Range, Availability and Convenience: Eden’s Challenge to Christian Bookshops

In a Press Release issued on 1st October 2008 [1] — full copy below — Gareth Mulholland of Eden.co.uk has thrown down a gauntlet to bricks and mortar Christian retailers:

‘Range’, ‘Availability’ and ‘Convenience’ are the top three reasons that customers say they now shop with Eden.co.uk instead of their local Christian Bookshop. This is contrary to the popular opinion that ‘price’ is the primary concern.

It’s a challenge that those of us running local Christian bookshops cannot afford to ignore, but at the same time it presents a dilemma for those who have concerns about doctrinal and theological issues. This blog’s all time most visited post is “Christian Bookshops — who needs them?” where the criticisms levelled against Christian bookshops seem to come down to two extremes: either they stock too narrow a range or they stock too broad a range… Go figure! For others, however, price really is the issue and they will shop around for the cheapest possible deal.

All three — range, availability and convenience — are, however, areas in which Eden only has the cutting edge if we give it to them. Range is largely a question of perception: a website is infinitely expandable whereas a bricks and mortar store has physical limits; but there’s no reason why we can’t display publishers’ brochures, catalogues and flyers; or why we can’t use online services to display the broader range of stock we can order on request.

Availability is only an issue if we’re incompetent or short staffed: at LST I only have physical space for around 2,000 titles; but hundreds of thousands of other titles are available for next day delivery from STL or Gardners; many more are available within 3 to 5 days via PubEasy or direct from the publishers; and a massive range is available from STL USA within a week. My constant battle is unpacking the boxes and processing goods in as fast as my suppliers deliver them…

As for convenience: what could be more convenient than walking out of the shop with a book in your hand? Than placing an order at 3pm and receiving an email at 11am the next day to say that your book is in? No need to wait around for the postman or courier: that’s all taken care of for you… and with so much less stress on the environment: none of the wastage involved in having each book individually wrapped and delivered. In these days of increasing environmental awareness we’d do well to emphasise our green credentials.

Meanwhile it seems that Eden have a distinctly unfair advantage with backing and funding for their expansion from the Welsh Development Agency… 

Press Release dated 1 September 2008: [1]

Momentum builds with support from the Welsh Development Agency

Eden.co.uk has announced that book sales in September were up 75% on last year and that the company is on course to hit a target of 100% annual growth by the end of its financial year in January.

Gareth Mulholland, Managing Director, expects a surge of customers shopping online for the very first time between now and Christmas. “Our rate of growth is actually accelerating so our targets and plans are being rewritten. We are preparing to dispatch over 1000 book orders a day during peak periods in November and December.”

Fast growth can be difficult for small businesses but Eden is being supported by the Welsh Development Agency who have already provided grants towards training and development. The WDA is part-funding an intense period of business planning with the School of Management at Cranfield University, meanwhile another significant investment from the WDA is expected in early 2009 to develop new sales channels for christian books in the UK.

“Last July we moved into new premises on the other side of Chester and we are now ten metres over the border into Wales. The Welsh Development Agency has recognised our potential and is helping to ensure our growth and stability by providing us financial support along with experienced ‘mentors’ from leading businesses in North Wales.”

‘Range’, ‘Availability’ and ‘Convenience’ are the top three reasons that customers say they now shop with Eden.co.uk instead of their local Christian Bookshop. This is contrary to the popular opinion that ‘price’ is the primary concern.

[1] Although the press release is dated 1 September 2008, it was released on 1 October 2008:
Eden.co.uk: Press Release 01/10/2008 (pdf, 56kb)

6 thoughts on “Range, Availability and Convenience: Eden’s Challenge to Christian Bookshops

  1. Phil,
    Can we Bricks and Mortar shops throw the gauntlet back at Eden then – if price is not the primary concern as they say we so wrongly claim then how about for the next 6 months they test that out and conclusively prove it to us and take off all the discounted prices and sell them at the RRP except on only a very few lines rather like we in the bricks and mortar trade are forced to do??

    Don’t get me wrong I have no real problem with Eden or Amazon, except when they make such fatuous statements as its not price discounting that brings the customers in and is a primary factor – that’s a bit like Tesco or Asda saying its not their prices that make them the top choices – sure its not the only thing as after all if it was just cost then everyone would shop at Aldi, Lidl & Heron stores, there is a factor of choice, range, convenience and taste to account for as well, but don’t be naive and say its not price!
    I have way too many customers who initially say they can get x off it from eden or amazon and can I match that to believe that one!

    Come on Gareth, Prove that statement by removing the price factor and lets see how much the price really is a factor then when a good percentage of those customers decide to visit Amazon instead to partake of their breadth and convenience?? probably not then hey – not a risk you are willing to take?

    As many people know I used to run an Online Bookshop – it did OK but the one thing we didn’t do, except on our Bargains Page, was discount the cost of the book other than that common to any bookshop ie if a new book was being offered at a limited time price to everyone, oh and no free postage either! So yes I concede people do use online shops for convenience, breadth etc, but that price thing is a big factor – we regularly recieved emails and calls into online asking about discounts and other online shops were frequently being cited, I am sure we lost out some business because of this, but I am also sure that we didn’t knock high street bookshops either, but worked in tandem with them instead – our customer base was most often different to their’s, yes more specialised, foreign, academic and those with no shops near or unable to get out.

    Oh and in my Bricks and Mortar shop we do put out the Advance info we are sent (top marks goes to the nicely bound advance info from SCM-Canterbury, BRF and the STL Bulletin, though of course all address and other significant detail has to be removed with black marker first so the canny bookagents and church leaders don’t have easy access to the details of those who will deal with them as esteemed customers directly!) and some publisher catalogues by our little sit stool as we are a little shop with very finite space! though we is growing as space and finances allow! and we do see a good response to them, it also helps that we now have notices up as to our ordering services and they can see us go online and order it/check stock out.

    The very old STL complete catalogue still gets a bashing – shame they dont produce that anymore, especially as the search function (actually my staff call it the unrepeatable words head bash oh no nearest match because we did/didnt capitalise that day function! and often go grab the old paper catalogue themselves!) on their site necessitates me using Eden, Amazon or Bertrams as a catalogue source to find the ISBN or such!
    By this point if I have used Bertrams I quite often place my order with them anyway -especially as they give me a slightly better discount anyway!
    Indeed lets face it as independents there are times when the discount off offered by Amazon or Eden makes it as cheap to get it from them as from some of the suppliers anyway!
    (and see I base my hypothesis based on me, mel normal, – don’t tell me price don’t matter it sure as heck do! it’s as integral to my buying decisions as range, service, speed of delivery, carriage minimums, convenience and ethical balance!).

    However given the recent press(Page 15, October 2008 Christian Marketplace) on publishers etc ditching paper catalogues for the online option this raises issues! and not just the ones cited above re:stl search and ditching of catalogue already. Because unless someone wants to grant/sponsor/donate/loan bookshops an extra computer to set up in the shop that the customers can use to look books up on in the same way they can browse the catalogues this idea is of time limited use – however I guess that wouldn’t help really as many of them would then use the computer to buy the book directly from the publishers site or nip on to Amazon or Eden and get it anyway at a reduced offering! and even an affiliate scheme wouldn’t help here as you can’t get your percentage for ordering in your shop etc, so the only option is perhaps to go to a local development agency and ask them to give us grants to set up and help run an online bookshop!

    Hmm! So that takes us back to Phil’s most visited post: ‘Christian Bookshops: who needs them?’
    oh and that challenge to Eden – prove price really isn’t a factor and stop discounting the books – then maybe we’ll believe you, or is it that you aren’t so sure it’s quite so true that you needed to make a point of it? I’ve always liked the saying ‘the lady doth protest too much!’

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  3. I just feel that this whole issue raises a number of rather awkward underlying questions. What, in principle, is the difference between the rapid growth of eden.co.uk and the growth of a firm such as Wal-mart in the US, which is well documented as being destructive of local community and putting local stores out of business as soon as it puts up a new concrete block? Undoubtedly, at the end of the day, the rise of internet suppliers has caused bookshops to improve or die, to become leaner and fitter, to be shaken out of our complacency and so on, which is no bad thing. But the closure of a local bookshop always represents some kind of loss to the local community, which will become poorer as a result. And what is eden.co.uk giving back into those local communities? Range, availability and convenience? That’s great if all you want to define yourself as is a consumer, but if you prefer to be a relational being made in the image of God, it seems to me that local community becomes rather more important.

    The logical (and I mean logical, in market terms) conclusion of the inexorable advance of eden.co.uk is presumably to close down all other competitors and dominate the market entirely. But having said all this, eden.co.uk is a Christian company, undergirded by Christian values. So, eden.co.uk, what is your plan to replace these losses to the Christian community? What is your commitment to local incarnational presence? What is your message to the elderly ladies on low incomes who like to buy their Christmas cards from their local Christian bookshops?

    Are these real questions that need answers, or should we just bow to the market and await the inevitable?

  4. If people cast their minds back there were a whole range of possible Christian on-line stores a few years back. It is just that Wesleyowen.com and eden.co.uk have emerged asthe ones which worked. I don’t think this was just on price – wesley owen don’t discount for example. But both offer a huge range on reasonably good sites, regular (even daily) changes ot the ‘new releases’, ‘coming soon’, ‘book of the month’ types areas on the front page, a customer service number and good delivery. Just because they have done well we shouldn’t knock them.

    I don’t think that these ocmpanies have really taken that much busienss away from Christian bookshops, and the ones that are doing well are offering good USPs.

    From the best data I have seen I would estimate that Christian online stores only account for about 10% of the Christian book sales in the UK, with the general on-line retailers adding another 5 – 6%. As a commonly quoted figure is that only 1 in 10 church-goers will go into a Christian bookstore in a 12 month period, there is plenty of room for growth for everyone if it is done right.

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