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Exclusive: Half Price Books preps for holidays using tech and strategy

Half Price Books
Half Price Books is preparing for the holiday shopping rush.

Half Price Books is focusing on areas including inventory, omnichannel fulfillment and labor for the holiday season.

Chain Store Age recently had a wide-ranging conversation with Kathy Doyle Thomas, president of Half Price Books, about how the mid-sized new and used book retailer is aligning its enterprise with holiday demand. The family-owned, Dallas-based bookstore chain operates more than 120 stores in 19 states.

How are you ensuring you have the right inventory in the right amounts for the holidays? 

When there were threats of work stoppages by shipping providers earlier this year, we were concerned about getting inventory to our stores for the remainder of 2023. Our buyers made sure to order products early so there wouldn’t be any issues. Because of this, our stores are fully stocked for the holiday shopping season.  

The buyers also made a trip to England in the spring to look for one-of-a-kind, interesting books that you may not find at other large retailers. Texas Bookman, the wholesale division of Half Price Books, purchased U.K. book wholesale The Speaking Tree in September. With this acquisition, we’ve been able to expand our body, mind, and spirit inventory, as well as tarot cards, which is a category with growing demand over the past few years.  

With this deal, we also purchased The Speaking Tree's imprint, The Lost Library, and will be able to publish more private label products for our stores in the near future.  

How do you keep your stores relevant in an omnichannel era? 

We recently re-platformed our website to Salesforce Commerce Cloud, which continues to improve customers’ ability to search and shop from our stores. People are surprised to find out that each of our locations acts as a mini-fulfillment center and most products are available online and in-store – including rare and collectible merchandise. 

We also have an improved buy-online, pick-up-in-store experience for shoppers keeping up with customers’ expectations to check availability before they make a trip to the store or have it shipped to their home. The e-commerce site will continue to improve as we add ship- to-store for pick up and wish lists. 

[Read more: Half Price Books tracks marketing campaigns with geofencing]

What is your seasonal labor strategy?  

Half Price Books’ store and district managers work very hard to fully staff all positions with permanent full and part-time employees and they have done a great job; there are only a few permanent vacancies right now. 

We also hire seasonal staff and recently raised our starting wage to $15 an hour for temporary workers. Our permanent starting wage also increased to $16 per hour. Stores are hiring now to help us get through the extended hours of the busy holiday shopping season.  

Looking ahead, what are the biggest challenges for your business in 2024? 

Costs continue to rise in all aspects of business and we’re constantly looking at ways to save while still providing a great place to work and shop. For our brick-and-mortar stores, we’ll continue to review our expiring leases and determine whether to renew, move or close a store. 

Cost increases have also slowed the building of new centers. We usually look for second-generation real estate spaces, which has become quite challenging. Landlords are aware of this inventory shortage and can take advantage of this by increasing their rental rates.  

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