,000 RT’s and likes. Customers love that we don’t hold back and sometimes are a little crude. Modest we are not.  As Steve Jobs said, “it’s more fun to be a pirate than to join the navy.”

Q: What are some ways that technology has helped The Strand become a modern retailer?

Most people don’t know that we are in the business of books by the foot and personal collections.  What that means is we create custom-curated libraries and collections of books, for individuals and corporate accounts. We have done hotels, restaurants, beach houses, movie sets, and even retail stores (Warby Parker’s shop is one). Next time you’re watching TV and you see some books in the background, look closely, because those books are very strategically placed. And there is a really good chance they came from the Strand.

So to answer your question, technology has enabled the Strand to show, maybe even remind customers what we offer beyond just selling a new bestseller off of a table. Most of these books by the foot customers begin their orders via our website. On a similar note, if you run a search on Google for say, rare books, Strand will come up at the top (organic and unpaid!) and customers will learn we have an entire floor dedicated to rare books. It can be easy to get lost in the Strand and not see it all, so technology has helped us bridge that gap.

Q: One assumes The Strand has a smart and literate customer community. How has this shaped your social media strategy?

Our customers are whip smart, as are our booksellers. Our social media strategy is such that the voice you hear online – whether it’s our e-commerce site, Twitter, or our email blasts – should be one and the same with what you hear in our brick and mortar store. Social media is a bridge, to start a conversation and follow up on one. The content we push via social is quirky, sometimes provocative, hopefully a little funny. It’s important to us that we show our customers, via social or otherwise, that we’re not a drone or bot or algorithm telling you which books you might like. We are real people, real humans who have actually read those “you might also like” book recommendations.

Q: If you could invent one new or better piece of technology to help The Strand, what would it be?

I wish there was a better way to source customer feedback. An unimposing, unintrusive way for customers to tell us what they liked or hated, wanted to see more of, wish they’d seen less of, about their shopping experience. Ideally right after checkout, online and in-store. Not a paper or email survey and definitely not a manager with a clipboard and interview questions. I’m not talking in terms of product-market fit, just simply feedback and suggestions. Our customer comes first and we want to make them happy but we need a better way to hear from them.

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