Off The Page

Show and tell to sell books

Designing an attractive display of books has a lot in common with telling a good story. It starts with a visual "hook" to grab attention

To sell books, a bookstore has to first sell its own story with an attention-grabbing storefront. The primary visual "hooks" are the entrance display and window display that often complement each other.

Ms Helen Lek, head of retail group Times Publishing, says: "We live in a visual world so it is important to 'show and tell' the contents of a book."

Mr Kenny Chan, store director of Kinokuniya Singapore, says: "The store display has to reflect the Kinokuniya brand, the store identity and its attendant merchandise mix, as well as the event and zeitgeist at that time."

Entrance and window displays change at least once a month and follow a design schedule set by the country office. A monthly design brief, or visual merchandising brief, is sent to stores, highlighting which areas of the shop should be dressed up.

The manager and staff of each shop execute the brief under the guidance of the store merchandiser, who knows what the newest and most popular products are.

Major book releases influence window displays. Kinokuniya stores in the region played up the release of Harper Lee's Go Set A Watchman last year, with one store window in Kuala Lumpur featuring birds to evoke the author's earlier classic, To Kill A Mockingbird.

Movies and TV tie-ins also make for attention-getters, thanks to posters and standees of characters. Last month, the window of Times bookstore at heartland mall Waterway Point in Punggol had a Batman figurine and Superman comic books, tying in with the newly released Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice movie.

Next month's eye-catcher at Books Kinokuniya is based on the upcoming X-Men: Apocalypse movie. Satellite stores at Liang Court and Bugis Junction usually follow the lead of the main store at Ngee Ann City.

Mr Chan says of the design schedule: "We plan a year ahead, but are open to changes as cultural events, global and local news and other socio-economic landscapes do change overnight sometimes."

In October last year, the Books Kinokuniya main store featured, for a short time, a display of Japanese cloth products in tandem with a two-night performance by kabuki actor Ebizo Ichikawa XI at the Marina Bay Sands MasterCard Theatres.

During the March school holidays, a figure of much-loved mouse character Geronimo Stilton towered over stacks of the children's books he appears in at Times Waterway Point. The window display has changed every two weeks since the store opened last month.

Retail manager Muhamad Razi Ahmad says: "This is a heartland store and people come every week. They want to see something new."

Within the store, there are internal exhibitions to entice customers to move around. Kinokuniya stores usually have a central exhibition often focused on meet-the-author sessions. Times' Ms Lek included a similar exhibition area in the new Waterway Point store. This month, it hosted a cake-making workshop alongside displays of Jamie Oliver cookbooks and high-end kitchen essentials.

She says: "We want to excite customers with cross-merchandise displays of our various books and product assortments, where possible, to unfold a better story at every visual display point."

The internal displays change more often than store windows as new books and merchandise come in.

Store windows require more thought and group discussion. Merchandisers, book buyers and shop staff each have a say. They consider promotional offers from distributors, trends in what readers around the world are buying and what readers here are looking for.

In the first or last week of the month, staff stay late. Within half an hour of the store closing, the window is quickly denuded of one set of books, collectibles and decorations. It is cleaned and dusted and the empty space quickly begins to fill up with a new set of visual treats.

Less than two hours and the bookstore is ready to start its next chapter. Literally, Mr Razi says. "We want to tell a story. It's important to us."

  • This is the last of the Off The Page series
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 24, 2016, with the headline 'Show and tell to sell books '. Print Edition | Subscribe