Delivery apps save Bengaluru's bookstores

Delivery apps save Bengaluru's bookstores

With post-lockdown footfalls remaining low, physical stores are rethinking their strategies. And doorstep delivery is helping in a big way

Champaca, on Edward Road, started selling through its website in March. Even after opening its doors to customers in September, about 60 per cent of its sales come from home deliveries.

Brick-and-mortar bookstores in Bengaluru are increasingly banking on delivery apps to serve their customers.

Sales came to a halt at most physical bookstores when the first lockdown was clamped in March. The government has now eased pandemic restrictions, but customers aren’t coming back in pre-lockdown numbers.

Ravi Menezes, proprietor, Goobe’s Book Republic, Church Street, sees just two customers a day on weekdays, and a few more during the weekends.

While Bookworm and Blossom Book House, also on Church Street, clock between 20 and 50 customers a day, they say footfalls are down by at least 50 per cent.

“Walk-ins are extremely important for stores like ours. Usually, a customer comes in for one book, but ends up browsing and picks up five more. Also, the experience of browsing is in itself such a pleasure,” says Krishna Gowda, owner, Bookworm. 

Champaca, which combines a library, bookstore and cafe, is located on a road parallel to Cunningham Road. It opened its doors again to customers two weeks ago, but walk-ins have been minimal. “We are happy to see the few faces that do come in,” says Radhika Timbadia, owner.

The few customers who do come in tend to spend more, shop owners say. “They don’t want to return multiple times like earlier. Earlier, on average, a customer would spend about Rs 200, and now it’s at least Rs 600,” says Mayi Gowda, owner, Blossoms.

Ordering methods

Customers are in touch with bookstores on WhatsApp. They also use their social media pages to get in touch. The stores then deliver books via Dunzo, Swiggy Genie and India Post. Bookworm serves up to 25 customers every day this way.

For Blossoms, 40 to 50 per cent of sales now comes from deliveries. The store delivers across India, and has also tied up Amazon and Flipkart, which account for 12 to 15 per cent of total sales. In a month’s time, Blossoms plans to launch a website, tied to a separate warehouse dedicated to online sales. Champaca launched a book subscription programme in July.

New readers

Stores see an increase in first-time readers, with many young people picking up reading as a hobby during the lockdown months. “Many ask for suggestions, and we guide them,” says Krishna Gowda. “Online platforms and big chains can’t really compete with that.” 

More families are frequenting physical stores. “They want to get their children unhooked from the screen. They come in with the hope of inculcating a reading habit,” says Menezes.

Select’s customers include researchers, educators, collectors and tourists. “We see a lot of customers between 25-40 years now, which is new and exciting for us,” says Debolina Mukherjee, business head.

Champaca has seen a shift in reading patterns. “Earlier, our non-fiction collection was fast moving, with most people picking up essays, history and politics. Since the lockdown, we see more takers for fiction, especially, sci fi, fantasy and humour. Cookbooks, too, are a major hit,” says Radhika. 

Rare phenomenon

At Select, off Brigade Road, walk-ins have doubled. “This is likely to be because we deal in limited editions and rare books. What we offer can’t be easily found elsewhere,” says Debolina. 

Being one of the few stores in south Asia to deal in rare and antiquarian books, Select gives customers the option of receiving books through India Post. Since the lockdown, enquires have risen three-fold, says Debolina. The store has also organised online sales. 

Offline sales only

Atta Galata, in Koramangala, is moving to a new space in Indiranagar. The store suspended its sales in August. It does use delivery apps, but has decided not to turn into an online store. “We have always believed in physical events as well, but we had to utilise the online space. We curated a few events to suit lockdown needs,” says Laksmi Shankar, owner.

#AGAskTheAuthor, for example, allows people to ask a selected author a question. The author selects three, and the winning questions get a signed copy of the author’s latest work.

The switch has allowed the store to reach authors from across the world, says Lakshmi. A series titled ‘Insider-Outsider’ featured Indian diasporic authors speaking about belonging and identity. Champaca has cut down on the number of physical events and sticks to three a month. 

“Everyone has gone online, making it difficult to catch the attention of the audience. We are sharing space with theatre, storytellers, cinema and other stores. Online fatigue is also at an all-time high,” adds Lakshmi.