Waterstones reads between the lines to go local as unbranded stores put it in the bad books

Stephan Shakespeare
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Waterstones concealed some of its shops (Source: Getty)

Earlier this week, it was revealed that bookselling giant Waterstones has opened three small unbranded stores in locations across England.

Some have argued that in opening shops purporting to be “independent” without notifying consumers of the real owners Waterstones has been underhand.

Others have stressed that any effort that pushes books – while filling empty premises – is a positive thing for any town and its inhabitants. Waterstones itself stressed the need to act as an independent in order to enhance the high street. But would this approach work if it was rolled out more generally?

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Using YouGov Profiles to look at the opinions of regular book readers we see that they are more likely than the public in general to prefer shopping at local businesses (68 per cent to 61 per cent).

Additionally, with local, independent shops having a reputation for going about things in the “right way” regular readers are also more likely than the public overall to buy products from companies that have ethics and values that they agree with (37 per cent to 32 per cent).

In this regard, opening up “independent” shops seems to be a good approach in meeting the brand’s core audience on their own terms. However, the way it was communicated left something to be desired.

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However, the good news for Waterstones is that its general brand perception is strong and so is unlikely to suffer much impact from the stories about its “independent” shops.

Our brand tracking data shows healthy scores across many metrics among all respondents. Its overall Impression score is currently a very robust 47, which places it not too far behind the much loved John Lewis.

In fact, it is enjoying a bit of a purple patch, with its score rising by four points over the past year.

Naturally, those who enjoy reading tend to have a greater impression of Waterstones – and indeed among that group its impression score is even more healthy 56.

Consumers also think the chain sells high standard fare. Its quality score (whether you think a brand represents good quality) is also impressive, currently standing at 41.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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