How to Start a Used Book Store Online or Off

How to Start a Used Book Store Online or Off

So you want to start a used bookstore? Some people see bookstores as a dying business. But with the expansion of used bookstore business models like 2nd & Charles, used bookstores may still be a viable business option.

How to Start a Used Book Store Offline

Physical bookstores certainly aren’t as popular as they once were. But if you have the right market and the drive, you can make it work. Here are some tips for starting a used bookstore — of the brick and mortar variety.

Find the Right Location

If you have your heart set on opening a physical bookstore, you’ll need a place to set up shop. So you need to find the right market for your products — consider doing some research to see if people in your community are actually interested in buying used books. Then look for a location that has enough space for you to set up shop and ideally one that is in an area with some foot traffic.

Get Necessary Permits

Each state and community has a different set of requirements for local businesses. So you’ll need to look into business licenses, zoning permits and any other necessary permission you’ll need to obtain before actually setting up shop.

Research the Market

If you’re serving a local community, it’s a good idea to try and get a feel for the customers in that area. Not only should you look to determine if they’re actually interested in used books, but you should also try to find out what types of books they’re likely to be interested in buying. For example, if your shop is in an area with a lot of young families, you should probably invest in a decent sized kids’ book section.

Collect Inventory

When you’ve determined what you need, it’s time to work on actually collecting used books to sell. You can find plenty of used books at garage sales and estate sales. But you can also find inventory online or buy books from customers or members of your community.

Furnish the Store

Since you don’t want all of that inventory to just sit on the floor, you’ll need some furniture. Invest in some large, sturdy shelves to hold all of your books. And you’ll also need a desk or table where you can help customers complete purchases. You might also consider adding some seating where customers can check out books before buying or wait while their shopping companions complete purchases.

Organize your Inventory

You’ll need to create some kind of system for organizing your merchandise. Create sections like fiction, non-fiction, romance, horror, poetry, classics, kids and more. Then organize the books alphabetically by title or author. And keep that system consistent throughout the store.

Create a Buying Program

Once you’ve got your initial inventory set up, you’ll need to continue adding to it as you sell things. A great way to do that is to create a buying program where customers can bring in their used books to sell. This gives you access to inventory and also brings more potential customers through the door.

Add Something Extra to your Store

Even though there are some deals to be had at used bookstores, customers can still tend to find better prices online since there’s less overhead involved in running an online store. So why should people come to your physical bookstore? You can convince them to do so by making it more of an experience. Customers might be willing to pay slightly more if they can also purchase coffee at a stand in front of the store or if they can lounge in comfortable chairs while deciding what books to purchase.

Market in your Local Community

Even if you’ve chosen a store with a decent amount of foot traffic, you’ll still likely need to do some marketing. Since you’re targeting local customers, consider some outdoor signs near your shop or maybe even sponsor a local event.

Create an Online Presence

And of course, having an online presence is also helpful in bringing in new customers. Even if you don’t want to sell books online, you should have a website with your location, hours and other relevant info. And set up a Facebook page or other free social accounts so that customers can easily reach you with questions or you can update them about specials or events.

How to Start a Used Book Store Online

Alternatively, you can start a used bookstore online to cut costs and potentially reach an even wider variety of customers. Here are some tips for starting a used bookstore online.

Collect Inventory

Even with an online shop, you still need to collect inventory. You likely won’t need as much as you would with a physical bookstore, since you don’t need to fill actual shelves. But you should still have a decent amount for customers to choose from.

Consider a Specific Niche

Starting an online bookstore means you’ll have access to customers around the world. But those customers also have access to so many other online bookstores. If you want to stand out, consider choosing a specific niche so that you’ll have a better chance of building brand loyalty with specific customers, rather than trying to compete with Amazon. For example, if you only sell romance novels, you can build your whole site and experience specifically to appeal to that type of consumer.

Purchase a Domain and Hosting

Your online store needs a name, website and host. There are plenty of options to choose from for both domain and hosting providers. So consider your needs and compare prices and features to find the best options.

Register your Business

Your state may also require that you register your business, even if it’s online. You’ll need to look into your particular requirements to make sure that you’re complying with the law and collecting any necessary sales taxes and other information.

Consider other Platforms as Well

Even though you should have your own website, you might also consider selling on other platforms to reach more customers. Sites like Amazon and eBay come with lots of built-in traffic. And you can even sell used books on Etsy if they’re old enough.

Take Lots of Photos

Since online customers can’t actually pick up your items and see them in person before buying them, you have to give them a really good idea of the condition of each book through photos. Be really clear about the condition, even if it isn’t perfect. It’s better to have a customer decide not to buy a particular book than having them buy it and then demand a refund and leave a negative review. Some buyers might even prefer used books with a little “character.”

Be Descriptive

Your item descriptions serve as another opportunity to give people all the information they might need to make a purchase. Make sure you list all of the general information along with details like the year and publisher, if available.

Create an Online Marketing Plan

You’ll also need a plan to reach out to customers online. You can do this through a variety of different tactics, including search marketing, online ads and content marketing. You’ll likely want to create a marketing plan that includes a combination of those different tactics, and then keep track of what brings in the best results.

Be Active on Social

Social media should be an an important part of your online outreach. You can use it to promote products and sales. But you can also use it as a way to answer customer questions and resolve any issues they might have. Many online customers now expect that businesses be available on social and answer questions quickly.

Continuously Scout Used Books

As your business grows and you make sales, you’ll need to continuously keep up with new inventory. Continuously scout your online suppliers and maybe even head to some local sales to keep bringing in more used books to sell in your online store.

Used Bookstore Photo via Shutterstock

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Annie Pilon Annie Pilon is a Senior Staff Writer for Small Business Trends, covering entrepreneur profiles, interviews, feature stories, community news and in-depth, expert-based guides. When she’s not writing she can be found exploring all that her home state of Michigan has to offer.

8 Reactions
  1. It helps if you also have the passion for the industry. This can fuel any type of business as long as there is passion for it.

  2. I agree that location for a business is everything, and this includes bookstores. You also said that you need to find the right markets for your products. I think it’s important to choose a bookstore that has the right atmosphere and is not too organized.

  3. Having an online bookstore is such a nice option. I love to read and stay at home so getting out is hard for me! I love having the option to stay home as I read and shop for books. I think something that would attract me to an online book store would be the size and quality of their selections.

  4. I agree with your tip about choosing a specific niche for your online bookstore to reach those you want to. My sister has been considering opening an online bookstore but doesn’t really know where to start. I will for sure pass these tips for opening a used bookstore online with her.

  5. I have started an online bookstore on Facebook – Christie’s Corner for Secondhand Books. I have had a couple of sales but will still plug at it. I have only been up and running online for a few weeks and need to guage what my audience like as well as broadening that audience. I have a passion for books. This is my only source of income as I was retrenched and first started off selling my own collection of books of which I had about 200.