Rare Book Monthly

Articles - March - 2009 Issue

Alibris Sees Holiday Sales Increase

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Holiday sales increased 8% at Alibris.


By Michael Stillman

Alibris, the Emeryville, California, based internet book listing site announced they had bucked the trend by increasing sales during the recent holiday season. Alibris reported their sales grew by 8% over the holiday period. For the entire year, sales at Alibris increased by 18%. However, it was their success in the extremely difficult late-year retail environment that was most surprising. Alibris noted that sales monitoring firm ComScore reported that overall online sales in the books and magazines category fell by 1% during the holiday period. This is the first such decline since the internet opened its virtual doors for business.

ComScore noted that despite declines, internet sales continue to capture an increasing share of the retail market. The largest of the bricks and mortar retailers, Barnes and Noble, reported an overall decline in sales for the holiday season of 5.2%, while same store sales decreased 7.7%.

Alibris used a two-pronged strategy to increase sales at both the upper and lower ends of the price spectrum. To balance falling prices, the internet retailer redesigned its "Rare and Collectible" section. Alibris reported that these changes increased listings in the rare and collectible field by 24% and shipments by 34%. On the other end of the spectrum, Alibris employed promotions to spur sales to budget conscious consumers. In addition, Alibris provided its sellers with a new pricing tool that enabled them to see actual sales prices made by other dealers. In a world where many sellers have simply relied on others' posted prices to set their own, without knowledge of whether books ever sell at these listed amounts, providing actual sales history encouraged booksellers to offer more inventory at realistic, market prices. The bookseller may end up accepting less, but less is more when compared to nothing.

Alibris' President and Chief Executive Brian Elliott released a statement saying, "In a down market, we're clearly demonstrating that improving the user experience for book collectors, as well as satisfying the demands of price-conscious buyers, helps drive sales to our sellers. We told antiquarian booksellers in the fall that we'd help them find more buyers and we've done just that."

Alibris also announced that its partners, including Barnes and Noble, Borders, Blackwell UK and Chapters Indigo of Canada, saw average online sales increases of 9% in the fourth quarter of 2008.

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