Two's a Queue

Retail, eCommerce, usability, customer experience, service, technology...

Monday, 2 December 2013

Online Copywriting

Honestly who needs ideas on what to blog about when you can just read other people's writing and get so annoyed that only some furious finger banging on the keyboard will help?

I may be being an incredibly lazy blogger of late but in my defence this started as a comment on the eConsultancy website and got too long and ended up here. I'm not starting an anti-eConsultancy blog I promise. For a start I don't have the copy writing skills ;-)

Here's the original blog post:

Yes once again I disagree with many of the points in this article - and while I'm on the subject the first comment made. I feel like I've just gone back 5 years in the evolution of online customer experience when we all read articles from people who pretended to know what they were talking about about where the search box should be and how customers only like CTA's in green and you must offer a guest checkout. Anyone out there who actually works in eCommerce knows all this is a total pile of rubbish and that check listing your website like some kind of identikit copy of Amazon gets you precisely no where.

Copy in your product descriptions is something which can only be judged by proper testing and analysis. We know that some customers find information difficult to find online and miss that experience of touching and investigating in store, but we also know that customers tell us they don't actually like to read text and that large amounts of copy can put them off buying rather than encourage them. It is a very individual and ultimately strategic decision depending on your brand, the type of product you sell, how you attract traffic and how your customers choose to interact with your site.

Customers in different sectors need different information, online fashion  - especially of the high street variety -  is often one where they don't need that much - our customers are visual, impulsive, competitive, trend driven - if they like it and it's at the right price, they'll often just buy it. Whereas a customer purchasing say a washing machine, might need just a little more technical, dimensional and functional information. Emotionally driven purchases like gifts, or organic food can often find the story and provenance of the item can add to it's value and the customer's ultimate decision in purchasing. This is a few examples but it might be that you work in one of those sectors and have found the complete opposite. Similarly customers in different countries can have different needs around copy. My point is everyone is different.

A lack of copy - or functional bullet points -  doesn't necessarily mean copy writing is of a poor quality or that a retailer hasn't put the effort in. It may simply mean that they have worked out that their particular set of customers, shopping on their site don't need that type of information to convert. Also copy writing each and every product in a fashion retailers catalog can in fact be a huge job, and often even if conversion improves - the ROI of having a skilled professional (or two!) writing that much text each week just doesn't stack up. It also costs a damn site more to localise than your average 3 bullet points - again the benefit has to outweigh the costs. Process wise you don't always have the product in front of you to be able to write that information either - this is a challenge many multichannel retailers are finding as the web becomes key to their operations.

OK OK I give you a bit of a break - so some times it might be laziness, or lack of knowledge in the above examples, but let's not assume there is a one-size fits all answer because there isn't. Criticism is always welcome, as product owners we should welcome feedback and change, however this article comes out far too one dimensional as to be practically pointless. Calling retailers out for not putting enough effort in? Pot kettle black Mr Moth, pot kettle black.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Why I disagree with econsultancy this week: Attributing New Look's 79% Online Increase

Browsing for my usual catch up of what's going on in the ecom world this morning I came across this blog post on econsultancy about the impressive results released by New Look last week in relation to the growth of their online business. This article attempts to attribute this increase in sales to certain functionalities on the website and mobile channels.

This is fantastic news for the ecommerce industry and great to have some good positive stories about retail growth in the UK.

I'll be honest (do you expect much else?) - I disagree with an awful lot of it, and I'm feeling more and more lately that econsultancy are clinging to a world where best practice UX actually exists - in my view this is a vastly old fashioned opinion. What exists in the eCommerce world is an unprecedented ability to see what is happening on your own website, with your own customers, buying your own product.

I don't disagree with some of the comments on buggy and not optimised mobile and app functionality - it's clear there's some work to do here (haven't we all?) but the general premise of the article bothers me and I expected better from someone who is as close to the industry as the usually quite smart econsultancy team.

Here's a few reasons I disagree with David Moth this morning:

1.  SEO - So let's start with one I do agree with, you can't argue with the decent Google rankings that New Look has for it's core products. This has to be a contributor to sales increases though I'd be surprised if there wasn't cannibalisation of in store sales lurking around in that 79% increase. That's not to say it's not impressive but it's certainly not clear whether the 79% is above and beyond like for like bricks and mortar increases. I'd suggest in this climate many customers are simply moving to online from store.
2. Stock info - this has been there since the current New Look website launched, admittedly originally there was a mildly confusing key of different shades of green to indicate stock depth which might actually have been the barrier to customers shopping which has since been removed. Clear and concise if uninspired dropdown replaces the former 'boxes'
3. Product filtering - yet again, this has always been there since the current website launched. What it is doing it allowing a more detailed guided navigation selection - it looks as if some effort has been put into offering customers options they really want outside of just process and colour - the jeans lengths for example, sleeve types etc are all more granular types of filter that have appeared as the site has matured.
4. Click and Collect - yes it's got to have contributed to the growth, we're all seeing customers dissatisfied with carrier time-slots and reliability and opting instead ot pick up items at their convenience. How many of these customers just didn't fancy taking a chance on going to a store if their chosen item wasn't there/wasn't out on the floor? This is likely to be some swallowing up of store sales.
5. Consistent Navigation - Oh my word are we in the dark ages? You're making this into a thing? Fairly sure this has been there since the non transactional site and exists on pretty much every brainer David, no brainer.
6. Free returns - again there's nothing new here, this has been in place well before the past 3 months
7. Free delivery over £45 - delivery promotions are always winners for customers so I'll give you this one, but I'd also have hoped that New Look have spent some time optimising this value and working out which level of promotion most gets customers thinking they should spend that extra £5 or so just to not have to spend £3.95 without them spending a lot of revenue on funding delivery. It's not just having the promo, it';s having the RIGHT promo for your customer
8. Security message - Again this has been there since the year dot and possibly before, customers are said to react well to security messages in checkout but in this day and age with an established high street brand? Nah
9. Upselling at the Shopping Bag -I'll give you this one too, this is a good piece of functionality - essentially Amazon stylee, I'd hope they've tested it though
10. Use of Live Chat - Really? REALLY? This is a prime example of a big fat bell and whistle. Someone show me a case study outside of telecomms or insurance where this actually helps conversion without costing you more in customer services.
11.Guest checkout - I'm fairly sure everyone knows my views by now on Guest Checkout. It can cause quite a lot more problems than it solves-  with us not really providing an infrasture for guest custoemrs to communicate, track their order or in fact convert their guest purchases into an account as they might want to continue shopping on a site. This is a prime example of the quite old fashioned view that UX is a check list of items you must provide, rather than an optimisation of YOUR customer journey on YOUR website.
12. Alternative payments -What alternative payments? The site doesn't cater for any specific international customer payment methods like Ideal, Sofort, Giropay, China Union Pay...I could go on.

OK I'm bored now, you get the picture. I feel like this article is lazy, unresearched writing. There's no disputing New Look's impressive results but without being within the business you can't really attribute them to a load of factors like this, frankly you could debate it forever, which is a slightly pointless exercise. And if you've woken up to this today and thought 'I must do all these things on my site RIGHT NOW' just stop, take a breath and look at your own customer feedback, your own site, your own data and stop considering the magical silver bulleted tick list of user experience will solve all your problems. It won't.

Though come on - I had to put my oar in a bit didn't I? if I absolutely had to make some suggestions on their impressive growth online I'd say some of the following may have contributed:

1. New image styles - NL used to use model shots, albeit headless, whereas now they use cut outs of the product by itself. Assuming they tested this in with customers this can contirbute heavuily to conversion.
2. New search functionality - conversion through search boxes is traditionally higher than via a browse journey. New Look search used to be a cross site search - which was a nice feature but not necessarily accurate and meant customers had an extra step to drill down. This has now changed with increased functionality
3. MVT - New Look are clearly using a multi variant testing tool (right click peeps right click)  - from what I can see this is focused on the cross sell section of the product page but may well be on all sorts of places on the site, they're optimizing the experience, learning from what customers do and not what they say, and developing their own idea of what suits their site and their customer. And that the point.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Surely we're all winners?

Those following me on twitter and who enjoy a running commentary of my hangovers may be aware that I once again attended the Drapers/Paypal/Retail Week Etail Awards last week.

Now I've been a tad critical of industry awards of late - the political/who wants to sell to who/often uninspired winners do still leave me a bit cold- although last night some real up and coming etailers were shining through as stars of the industry - which was lovely to see.

What struck me as a bit of a shame was the lack of people there-  I don't mean numbers, it was clearly a sell out again, but the faces were very similar to those from last year...and the year before. Sponsors Paypal had 3 tables. 3!

It was a nice atmosphere this year - representatives from some of the most successful online companies were cheering each time their site or app was shown on the big screen but quite often a shortlisted nomination would be read out and there would silence. Given we put ourselves forward for these awards I don't understand why that would happen? Because people don't believe in them any more? Don't see them as an achievement? Are people too 'busy' and full of the size of their own inbox to make time? 

Whether you believe in the genuine achievement behind an industry award or not - being able to celebrate a hard year's work with your wider industry colleagues is surely worth doing? Treating your team to a night out and an opportunity to dance the night away with some of their ecom heroes? The chance to chat and catch up with people? A night of letting your hair down and celebrating the success of this industry in tough economic times? No?

Sad times.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Weekly musings: Why I'm bored of industry awards

Judging what success looks like from within a given project is a difficult enough challenge for some online businesses, how you then determine success and achievement within the industry is an absolutely impossible task. And yet we have a multitude of awards to tell us different....there's Retail Week Awards, The BT Retail Week Technology Awards, the Internet Retailing Awards..........I have to admit they leave me a bit cold these days.

I once worked with an eCommerce Director (I shall keep them nameless in case they don't want to be attributed this story) whose site was nominated for a prominent industry award for Multichannel Retailer of the Year. As I sat in the office slaving away for our consultancy day rate (obviously!) the team changed into their party pants and dancing shoes and were about to leave, I said to the ecom director without even thinking about it 'good luck, I hope we win'. He turned around, paused, and said to me 'I hope we don't'. I looked understandably a bit confused, back in those days I was overwhelmed by the glamour of a black tie evening with some of my retail heroes, and the thought of having our work recognized was exciting. He followed it up by saying ' I hope we don't win Multichannel Retailer of the Year. Because we're not'

And you know what? I realised almost straight away he was absolutely bloody right. We really weren't. That business still had a way to go  -  being a late comer to a transactional website, with a variety of challenges that meant right then, at that moment, we had absolutely no right to consider ourselves even slightly Multichannel - let alone the best in the industry. (That's not the case now I might add, much good work has been done since and should the site be nominated again it would at least be reflective of the fact it can hold it's own the industry)

Now if we always judged ourselves on having a way to go we'd never celebrate anything, but that's missing the point. I'm presuming that the reason we were in that category as a nominee was because our PR team had written a submission, and potentially was likely to pay for a table for the business attendees. No one had actually considered if we were worthy of the prize,probably just whether we'd look good on the marketing material.

And you may say that it's the fault of a business for entering themselves into a category they don't really belong in. But put it this way - if your business has released an app this year, you're going to think it's great, and you're going to nominate yourself for it's greatness. You PR department are going to think 'what a great opportunity to get some credentials in the industry' and happily dash off a submission....the fact that your app is probably just about passable and the only person who thinks it's any good is your CEO who enjoys flashing it about at dinner parties becomes by the by....

It's tough because no one knows what happens within a business unless they work in it, the success or failure or challenges faced in a project can only be judged by what you as an entrant tell the judges/body sponsoring the awards. I could probably write myself a glowing report for any number of projects that I've worked on, and despite the fact that they were rubbish or brilliant I'd win or lose based on the profile of my company, how safe a bet we are for the next 12 months (no publication wants to bet on a losing horse-  though no doubt some great work has been done at many a failing retailer in the last year), whether the sponsors think we might want to buy from them in the future, whether our third party providers put up the money to sponsor and whether we're high profile enough to make a pretty picture on the front of the magazine/website/company brochure.

And that isn't to say that some of the winners of these awards aren't rightly proud of their achievement, and deserve wholeheartedly to celebrate what their work has brought to their business and the wider industry, but for me, these accolades are devalued by the process and politics that support them, for which we're all to blame.

Internet Retailing is at least trying to buck the trend a little by asking attendees and retailers to vote for their perceived value adding projects or initiatives, but this can only go so far as only the most popular, talked about, press -worthy or customer facing will get to be seen by those external to an industry and therefore voted for. It's a shame there isn't a better way forward.

Devalued industry awards that aren't really reflective of excellence, can often be political and are regularly predictable seems to be just accepted as a standard these days (and it's not just our industry - many have the same issues), and for the sake of basking in some glory, enjoying a night out and adding something to your CV maybe that's enough but what if there was something different?

What if award submissions were entered with some real detail, viewed by everyone who's interested and voted on by those in the industry? What if there were no sponsorships or votes from third parties. What if there were no weak, bland categories to squeeze your submission into? And what if for once you could celebrate being the best in your industry and really know it was worth something?

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Suits, spam and stalkers: How not to sell

For anyone who follows my twitter feed this post has been coming for a while. Over the last two years or so of being on the client side of ecommerce (as opposed to consultancy) I've seen some frankly horrendous examples of selling in the industry; from being targeted at shows by people literally rugby tackling you into conversation, to receiving spam emails with the blanks NOT filled in, to being called EVERY day for six weeks (and hung up on when they got through) by a single company so much so that Customer Services called them my stalkers....I feel lately like I've seen it all. And it ain't pretty.

Coming from a store retail background people assume you know how to sell, yet I never consider this to be one of my core skills, though frankly I think I'd do a better job than some of the people I've been forced to be in contact with over the last couple of years. At least when working in stores I was honest, genuine, sensitive and knew when to get lost. 

None of this is fancy theory, or tactics, it's just common sense, though apparently, when it comes to selling to ecommerce companies - that's in short supply.  Thefore I present to you:

The 2AQ Guide to Selling to eCommerce Companies

 -  Research, research, research
Don't assume every retailer/company is the same. Look at their website and work out what it is that they think makes them different. Trying to sell a value proposition to a company who works on quality rather than quantity for example if probably a non starter off the blocks. Ditto the type of company. I recently had a freight company repeatedly emailing me, since we're a marketplace and we hold no stock this not only fell on deaf ears but eventually resulted in a passive-aggressive email back from me when they just didn't give up. "We have no stock to move. Please go away. Kind regards. "

In the same vein - LinkedIn exists, use it. Check you're meeting the right person. Check what the person you're meeting did before they worked for the company you're meeting them in. I once had a sales person sell me a solution one of their existing clients uses, except I knew they didn't. Because their existing client was my former client and I understood that system like the back of my hand. I mean first and foremost don't lie, but if you're going to, at least pick one that can't be debunked by someone in the room.

 - Dress appropriately
Comes down to the first one again but the number of sales people who come into our offices in really formal business wear. Nothing wrong with a cool suit and tie combo if you're a cool suit and tie combo type of person, but no one is a sweaty shirt and cheap suit person, so don't do it. Use your head and think about where is is you're presenting, there's no need to show up in jeans and trainers but at least attempt to suggest you understand the online space by chilling out on the dress code a bit. If your company is dull and corporate then you're going to come across as dull and corporate, which is the exact opposite of what most online companies consider themselves to be.

 - Target the right person for the right thing. And be honest.
This happened to me recently and it was CRINGEWORTHY watching the person grasp at filling the time, when if they'd simply been upfront about what they wanted they would have got to see the right set of people instead of trying to sneak in via another means

 - Don't add pointless charges
Online companies know the value of 'setup' of a Saas product i.e zero. If it costs nothing to do then don't try to charge me. Don't add additional charges just so they can be negotiated and I feel I'm getting a bargain. I had a proposal recently that charged me for users. Seriously users. If I have to tell you what's wrong with this then there's no hope for you....

 - Know what you're talking about - don't go and get the 'tech guy' be the person who understands your product
Constantly back and forth between process, tech, business analysis and sales is the worst type of sales process. No one expects you to know the ins and outs of the code but whether you can store billing address and send it back to us might be a key requirement, and it's best if you know the answer. It's not techie to know your product and what it can do. It's good practice.

 - Know how you can help
This comes down a bit to number one - if you know what a company does, how they work, what their challenges might be, then you can begin to start to form a solution with them. Selling something which you have no idea how it will apply to the business you're targeting is like shooting in the dark. Don't just list your features and functionality -  give me something I need, sell it to me in a way that solves my problem without me having to think too much - now we're talking.

 - Be consistent, and work with us, but don't hack
Offering too many options for use of your product/system can seem like a good idea when you're trying to gain a client for the first time, but actually being too flexible can just make you seem like you don't have a clear idea of what the client needs, and make you seem untrustworthy  Changing your mind from white labeling  to working with a third party, and back to white labeling again doesn't really fill anyone with confidence that you know what you're talking about.

Sometimes a business just wants a third party who will say 'whatever you need, we'll help, we might not be able to get to a solution, but we'll help as much as we can'. It's so frustrating when you're trying to be shoehorned into the way a system or vendor does things. Sometimes you just want a collaborative approach, you never know, it might open doors for your business too.

That said no one wants to be a guinea pig; being the first person to test a new feature or functionality is risky and hard to justify a business case for. Provide solutions or workarounds but if you can't do it, be clear you can't - don't try to hack something which will cause the client more pain down the line.

 - Don't spam
Unsolicited email has to be the single most annoying thing in anyone's working day and the most unsuccessful method of sales. Unsolicited emails with the name as a blank or wrong (yes this happened too) and the bit about how we can help you not filled in because it's a template and I'm a get my point.

 - Attention to detail
Often decisions on providers or vendors can be made on the smallest of things, the ability to support some random quirk of a client's processes or system. If you haven't dug into the detail in any pre-sales format then you need to. Entire deals can fall apart, projects can take years longer than they should, and relationships can be soured based on the simplest of mismatches which could have been caught in a process workshop. Do it.

I should mention some companies do manage the sales process incredibly well, more often than not I've seen some great pitches, some bright sales people who know their product and understand when to call and when to leave you alone. However there are some seriously poor practices going on out there, and it's not helpful, it's not going to improve the reputation of your compnay and it's not going to get you a sale.

To finish here's a little cut-out-and-keep list of the basics, just in case anyone is reading this who is planning on phoning/emailing/annoying me anytime soon:

(I can't believe I'm having to re-iterate the following but seriously, people still do these things)

 - Be on time
 - Don't be a moron
 - Be prepared
 - Don't just read your slides
 - Adjust your approach

Friday, 1 March 2013

Just keep swimming...offline selling in the digital age

Retail commentator Leon Bailey-Green wrote a few weeks ago about the influx of opinions since the demise of HMV on what should have/could have/was stupid not to do with the business in the face of a period of significant change within it's vertical. Everyone all of a sudden had an opinion on why HMV failed, what they should have done and how slow they were to do it. That's kind of fair enough - events in our industry stimulate conversation and I wouldn't want it any other way. Yet Leon was right in saying that it's rare that before the demise anyone has any helpful suggestions, is this because we feel more confident criticising after the fact? Or are we all bandwagon jumpers who just like the HMV management team equally didn't see the real stinng of digital coming? Leon suggested those who criticised HMV for being slow to change should make some suggestions about Waterstones (widely considered another dead-int-the-water thanks to Amazon retailer). I thought about this a bit, and here's mine.

I'm caveat-ing this with the fact that I genuinely know nothing about the internal workings of their business, and that no doubt there are 'ooh but that's not profitable', 'that's too much cash', 'that's not possible with their debt/organisational/store structure' grumblings out there even as I'm writing this, and I'm fully aware this is likely not going to save anyone from going under but hell.,...I'm having a go at being creative instead of (just) critical...maybe more of us retailers should give THAT a try.

Not sure where the fishing references sprung from ...potentially my four week holiday in NZ with a fisherman was SLIGHTLY too long :-)

H x

Constant press around the inability of retailers to complete with online shopping suggests that Waterstones is teetering on the edge of being the next victim. Like an innocent lemming following it's friends along with no idea where it's going, it's almost inevitable that it's about to fall off the cliff, and we're all going to watch and nod our heads when that happens, and say to each other that "there goes another casualty...oops. who cares about buying books anyway...they're just like CD's, part of the past...." But I can't help thinking Waterstones has a number of strengths against the likes of Amazon, and that there is something there worth saving. If I was in charge of the business I'd be focusing on these three differentiating factors:

  •  Hands on experience of the product - as any book lover will tell you, books have a smell, a feel, an emotion and buying them online doesn't always compensate for the joy of wandering around a bookstore touching and dipping in and out of books you might buy (get out of the big fish's pond)
  •  It's reputation as a retailer which knows and is passionate about reading (build your own pond)
  •  It's proximity to where people actually are, meaning ease, no delivery charge (get them in the pond (door) )

Get out of the big fish's pond (kinda)

Stop de-valuing books by trying to compete on price. Stop stacking them high and selling them cheap-  at least in store environments. Create spaces where people want to linger, and stock things they want to linger over. If you must give them ipads to linger on then FINE tick your omni-channel QR code box but for goodness sake do it soon. Shut down shed-like retail park stores if you have them, Focus on stores that are on the high street, in great locations, in University towns etc. Get everyone else online (that's the kinda bit). Make your store a brand space (NOT a showroom-  I hate that word), let people collect online orders there, let them order to their home their, use your stores as the foundations of your brand. If it isn't, get rid of it,

Pioneer the beautiful book - Mass produced, get it for 3 for £7 in Tesco, shiny paperbacks are never going to be the draw for someone to come to a book store (unless they're in the airport, or me... because I read so fast that those 3 for 2 deals are basically my life). What happened to the beauty of books? When was the last time you purchased a lovely hardback of your favourite novel? Or a signed copy of an author you admire? or gifted a hard backed copy of the Very Hungry Caterpillar to a newborn? Not for agea? Exactly. And where would you even get such a thing from? I resent the purchase of hardbacks - they take the same amount of time to read for me and then they take up room on my shelf, and you took £15 away from me for the pirvelege. but a lovely hardback of a Harry Potter book? Or The Shadow of the Wind? A limited edition? I'm there.....Books are a part of a person's home, their personality, their one stacks Kindle books on their coffee table.....(well that's physically impossible but you get my sentiment)

Support the industry  - Partner with some small independent publishers, who don't partake in the neon-tinted 800 pager. Find them, Start one. Get them on your shelves. Create difference. yes still sell the neon bricks (I for one love them) but start editing, curating, bringing wonderful words to your customer.

Build your own pond

Remember your strengths - I'm not sure if they still do it now but at one point Waterstones had handwritten reviews of books taped to the front copy of a new release or hidden classic, written by the staff themselves. This is a great opportunity to utilise thoseb ook club people or their own staff and really sell their knowledge and insight. Customers love to discover something new, but to feel confident about their purchase  - this is the perfect way to help them do that in a store environment.
Offer something more

Invest in staff - I am a true believer that as much as we love Amazon, we love the reviews, we love the speed etc - what amazon can NEVER do is give the type of one to one personal service that you get in a shop. And you might be thinking 'really? who would want that?'; but it's true - we have devalued shop work to a minimum wage, poor benefits  24/7 occupation which is absolutely in no way shape or form giving Amazon a run for their money on the one thing they cannot compete on. and maybe customers have stopped caring about that - but that's because we have let them stop caring. The French lady in Whistles in Blackheath was the only reason I ever used to shop there - she made me feel welcome in a store I'd never really been in before, helped me with styling and made me feel good about my purchasing. As someone who works in an online industry-  I'm telling you, that shit is pure retail gold, and almost impossible to replicate online. Invest in staff. Employ experts. Let them sell their passion to your customers.

Get them into the pond

Products like books lend themselves beautifully to being an impulse buy. People who read are generally quite emotionally attached to the whole experience of reading, and discovering a hidden gem is a real part of the literary culture. Those who aren't so passionate or not just in that mood today may find that actually once they're tempted inside price isn't a considerable difference when you factor in the wait and cost of delivery. Reasons to make your store a hub of literary activity are for me the key to being a genuine multi channel retailer instead of a website with some stores attached. 

I think sometimes we forget - most people are on (or on the brink of) the internet all day every day for work - essentially they're there anyway, they're not always on the high street. If they were, things might be slightly different.

Focus on Local   - Even if every local area doesn't have a famous author or part in literary history then there are significant ways the stores could 'personalise' their stock much more than they do now. The Richmond store for example if not only right over the road from our office but also near ebay, Paypal and Gumtree - there is a strong online community here and books which reflect the needs and tastes of the area would be perfect. Our town is also the home of the original William Curley store  - being able to get exclusive signed copies of the William Curley book would entice me into the door, ditto Petersham Nurseries is down the road and Lucy Boyd-Gray's book is just're getting my point. Play on those strengths. Stock those collections, expand those themes,., get those authors in - not just for a single signing but for presentations, readings, speaking gigs...make your website a hub for events, readings, exclusive content on new releases, authors etc....

Better coffee shops. -  Some stores I understand have Costa concessions inside them - which I can absolutely see makes sense when you're considering investing in something like this which isn't your core strength - and thinking that a concession situation means your store gets the benefit of the coffee shop without you needing to do any real graft or invest any cash. But in reality I find this type of approach a bit poor from a real brand point of view - who after all is going to bother to go into Waterstones (and upstairs in some cases) to get a coffee from Costa when there is probably one about 5 doors away on street level. I wouldn't bother. Also - and I know Costa has literary associations with their own book awards but as a somewhere I'd want to dwell and read it doesn't really work for me - I find those coffee shops are there for quick, speedy pickups of a Christmas coffee, with a bookshop I want to while away the hours, not grab a dry mass produced cake in five minutes flat. Seriously, why bother? What I would do is go to a cafe which is unique to my area and that space -  related to books, with books there to borrow and read while I'm browsing, or chatting with friends.  In fact - why not make it a bar, bring in evening trade, have evening events, get an alcohol licence. now I would definitely go to that. And KEY point is I'd probably buy things while I was there (especially if there was wine...just a thought).

Support the community - Book clubs are a huge trend in recent years - but other than with your close friends, where do you find a good place to go to one? This is a prime opportunity for Waterstones to be a hub of book clubs in the local area - in the same way that Sweaty Betty run Yoga classes in the evenings-  this is a great way to get people comfortable and familiar with the space, buying books (in bulk groups!) and producing content for your web site or digital media instore.
Just keep swimming
None of this is rocket science, not is it terribly high tech - despite what my LinkedIn profile may say I'm not capable of fixing some of the wider issues in retail via the power of a magic wand, but I am a customer and I do know what I'd like to see from a store environment trying to stay afloat in the sea of digital successes. Perhaps if Waterstones turned to their customer, instead of their critics they would do too.