Our app in Padova’s IBS bookshop

Over the past several days we have been in Padova’s IBS bookshop (63 Via Alinate) developing our new app. It’s proving to be a beautiful experience for us as we’re finally working with accurate book data. Most of all we are having close interaction with our designated users, in every phase of the development.

In this post we will present our app, which is aimed at customers who have already entered the bookshop, beginning from a discussion about what pushed us to create it in the first place. Here is therefore a first, basic and obvious consideration: if I have entered a bookshop I have already made a big decision and at that moment I’m more interested in books than in shoes. The first incentive to read must be that of an environment which is favourable for research, discovery and purchase of books (a similar argument may be made, regarding non-commercial activity, for libraries and there are many any worthy projects in the area which follow this very direction).

Lorenzo working away in the IBS bookshop in Padova
Lorenzo working away in the IBS bookshop in Padova

In a bookshop like Padova’s IBS store, which holds over thirty-thousand items, almost certainly there are dozens of books which may be of interest to readers and at least a few which they may be ready to purchase, if not at the time they enter the shop, then on another occasion. In fact, often customers call in “only to have a look round” and if something stands out, then they might return to buy the item at a later date). The role of a bookshop is therefore to filter the huge number of items on offer to find what is most desirable for the user on a single occasion; this activity, naturally, defines an important feature of the bookseller’s job.

From a commercial point of view, a book is a long-lasting item designed to “entertain” for many hours. For the most part, it usually does not cost more than ten to twenty euros and is not therefore a colossal purchase. But if customers do not find anything “truly exciting” they will prefer to spend that money in another way; and it is this share of missed purchases, which our app is trying to intercept.

From what we have gathered from interviews with readers and discussions with booksellers, the layout of books in a bookshop in many cases presents a huge obstacle. More often than not, the arrangement of a bookshop does not coincide with the categories, which customers imagine in their heads. Upon entering a bookshop, it’s easy to feel disorientated and to find yourself unable to make your own way around. In fact, usually people want to “navigate” by themselves, at least for a short while. This happens mostly in chain bookshops, for various reasons: at times, customers do not seek help because they are shy; at other times, customers might think that booksellers may not have the desired information, or customers may only turn to the bookseller once they have already restricted their field of interest; others may not want to interrupt a bookseller who is busy sorting out boxes of newly arrived volumes, rearranging shelves or organising stacks of books etc.; other customers simply desire to make their own way around because of the principle of the matter or for personal satisfaction.

In any case, a starting point for our app is that, at least in chain bookshops, a large number of customers do not ask the staff for help immediately. Furthermore, even when customers do ask booksellers for help, they often imagine a scene such as the following: a customer moves towards the counter and asks about a book, the bookseller then disappears behind a computer and searches the catalogue. If the book is found, the bookseller goes off to find it and brings it to the customer, who in the meantime has been left in front of the counter, possibly feeling embarrassed even if the book is found.

Picture of the app in the IBS bookshop
Picture of the app in the IBS bookshop

Our app, which has now been tested in Padova’s IBS bookshop, is designed to be a very simple and “non intrusive” instrument which allows an individual to quickly obtain information on any item and area of interest. However, the app is not intended to be some sort of digital infopoint or a cumbersome “totem pole” before which customers stall for a period of time, but an element which is perfectly integrated in the environment, in the “forest of books”: it will offer itself before readers as a small object, a tablet which is to be strategically placed in a passing point, able to provide the required information in only a few clicks.

In a sense, the app aims to replicate “live” the experience, which many users are used to having on the best platforms for digital purchasing (both of material and digital books). However, it will not make the role of the bookseller redundant, but on the other hand, is meant for those who never intended to interact with him in the first place. We allow ourselves at this point another obvious and fundamental consideration: in the world of publishing, there are two distinct realms, which are at war with each other; the “virtual” one and the “material” one, the digital one and the physical one. Technology can accompany our experience, without distorting it or dominating it. The technology in our app is designed to assist and not substitute the bookseller (in future we hope to expand the app and create a version specific for the bookseller, to be used as a speedy alternative to traditional catalogues). Books, ebooks and apps on tablets can work together for their “common purpose”, reading.

The development has just begun and we will not hide the many difficulties from ourselves. However, our first interviews with customers who have used the app have already raised our hopes.  To conclude this post we would like to quote one of these, also to introduce the issue of “geo-localisation” of books inside a large bookshop.

(Adriano interview with a twenty-year old customer)
– Have you seen the app? How did you use it?
– I was looking for this book called Ricordati di dimenticare la paura, I found it immediately, first result! I like the idea of similar books of the same genre, very handy.
– Did you open the book’s blur? Had you already heard of it?
– Yes, somebody had suggested it to me and I was having a look.
– What other features do you think the app could include?
– Perhaps, if it told you the area in the bookshop where the book was displayed. But, it’s good the way it is already, it found it for me and told me it’s available. I’m already happy as it is.

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