February 2017

When You Can’t Judge a Bookshop by its Cover

When asked about the value of reputation, a quick answer is to ask businesses how much it would cost them if they could no longer trade under their existing brand.

It’s an over-simplification, but often proves the wider principle that reputation is a very valuable asset.

However, with the revelation that Waterstones has done exactly that, we’re left wondering if retail businesses are in the middle of an identity crisis.

Reports that Waterstones has developed a series of small concept stores designed to look like independent book shops, deliberately hiding that they are part of the Waterstones business, highlights a major reputation challenge for retail brands.

Over recent years we’ve seen a backlash against national chains taking over local high streets and forcing independent traders out of business.

It’s not unusual to hear of residents taking to the streets to try to keep their towns independent. 

We will be watching the response to Waterstones' venture with interest.  Will shoppers boycott stores out of principle now that the truth is out?  Or will Waterstone’s experiment work – indicating that the major objection is one of local image rather than identity?

Waterstones’ chief executive is banking on the latter, also hoping that some of the independent ethos will rub off on his staff.

Speaking to the BBC he commented:

"We're coming into quite sensitive High Streets, ones predominantly with independent retailers on them, and we wish to behave as they do.

"Part of the reason that we do it is to convince our own booksellers that they have the autonomy that they do have.

"I think I have always acted and worked as an independent book seller and I would love for everyone who works for me does so likewise."