Blackwell's cites digital strategy as it returns to profit

The appointment of a digital director and subsequent launch of a digital e-book platform have been cited as reasons for academic book retailer Blackwell's return to profit last year.

Operating profit of £400,000 was reported for the 52 weeks to 28 June 2014 on total turnover of £54.1 million, which compares to an operating loss of £2.8 million on sales of £64.6 million one year before.

A number of changes have been made to the business over the course of the last 18 months, including the disposal of its library services, but it is in the digital space where the retailer is investing a significant amount of its time and energy.

Under the supervision of digital director Matthew Cashmore, Blackwell's in-house tech team has developed an eBook platform called 'Blackwell Learning', which was launched at London Book Fair in April 2014 and was made available to customers from the start of September. The platform, currently in its first iteration, allows shoppers to purchase e-books, as well as giving them an opportunity to highlight, annotate and share notes on texts.

Building on that innovation, the company is also in the process of rolling out a new interactive touch-screen electronic point of sale system across its estate, which the business hopes will boost customer experience.

Commenting on the retailer's latest results, CEO David Prescott said: "Blackwell's is building a sustainable future through investment in digital opportunities whilst maintaining a strong focus on the needs of its core customers.

"We continue to develop strong partnerships with key academic institutions whilst offering world class customer service and leveraging our academic expertise and the heritage of our brand."

In time, Blackwell’s strategy is to build its operations into an employee-owned business, with retailers such as John Lewis in the UK continuing to reiterate the benefits it sees from running as a partner-owned model. During the last financial year, Blackwell's acquired bookshops at the Universities of Bradford, Derby and Keele, meaning it now serves 56 high education institutions in England, Scotland and Wales.

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