In hyper competitive markets, it can be hard to justify new customer experience initiatives that engage and develop relationships with customers. However, here’s a couple of stories about two businesses that are doing just: building relationships with their customers through creating new customer experiences that stand out.
The first story concerns Elizabeth’s Bookshops. They are the largest second-hand bookshop with 6 stores spread across Australia, were established over 42 years ago and stock over 300,000 titles. However, it’s not their history or the size of their list of titles that I want to tell you about but, rather, their Blind Date With a Book initiative.
What they are doing via their Blind Date With a Book initiative is carefully selecting a number of different books across a range of different categories. Then, (and this is the clever bit) they are gift wrapping the book and writing a short description of it on the wrapping paper (see image below for an example).
Because the the book is wrapped and customers can’t see what’s inside, even if they are buying it as a gift, there is no bias introduced by the cover design, the publisher or author’s name, the book’s title or any reviews or quotes that might be included on the cover.
Their approach adds a degree of mystery and surprise to the overall book buying and reading experience. But, for a customer to choose a book from the Blind Date With a Book range then they have to take a chance and do so based on trust. Trust that the book store knows about books and knows what they are doing. If you are a book-seller, you might scoff at the idea but here’s one customer’s description of their experience with Blind Date With A Book.
The second example is, coincidentally, about another book store but this time they have taken a different approach.
The book store in question is the Morioka Bookstore in the Ginza district of Tokyo. The difference with this book store is that they have one book title for sale at any one time. What they do is pick one book, have multiple copies in stock and offer it for sale for one week only. To accompany this they then organise a book-inspired art exhibition on the walls of the shop and, in the evenings, they organise events to discuss the book as well as others that allow readers to connect with the author that is currently on sale.
The concept was invented by Yoshiyuki Morioka, who runs a more conventional book store in the Kayabacho district of Tokyo. However, he set up the new bookstore as he believed that it would help readers build a deeper understanding of the book and elevate the pleasure of reading to a new level.
Mr Morioka is turning the book from something that is read and then forgotten, discarded or shelved into a bigger experience. One that is read, consumed, savoured, connected, shared, re-visited and talked about amongst friends, strangers as well as with the author.
Some may argue that this particular project is more art than business but the initiative is being well-received and they are attracting visitors and interest from all over the world.
Overall, what is interesting about these two businesses is that despite the very competitive nature of their particular markets, they are are not engaging in a race to the bottom like many of their competitors.
In fact, they are choosing to innovate in order to compete. These two businesses understand that we, as customers, like recommendations, surprises and experiences that are different from the norm.
As such, they are endeavouring to build and develop their relationships with their customers by leveraging what they know about best: books. And, in doing so, it is allowing them to curate and create new experiences that is helping them stand out.
Their strategies aren’t low-risk as they are reliant on the curators (the book store employees) continuing to find, suggest and describe books that both engage their customers and deliver against their expectations.
However, in a world where there is a lot of talk about the need to build engagement and trust, these businesses stand out by the fact that they are willing to put their reputations on the line to achieve that.
This post was originally published on my Forbes.com column.