Will Waterstones’ e-books dump be a page-turner?

Stephan Shakespeare
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Hillary Clinton signs copies of her new book at Waterstones (Source: Getty)
Waterstones’ announcement last week that it would stop selling e-readers shows the major bookseller’s resilience in the face of growing online market penetration.
The move comes after a few years that have seen the retailer dramatically cut its losses and amid hopes that 2016 is the year it finally returns to the black.
Its decision to instead give the display space over to physical books reveals how well it knows its customer base.
When compared to consumers in general, the bookseller’s patrons are less inclined to buy online and more likely to want to leaf though books before they buy them.
Selling physical books instead of e-readers certainly caters to these customers’ demands.
But can Waterstones’ move – some would describe it as a bold decision – against the e-reader and for the printed word pay dividends in the run-up to Christmas?
A set of data from YouGov BrandIndex highlights just how important the festive sales period is to the retailer.
In terms of its current customer score – measuring brands from which people have recently purchased items – there is a pronounced peak in late December/early January as people buy presents or spend their Christmas money.
While its Christmas high carried on a little longer into the New Year last festive season, since the spring it has been consistently below where it was in the summer months of 2014.
Whereas last year, Waterstones current customer scores started to rise in early October so far this year it has remained relatively flat.
Waterstones will hope that its e-reader purge will give it a welcome boost and remind people about the joys of picking up a book.
If it manages to top last year’s good Christmas sales, it could well turn the page and finally turn a profit.

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