Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Reinvention of Popular

There's an interesting feature in Starmag today about how one of our biggest bookstore chains, Popular, is in the process of reinventing itself.

The store began life in Singapore, opened its first Malaysian branch in 1984 and now has 57 branches across this country alone. (For more on the history of the company, read this entry on Wikipedia.)

One of the biggest hurdles the store has to overcome is that of perception. As Elizabeth Tai says in the article :
Think Popular bookstore and chances are, you’ll think, “Oh, Chinese books, and a great range of stationery”.
But Executive Director Lim Lee Ngoh (right) explains how Popular is expanding in the English book-selling sector; how it has been opening mega stores to provide a one-stop service for book buyers; and how it is hosting the third BookFest@Malaysia event, which will take place from May 24 to June 1 at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre. (See picture of last year's fair above.)

Any bookshop that wants to widen its appeal needs to do more though than increase floor space and pile books up high.

Popular clearly needs to sex the image of the store up (and maybe the recently announced book prize is a step in the right direction).

And then of course, there's the squiginess factor to take into account. The bookshops that woo the customers best are those that turn themselves into a pleasant destination where you're happy to spend time.

As Lim says, it is a very tough line of business to be in!

What are you thoughts on Popular bookstores? Do you do much of your book buying there?

23 comments:

Ted Mahsun said...

The only bookstore in Puchong happens to be a Popular and I think it has an acceptable range of English and Malay books.

Unfortunately I usually just go in there to buy stationery rather than books.

bibliobibuli said...

why's that, ted?

Anonymous said...

Popular - boring book titles, all sealed in plastic so you cna't even flip through them, annoying loud music from the CD section disturbing my browsing, very Chinky/Cheenak atmosphere.

Ted Mahsun said...

Sharon: Because Kinokuniya is just one LRT stop away from the office...

Lydia Teh said...

I love Popular. I buy lots of books there, not just revision workbooks for the kids. Sometimes they throw out very cheap novels going for say, RM5 or RM19. In Bukit Tinggi, they have Jeffrey Archer's A Twist in The Tale going for RM15 and other novels ranging from RM4.90 onwards. Their member card (RM10 per year) entitles one to buy everything at 10% discount (except best buy items and mags) and their monthly Popular choices at 20%. Not all their books are wrapped in plastic, and even if they are, you could request the sales promoters to unwrap them for you, which they would gladly do.

bibliobibuli said...

ted - fatal!

lydia - yes, i've got some great bargains there. and agree with you about the wrapped books - i actually prefer them and am not shy to ask assistants to unwrap them for me

Chet said...

Also fatal is living near 3 bookshops - Borders and MPH at The Curve, and Popular at IKANO. I don't go to MPH The Curve much except to pick up my copy of Quill magazine.

BTW, Borders is having a 6th anniversary sale (have they been here 6 years already??), with 30% off selected books, and 20% and 10% off other books (can't remember what). I found Albert Camus's The Plague and Banana Yoshimoto's NP in the selected books bin. There's also Dante and Ovid hardbacks for less than RM40/- before discount.

starlight said...

i've found some unexpected treasures at Popular, but i wouldn't go there for biblio-therapy. you're right, sharon - Popular needs to sex its image up!

bibliobibuli said...

chet - 6th anniversay sale? you sure? the store opened here first in april 2005. might be tempted over there

starlight - an actually what we want is bibliotherapy! i destress with bookshop browsing

Chet said...

Aiyah, should've taken a picture. Now I got reason to go again. And as a treat for finishing my article for Eric.

Anonymous said...

Acceptable but nowhere the range of say Kino. They don't seem to have a unique selling proposition for selling English books. Kino is cheaper and more efficient (not to mention the ambience is much better) and Bookxcess is cheaper. Where does that leave them ?

Ted Mahsun said...

Popular has the advantage of being everywhere.

bibliobibuli said...

chet - you wrote an article for eric? good on yer. now you will be a book voucher earning writer which gives you a lovely excuse for more time browsing books.

anon - really do you think Kino is cheaper?

Anonymous said...

Kino is cheaper. Popular has that annoying rebate program where I suspect they jack up the price a bit and then give you a "rebate" and it only works with purchase with a purchase which irritates me no end...

Anonymous said...

anon: "jack up the price a bit?" woah...that's a SERIOUS accussation. Jacking up price is against the law. Since consumers compare prices and business are more competitive, that would be a stupid thing for Popular or anybody with good business sense to do! Do you really have proof to this claim? I shop at Kino, MPH and Popular and the books are the same price. Btw, do you know books price is the determine by publishers? Oh..here we go again about Harry Potter 7! heheheh

bookseller said...

truth is whatever the brand/store, it's encouraging to know more is being done to our very sad statistic as a nation of readers.

Borders Singapore at Orchard ranks as No.1 worldwide is sales and traffic. Just 5 hours down south, so why can't a Malaysian store rake up the same stats? We wonder, we wonder...

bibliobibuli said...

Borders Singapore at Orchard ranks as No.1 worldwide is sales and traffic. wow! is that true? am quite amazed ... and yes would love to see the same thing here and all the best to the bookshops who are reinventing themselves.

borders is the squiggiest bookshop perhaps, and second most sexy only to kino ... but that's just my opinion

Chet said...

Which Borders, Sharon? Surely not the one at Berjaya Times Square.

Lydia Teh said...

As anon @ 7.43 pointed out, Popular doesn't jack up their price. And I'm rather puzzled by anon @ 4.40's claim that Popular gives a rebate on purchase with purchase. Popular card members get 10% discount on all titles (with the exception of BEST BUY items with yellow stickers.)

bibliobibuli said...

don't worry. i think that anon was just shooting his mouth off with no evidence. as folks tend to do on blogs. best to ignore the illogical.

Chet said...

Sharon - my eyes need checking. I went by Borders at The Curve this morning and saw there's no "6th" in the Borders Anniversary Sale banner!

As for the article for Eric, submitted but no word back. *scared*

bibliobibuli said...

you're hallucinating, chet! what have you been drinking?

i think borders the curve is much squidgier than borders times square ... can really go there to lepak and relax

glad you're writing articles and hope it is the first of very many. books need people to write about them

Chet said...

Whatever it is, I hope it's not the same stuff Paula Abdul has been drinking! She made "history" this week when she gave feedback to an American Idol contestant for a song he hadn't even sung yet!