When Book Depot opened a wholesale shop in 1985, paperbacks were all the rage and libraries were a neighborhood hot spot. Thirty-seven years and a mass digitalization of society later, physical books are still a lucrative business for the Canadian company.
“Books are perceived as an unsexy, dying industry,” said Mark Van Vliet, vice-president of strategic initiatives at Book Depot. “But people love that tactile connection. They love having that trophy on their shelf, they love curling up with a good book. In fact, e-books are on the decline after all the hype.”
Mark Van Vliet, vice-president of strategic initiatives at Book Depot.
According to a survey conducted by Pew Research released in January 2022, only about three in 10 Americans read e-books.
With back-to-school upon us, even students raised in the digital age said they prefer the printed word. A 2020 Blackwell survey in the UK found 76% of student respondents said they preferred books in print to e-books and audio books. Mark pointed to a recent 40% uptick in online sales of as proof of students’ preference.
But regardless of the traditional format that consumers prefer, e-commerce plays a critical role in the industry’s success. At Book Depot, it has been that way since 1997, when the company built its first website and expanded into the United States as BookOutlet.com.
“It transformed the business from being a series of pop-up stores to being a business-to-consumer and business-to-business operation that now ships to 140 countries,” said Mark.
The Covid-19 pandemic had a severe impact on the bookselling industry.
Today, Book Depot also acts as a publisher, as well as a fulfillment center for other publishing houses. They also have a direct-to-consumer line of business. Their primary market is in the U.S. where, in addition to BookOutlet.com, they also operate as KidsBooks.com and LilyPost.com. They distribute books through prominent big-box stores and other major online retailers.
But no matter how much experience the leadership at Book Depot had with e-commerce, the pandemic forced them to re-examine their business strategy and find a way forward.
“No one saw Covid-19 coming,” Mark said.
They took the opportunity to look for gaps in the industry and, as a result, developed a shipping solution that helped make up for widespread distribution delays. They found a partner that was able to drastically cut down delivery times in both the U.S. and Canada. During that time the company's educational products and quick shipping helped parents who found themselves with kids at home and out of the classroom.
“Everyday we were doing Black Friday numbers,” Mark said.
With such a varied and booming business strategy, keeping an updated digital infrastructure was critical, as was finding the right partners to help the company keep pace with its growth.
“That’s when things started to change. PayPal saw the growth we were going through as a result of the pandemic. They provided us with a detailed analysis of our accounts and helped us find ways to streamline processes,” he said.
Book Depot turned to PayPal’s Braintree service to help drive efficiencies for the company. With Braintree, a company can seamlessly plug in payment methods other than PayPal, such as credit cards, debit cards, purchasing cards and other popular digital wallets. Instead of the merchant having to work with several partners, Braintree acts as a single source of connectivity for a network of enterprise payment platforms. It also seamlessly integrates fraud prevention and data security management tools, analytics and billing applications.
“PayPal saved us months of work by being able to streamline the process. We were looking at other partners but PayPal offered a robust competitive solution and we were going to be supported throughout implementation and that was the key in staying with PayPal. If we had to do it ourselves, we would still be working on it.”
Mark said it was just as important to have a trusted partner for their customer-facing experience.
“PayPal is so well entrenched in the industry and it makes a difference to our bottom line,” he continued. “A lot of our business comes from first-time payers. We spend heavily on targeted ads and we know that we need to instill buyer confidence because we’re unknown. We don’t have that same trust that a Fortune 500 company has. Offering branded payment methods sits well with customers who are unsure about putting their credit card info on our website. It gives them the confidence they need to place an order.”
With a strong foundation in place, supported by decades of experience in e-commerce, Book Depot is ready for the next chapter.
They recently acquired a business that was at once a partner and competitor – American Book Company. The move has given them access to a new customer base as ABC primarily sold books to pharmacies. Book Depot is also exploring with hosting virtual school book fairs, recently launching sparkbookfairs.com. They are working with educators and librarians to promote the platform, which offers cash back rewards to help raise funds for their schools, libraries and non-profit organizations.
“It’s really about making books available and affordable for everyone. We want to spark the love of reading for everybody,” Mark said.
The Modern Enterprise series explores the issues and opportunities shaping today’s most successful companies. Read about innovations that change the competition, new ways of doing business that consumers have come to expect, and hear from a variety of industry leaders on their decisions and the lessons they’ve learned. Sign up for the newsletter here. For more on how PayPal can help your company, visit PayPal for Enterprise.
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