Decentralisation within a book retailer
A Waterstones case study

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Page 5: Career development

Stage 1

A new bookseller will be ‘buddied’ with a colleague through a mentorship. This shared experience enables them to learn the skills of stock management during the first stage.
They will be shown how to use Waterstone’s sales and stock database. This system is called Phoenix and booksellers use the information it provides to check the sales of titles in their sections. Phoenix is an Electronic Point Of Sales (EPOS) system, which records the sales history of every book sold in a branch on a certain day. For example, if two copies of a book have sold, Phoenix will offer a recommended order quantity of two. However, the decision to reorder a particular title, and in what quantity, is dependent upon many factors. This is where a bookseller’s individual judgment and specialist knowledge are invaluable. As part of their developing experience they would have to consider:

  • how well the title has sold in the past
  • the number of customer enquiries about the book
  • whether it had been reviewed recently in newspapers and magazines, as well as whether it
  • had been the subject of media interest or television coverage
  • if it was part of an in-store promotion
  • whether it was in the national best-seller lists.

The fact that booksellers draw upon their wider knowledge and have the power and freedom to act upon it, is crucial to the concept of decentralisation as it:

  • allows branches to respond fully to the needs of customers and local markets
  • enables branches to run with optimum stock levels. This means that the right quantity of books are in stock and that these are available when customers want to buy them.

Stage 2

Each phase of the Career Development Framework builds upon and consolidates the skills and learning acquired at previous stages. Once the principles and practices behind everyday stock replenishment have been mastered, a Stage 2 bookseller will begin to develop skills around buying new titles for their sections from publisher’s representatives. As booksellers are constantly in contact with customers and listen to their thoughts and recommendations, they are aware of changing views and the current demand for certain areas. This feedback creates market focus as it enables booksellers to develop their range of sections in a way which is tailored to the profile of their local customer base.

Stage 3

During this phase, senior booksellers are encouraged to develop the leadership skills necessary for branch management. At this level, it is important that the skills of individuals around stock management are located within the wider context of the branch, as well as the values of Waterstone’s and the culture of the company. One of the ways in which Stage 3 booksellers can increase their knowledge in this area is by organising local promotions, such as ‘Branch Bestsellers’ or ‘booksellers Choice’. These are good ways of combining the enthusiasm of the bookseller with the interests of their customers.

Waterstone’s draws the attention of its customers to new titles and promotions through table displays. By working with the marketing department at Head Office, individual booksellers can produce their own leaflets, banners and table signs. This is a clear and active way of signposting titles that have been generated by local demand.

Stages 4 and 5

During stages 4 and 5, senior booksellers are responsible for co-ordinating branch events such as author signings, reading groups or school visits. This provides an opportunity to build community links and obtain first-hand feedback from customers. Booksellers can negotiate greater discount for stock sold at events and also decide upon the best way to use publicity opportunities for the good of their branch.

Waterstones | Decentralisation within a book retailer