A £15,000 giveaway: Eden’s latest challenge to Christian Bookshops

This time last year Eden.co.uk threw down a gauntlet to the rest of the Christian book trade by claiming that their customers were more interested in range, availability and convenience than price. Their latest marketing ploy seems to mark something of a U-turn in attitude: a £15,000 gift voucher giveaway to church leaders to “encourage [their congregations] to read and/or share more Christian literature, music or resources.”

In a message sent to selected customers, Gareth Mullholland writes:

As a customer of Eden.co.uk Christian Bookshop I wondered whether you would like to receive a pack of £3 Gift Vouchers to give out to your congregation at [name of church]?

We have 5,000 x £3 gift vouchers to give away and would be happy to send you a few packs if you think it would encourage your congregation to read and/or share more Christian literature, music or resources.

If so, please reply to let me know:

  • how many voucher you would like (packs of 50)
  • a delivery address for the voucher packs

With kind regards,

Gareth Mulholland

It’s a great idea that could certainly generate significant sales for Eden, but will do little to help generate footfall in local Christian bookshops — unless we rise to the challenge as I have done at LST: We will accept Eden’s £3 Gift Vouchers. Ultimately it’s our call: do we allow Eden to dominate the market or do we seize the day? Any other suggestions out there?

Replying to last year’s challenge from Eden, John Duncan wrote:

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?

All responses welcome…

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16 thoughts on “A £15,000 giveaway: Eden’s latest challenge to Christian Bookshops

  1. As someone who’s had this offer in their inbox, I won’t be taking it up. Unless the vouchers are transferable at all bookstores, they’re more likely to undermine use of our local Christian bookstore here in Yeovil. It’s a great resource to the local church and I wouldn’t want to lose it.

    In places where there’s no access to local Christian bookshops, it might come in more useful.

  2. Phil,

    I’m with you and would be willing to accept their voucher in my store and will certainly be letting local churches know so – of course I have already started my own Church & Community Partnership Scheme which at one point in my blurb I referred to as an ‘an affiliate scheme but in person and in shop’.

    You are right to say we must step up to the challenge, we have to be willing to bite the bullet and step up to the mark, to make the change happen we have to take action.

    I admit I have used Eden a time or two myelf and so am on their mailing list and have noted the sales and offers coming through, it is true to say it is a hard time for us all.

    As you know I had issues with Edens rhetoric and back then challenged them to not reduce prices and see how much really was service over price – I think then the truth would tell.

    One thing though, and though I do agree with John’s points and very much so, I do ask one question, is it ultimately fair to blame Eden for the local communities lack of foresight?
    ‘So, eden.co.uk, what is your plan to replace these losses to the Christian community? What is your commitment to local incarnational presence?’

    I do agree I would like Eden and indeed Biblica to truly work with us and not against us etc to place the emphasis on using local if at all possible, and to not entice our local customers with incentives like this that are probably funded by grants we have no recourse to, or charitable money and donor bases’ we again have no recourse to.
    In return I will direct customers to them through affiliate partnerships with them (for instance such as phil does on the main site!), and if they set the affiliate up in such a way as to enable me to gain a little then I would order through them for the hard to find stuff that I sometimes can’t get elsewhere as well.
    We could have a nice symbiotic relationship – hey guys talk to me, really!

    But I do admit that there is an element (if we ignore the incentivising tactics!) in which it is unfair to blame them for our local communities going to them instead of us – and that’s an education issue we need to work on.

    Perhaps something we need to work together on better as christian bricks & mortar stores, calling in the networks we know as a collective body as well as individually & locally, building on this and really looking at the educating of the local communities together and apart. Support your local bookshop with a Christian twist, promotions, branding and good packages and letters, worth the thought perhaps?

    • Thanks Ian – good points all; in particular, to be viable, our shops must be places where people want to come, not feel duty-bound to. Link to yours added.

  3. Ian – I agree with most of your blog post, except this isn’t an offer we’ve made to all our customers. Phil has published a private email sent to some carefully selected customers with David being one of them. I’d have preferred him not to publish a private email on his blog post but he knew that when he wrote it.

    Melanie – You know that trust and respect are key to working more closely together. As newcomers to the trade (well, 2004) we’ve had to work at it with suppliers and publishers. Likewise, we have built relationships with quite a few booksellers who now ask us for advice on IT/web/finance/trade issues/supply/order routing etc. We are more than happy to be open and share know-how with them because we know they won’t “go public” with everything they know about us.

  4. Gareth,

    I agree trust and respect are key, I believe in times past I have proven this degree of respect in Edens case by defending you a time or two and pointing out the internet is not always our enemy and the problem, though yes I have questioned some of the rhetoric you have past used and given the justifications why I do so.
    Seems fair as trust and respect do include an element of accounting too.
    However I do also believe that trust and respect have to be earned and are not a given (that may be what you are saying I think). Honesty and integrity though are and should be just a given and simple fact of being a Christian I think.

    So given that can I get your email addy please as if people dont want things to ‘go public’ then it helps to have a method of personal and direct contact, especially when you are making what seems to be unfounded and pretty rude inferences about someone you have had no relationship with prior to this, unless of course you know something I don’t about me, in which case please do tell.

    Oh and just a few slight points – I wouldn’t have said 2004 made you a newcomer, business studies show 50% of businesses fail in the first year and a lot more by year 3, so being in your 5th year would seem to make you rather more established than a newcomer.
    Oh and I readily admit spckonline was never an Eden but it did ok for a while there from 2001 through to about 2006/7ish, so i’m not so concerned with the IT/web/ etc etc issues, that is also one of the reasons I’m not so anti e-comm and it’s also a field i’m not looking to compete in yet,
    I just thought it might be nice if we could work together in a mutually beneficial way – and by we I expect I was thinking of a corporate bricks n mortars shops/Christian Internet Shop thing as much as just me.

    Anyway just in case you, or others, ever want to email me I can be got at unicorntreebooks at aol dot com. or you can try me at http://www.facebook.com/MelanieCarroll.UnicornTree.

    • As explained by email I was not directing any criticism towards you. The paragraph was addressed to you because it was your post that called for closer working together and my comment was relevant to your post.

      • As replied in an email back to you sent earlier today thanks for that clarification and fair enough.
        Still hoping, as I said in the post and email, for some sort of closer working together that might be feasible, as I see John is too.

        Talking tangentially, If the blog is good for anything it’s for getting us all talking, communicating and thinking – and I reckon if nothing else then that’s got to be a good thing surely?
        as after all we are called to be a community people and that can only happen by communicating, regardless of distance and differences – thats why the NT is full of letters and I reckon it’s a pretty good role model still :o)

        Anyway thanks Gareth for the response, it is appreciated.

  5. Oh well. I normally receive promotional emails from Eden, but I’m obviously not one of their ‘carefully selected’ customers- I didn’t get offered 5,000 vouchers for my Scottish megachurch……that would have been about one for each member…. I’m not sure whether I should be slightly, or perhaps even deeply offended!

    More seriously, one of our Trustees, who did receieve the email, passed it on for my information, so I’m interested to see the responses.

    1. I don’t think there is any justification for the sense of aggrievement that comes through above. I saw nothing in the email that indicated the promotion was a limited, or a ‘private’ promotion. And the nature of email is that it is going to be public, whether we like it or not…..! Such is life.

    2. I do wonder if we are perhaps being a bit unrealistic to expect companies, internet or otherwise, not to run promotions appropriate to their business. If we follow some of the discussions to their conclusion, then either A) as a trade, we will need to start ‘price fixing’ to avoid one company undercutting another or B) we should all amalgamate to become United Christian Bookshops (oh bother- someone already trades as UCB….!) to enable a totally even playing field. And I don’t think option A is legal, and I’m pretty sure neither Biblica (especially at present) or even Eden would be keen to do option B!

    3. Similarly, we can’t expect Eden to ‘clear’ their promotions with some central body beforehand, nor should anyone be upset because they are working hard at their business or marketing. My first response when looking at the forwarded email was ‘Wow- what a good idea- I wonder if I could do something like that!’. And imitation, as they say, is the sincerest form of flattery.

    4. In fact (on reflection!) I realised that we have, already, been doing similar in our much smaller way by giving customers at special events ‘targetted’ discount vouchers. So young peoples events have had 15% off any CD, etc. And the ‘take up’ rate has been devastatingly low, I have to say. So it would be interesting to hear what kind of response Eden get. I’ve persisted because I think the ‘feelgood’ factor far outweighs the cost of producing the bit of paper, even if the return is very low.

    5. All of us in the little independent corner bookshops will naturally cast nervous glances over our shoulder at the out-of-town/internet megastores that can put us out of business by (primarily)a thousand price cuts. (BTW- anyone heard any more about Malcolm Stockdale’s planned ‘direct to church’ operation that caused some concern on these webpages some months ago?!) There is are many alarm bells ringing in the trade just now, and this is just another one that says the trade is adjusting and re-aligning. But those who have mentioned (as Ian does) the importance of the customer relationships recognise the one tool that we have that emails can’t compete with. Customers do want a relationship, and even the fact that Eden have taken this approach should come as a wake up call to ‘the High Street shops’ to work harder at this one thing that we can do that the internet can’t. Yesterday, we had a church leader in the shop who wanted to discuss setting up a study programme for young people in his church. And a customer on the phone who couldn’t make head or tail of the variety of kids books on offer on Wesley Owen’s (or our!)website, and could they please come down on Saturday and have a look?

    Take courage. There are still customers out there, both for Eden and ourselves. And, perhaps if I prayed a bit harder, and that revival we long for came, there would be more customers knocking at our doors, and clicking at our websites, more than we could possibly ask or imagine.

    • Simply to clarify: I’m not for one moment suggesting that Eden shouldn’t do things like this or that they should ‘clear’ things with some hypothetical central agency. Not at all: like you, I thought great idea, wish I’d thought of it first!

      Then I figured, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em — hence my decision to announce that we’ll accept the Eden vouchers at LST.

  6. I feel that others (especially Andrew in his lucid & thorough style) have dealt with the vouchers issue and I don’t really have anything to add to that. But Since my comments from a year ago have been resurrected, I feel I had better contribute to this post! On looking at what I wrote in the light of day after a year I would say it is definitely a little overstated – comparing Eden to Wal-Mart was perhaps a somewhat strained comparison! It was, however, as Phil has pointed out, a response to what appeared to me at the time to be a deliberate attempt by Eden to set themselves over against the local Christian bookshop … ‘customers say they now shop with Eden.co.uk instead of their local Christian Bookshop’. This incensed me at the time; hence the rather intemperate response!

    I have no problems with internet booksellers per se; this is a fact of life now; I long ago discovered that the internet was not my enemy but a powerful tool to be harnessed to improve our business. Amazon.co,uk’s database has been and remains one of my best allies in finding titles for customers. I use Eden.co.uk’s site as well sometimes. My belief, however, and the point I was trying to make in that rather overblown post, was that if internet booksellers deliberately set themselves in opposition to local shops in order to try and grab as much market share as possible without thinking through the consequences, they are ultimately contributing to the impoverishment of our business as a whole. Look for example at the (to my mind) cynical and perverse ad campaign that dixons.co.uk are running at the moment – they suggest that consumers who want to buy a new TV go to a department store, get the assistant to show them all the models and explain their features so that they can make an informed decision as to what they want; then, go home and buy it (cheaper) online at dixons.co.uk! Of course logic dictates that if this campaign was successful enough, it would end up putting the department stores out of business, and the consumer would end up with no nice young man to help them, just the miserable dixons.co.uk. Is that really what we want?

    I would like to suggest again that it is the more vulnerable who will eventually suffer if the local bookshops go; the elderly lady who wants to buy a few Christmas cards, the learning disabled man who comes in to talk to us and to buy a bookmark from time to time, the immigrant with a few words of English who wants a bible in his own language. And to be honest … how many of those who generally buy online like to slip into a bookshop from time to time to browse, to compare, to feel that bible in their hands, the weight, the texture; to check out the print size?

    Ultimately I believe we have to think of ‘as well as’ rather than ‘instead of’. Can a way forward be found so that internet-only booksellers and local bookshops can build on one another’s strengths, and develop a industry that is both healthily competitive and yet dynamically co-operative as well?

    • John

      I am sure you are right about those who will lose out if a shop closes down, but I am not sure what you mean by:

      “My belief, however, and the point I was trying to make in that rather overblown post, was that if internet booksellers deliberately set themselves in opposition to local shops in order to try and grab as much market share as possible without thinking through the consequences, they are ultimately contributing to the impoverishment of our business as a whole.”

      Is this just a theoritcal fear – that an online store will do the sort of marketing we see in the Dixons ad? Or is it more basic than that – if an internet store markets to churches in your area, are they doing this?

      If that is the case then that is the same as saying to on-line retailers that they shouldn’t market. If a customer who was shopping with a bricks-and-mortar store switches to an online store, surely it is better to ask what it is that made them switch, and try and meet that need to bring them back. There are things a bricks-and-mortar store can do that on-line ones cannot.

      Gareth is correct – price is not the only factor. I am sat in a cafe in Grasmere as we speak – they are selling wonderful sticky toffee pudding here at about £10 for a family take away portion. The same product can be bought a few miles away at a supermarket at half the price. But, the tourists (mainly Japanese and American at this time of year) who are buying it are not doing it for the price – it is the experience, the immediacy, the friendliness, the sense of community of staying in a cottage in this village and buying your dessert from a local shop and taking it home. But, you can see adverts for Asda & Morrisons around and about (including inside the free papers that get delivered to the cottages and on the TV).

      There are many intangibles that make it work that also apply to RL retailing.

      • I think you’re right, Ian: today it’s about selling the entire bookshop experience, not just the books. If we want to stay in business, our stores need to be places people want to visit — which means, amongst other things, friendly staff who give customers their undivided attention … which might mean, for instance, missing phone calls. There are few things I hate more when it comes to shopping than being served by a checkout operator who’s busily nattering to someone else…

  7. One great example of improving the experience is Mr B’s Emporium. This bookshop in Bath recently won the Independent Bookshop of the Year. I believe there’s a branch of Waterstones close by but they’ve differentiated themselves in-store and on the web and customers love the experience.

  8. I love Mr B’s & their doggy is lovely!

    I have 2 Waterstones either side of me, each less than a 1 minute walk, there is also a WHSmith next to one Waterstones. Then there is both a Works & a Publishers Warehouse less than a 2 minute walk from me.
    Add to that there is an Oxfam Bookshop across the road from me, another secondhand indie through in the other market hall attached to my market, and another 7 indie specialists/secondhand dealers within the city centre – So I can say that it is possible to survive through diversification and specialisation, and going the extra mile – it just isn’t that comfortable :0)

    Of course the thing to say here is they are all secular and when it comes to the Christian side I mostly have the market on that one in Lincoln – though not completely as a few of the larger churches have their own bookstalls that are serviced directly by wholesalers and publishers, though of course within a 20/30 minute drive of me there are at least 3 other Christian bookshops as well.

    And thats not including the growing supermarkets arena – Asda, Asda Home, Morrison, Sainsbury, Co-op and 2 Tesco’s all selling v. cheap books etc, and in lincoln out of town means less than a 5/10 minute walk for 5 of them and a 10 minute drive for the other 2.

    And that’s before we even get into the arena of Online Shops.

    It is true we must make our shops places people want to go to – but lets not be naive, getting into a town centre is not fun and at £7.50 for parking (yes I kid you not!) many people are put off the trip and figure carriage viable – of course thats then up to me to comp. if I want to keep them onside and coming to me rather than someone else.

    But Grassmere is a bit different to your average town centre, and visitors/tourists different to dwellers.
    And the truth is that though we may have some advantages we also have some disadvantages too (I point to the paragraph above let alone any other fixed/higher costs or eligibility issues), but then that is the choice we make when choosing how we want to serve and witness.

    I don’t think John or anyone is saying not to market – but I do think he has a point about the idea of impoverishment and about looking at ways we can all work for the betterment of the whole.

    I honestly believe there is a place for us all.
    The question we should always ask ourselves though is what is our end goal and why are we doing what we are doing? – and we need to weigh this surely against the community principles we are bound to under the word ‘Christian’, well either that or just be honest about it and say we are not really christian businesses but are secular and using christian not as a mission but rather as a tool – and at that point I can think of a bible story or two that makes me squirmy in consideration thereof.

    I freely admit that I am a secular bookseller as 2/3rds of my shop is secular, the christian bit is my labour of love and mission, my vocation if you will, and also my personal act of commitment to the Christian & religious community in Lincoln – to this end I aim to make it the best it can be to serve it’s purpose of equipping and outreaching into my local community and there’s nothing wrong with that so long as I remain honest about it.
    I need that 1/3rd to make it’s money as otherwise I can’t survive as a whole.
    I willingly admit I would like it to grow – I am still committed to wanting to be able to plow back into my area and community and be able to reach a point at which I can begin to take on staff and provide employment and gain for others in my community.
    I want to be able to give more than I already tithe and I want to reach out to more charities, local and national.
    These are my hopes and the reason I do what I do, this is the reason my marketing endeavours are not just about persuading more customers to use me (though I admit that is of course what they are about) but are also about long term contribution to the churches and communities around me and not just short term gain for them and my business.

    Do I knock any of the others for their marketing styles – no, thats a question for them to make and it’s a decision for me as to how to respond, whether to match or pass, compete or concede.
    However I do call us to question our actions and understanding of being Christian and what that really means.

    If that upsets or offends then I am sorry – I’m not judging because at the end of the day I don’t know the individual situations, I do though ask the question as I do believe we all should constantly be called to assess and reassess, it’s part of being a community and one of the family of believers.

    ps Phil, can I assume therefore that when you are out shopping and can see the assistant is serving on the phone that you don’t go up to the till point?
    Cause my customers do come up to the till whilst I’m serving on the phone and I think it would be pretty rude to hang up on the customer to serve the one just come to the till. (and yes we get a lot of phone customers due to the parking issues mentioned above amongst other things).
    By the same token it’s annoying for the one at the till point to wait for the customer on the phone – better I think to make eye contact, smile and mouth hello, sorry, wink and run the sale through for counter customer whilst still serving the customer on the phone where possible. That way it is my hope both the customers get good service and the personal touch without too long a wait or being ignored.
    But yes I agree if I am already serving at the counter/in shop then that is what the answerphone is for. ;0)

    • Good riposte, Melanie. No, I go to the till when I’m ready: unless I earwig on the conversation, I have no way of knowing whether the assistant is serving another customer, nattering to a friend or talking to another member of staff. My policy is that if I’m on the phone when someone approaches the desk, I apologise to the customer on the phone and offer to call them back. Usually seems to work OK…

      On the marketing front — as you say, the question is why we’re doing it. If we set out to grow our own market share when we happen to already be in a very successful position, and when we know full well that in doing so we’re likely to be taking business from other companies that aren’t doing so well, then we need to be challenged.

      To my way of thinking, the Christian ethos — the way of Christ — calls us to break free from the cut and thrust of competition and move towards cooperation and mutual support: to rise above our evolutionary heritage with its fight for the survival of the fittest and enter the new creation. So, for example, if a customer calls me from elsewhere in the country I’ll happily refer them to their local Christian bookshop — all part of my thinking in setting up UKCBD.

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