Verity Bird is the marketplace co-ordinator for World Of Books (WoB) managing over 30 marketplace channels from Amazon in the UK all the way around the world to Rakuten in Japan. In this interview we hear what she and CTO Simon Downes have to say about a range of ecommerce issues from SEO, Amazon, selling books for 1p, employing 500+ staff, being the largest second-hand book seller in the UK and contributing millions to the charitable sector.
- Marketplaces are a key sales channel for WoB but maintaining a focus on their own site and new opportunities like Pricesearcher are vital to prevent over-relevance
- WoB is the 3rd largest seller on Amazon globally by volume and link directly to their store even from their own website – the important point being to have a strong presence where the customer feels most comfortable buying
- Software integration and inventory management are key for WoB in managing sales across 30+ marketplaces in multiple languages and currencies
- The business model is a truly inspiring one with WoB working directly with charity shops to buy un-sold books from them contributing £13m back into the charity sector in the last 10 years and minimising landfill
- Given how successful you are on marketplaces is your own website still a focus?
We sell on a number of marketplaces but our website is just as important and we can’t just rely on those marketplaces to deliver sales. Our website is an extension of who we are as a business and gives you a better idea of what we do. It is exciting times ahead for our website as we are developing some new features and improving others so we need to make sure that we are best placed for both new and returning customers to find us. PPC is becoming more expensive but it’s an investment for any ecommerce business.
It’s so important to keep revising these strategies, making sure you are adapting to the changes in the sector and also looking for new avenues. Pricesearcher is a great avenue for us, as it not only drives traffic it converts as well.
2. Can you expand a little more on that sales channel conflict – own website vs Amazon?
There is the obvious challenge of Amazon being a globally dominant marketplace. Everyone knows of Amazon and the vast majority of people use it. Amazon is a convenient marketplace; the variety of the goods you can purchase on their sites is so broad. I think that provides a challenge because it attracts convenience buyers. In saying that though, I think consumers are definitely savvier now and put in the time to research price etc. We have been growing our own direct sales channel very effectively over the last 12 months and Pricesearcher has been an important part of our growth strategy.
Amazon, of course, started with books and they still have a very solid foundation there, for both new and used. A big challenge is not becoming lost is a sea of booksellers but we have an experienced team of dedicated staff, including data scientists and software developers that contribute to making sure we always stay one step ahead of the curve. However, that’s a challenge in itself.
Obviously, a huge difference between the two is we are able to brand our own web store and really define who we are as a business. The evolution of the business means that we are constantly looking for ways to improve our brand and engage with our customers, which is another challenge on marketplaces like Amazon.
But in terms of conflict? Not much. We proudly state that we sell on multiple Marketplaces across the globe; in fact, we are the third largest seller by volume on Amazon globally. We even publish a link to those storefronts on our own website. For us we strongly believe that is a travesty to through away a book when there is nothing wrong with it, especially when it is so harmful to the environment. Our mission is to find these books homes and selling on World of Books.com and Amazon does exactly that.
3. How do you manage diverse marketplace channels across multi language / currency / time zone?
We sell on over 30 different marketplaces, including running four of our own sites, so as you can imagine “challenge” doesn’t quite cover it! As I mentioned before we have a huge team across multiple departments, and countries, that contribute to the success of our international growth. Many marketplaces work on completely different models to Amazon, preferring a more niche marketplace with smaller volumes. A lot of thought goes into what we are going to present to these customers.
Here’s what our CTO Simon Downes says about it:
We have built a piece of software that efficiently manages our inventory and sales on 30 different marketplaces. It isn’t advisable to keep adding your products to marketplaces if you do not have a good way of synchronising the management of the inventory and orders. Most marketplaces have strict requirements for fulfilment of orders and if you do not have software capable of maintaining multiple platforms efficiently, it is likely you will have your account terminated. Most if not all of these marketplaces have their own systems in place, which can be a huge challenge when it comes to integration.
We have a multi-lingual customer service team who are able to manage customer queries, and who have systems in place to ensure that we respond to customers within 24hrs. Time zones is slightly different, as we just cannot find a decent time machine! We try to be transparent about who we are and where we are and provide as much information as we can so customers can manage expectations in terms of shipping and response time.
Currency is something we keep a close eye on. It can be difficult trying to provide our international customer base with decent prices with all of the fluctuations at present.
4. How do you sell something for 1p, employ over 500 staff, make a profit and give millions of pounds to charity?
The question in itself has quite a complicated answer and I am not sure we can say too much without giving away our trade secrets! But the truth is we haven’t always made a profit – like all good businesses we had to work very hard to get there. We employ a dynamic workforce, as if you say there are 500+ staff all contributing to the success we have. We have designed, developed and built software to make sure we are constantly adapting to the ever-changing e-commerce sector. These processes have led to a greater efficiency within the workforce, which means a better experience for our customers.
The business model is so impressive; it’s what attracted me to the role here. Our work with charities is not just at the heart of what we do it is what we built our business model around – and we aren’t afraid to shout about it. The UK is incredibly generous, so much so that most charity shops are at capacity and finding it difficult to sell the never-ending libraries that are brought to them. To add to this problem these charity shops had the additional expense of transporting these items around the country to give them every possible option to sell, failing that they had to pay to dispose of them. One of founders saw this struggle and as a unit, World of Books rose up to meet the challenge. We help them to raise millions of pounds by buying the stock, regardless of whether we can resell it or not, and save them a few more million by taking on the cost to dispose of them. I think our running total is at just over 13 million pounds now. If you combine that with our pledge to corporate social responsibility and being an environmentally conscious business, there is a lot for us, and our customers to smile about.
We aspire to keep challenging ourselves, pushing ourselves and attracting staff that want to contribute to the future of the business. These efforts have not gone unnoticed, last year we were awarded The National Recycling award, under the retail sector and this year we were award a Queen’s Enterprise Award for Business.
With thanks to Verity Bird and Simon Downes from World of Books for sharing their time and thoughts.