Blackwell's pop-up stores get digital mPOS makeover

For many years Blackwell’s has been selling books outside of its retail stores at conferences and festivals.

Unlike other bookshops, its close relationship with universities and other institutions means Blackwell’s is likely to pop-up at a number of conferences, events and literary festivals across the year, including the Edinburgh Book Festival and the Oxford Literary Festival.

This often means the 140-year-old retailer is selling its books in unfamiliar venues, such as universities or even marquees, with little or no Wi-Fi. While Blackwell’s has used mobile signals for payments in the past, the networks has never been dependable enough to use inventory technologies more advanced than a piece of paper and a pencil.

“We’d have a paper list of books and we’d take cash or card and tick the books off the list,” Kate Stilborn, customer service and operations director at Blackwell’s Bookshops, tells Essential Retail. “Then we would go back to the shop and key this information into the system. It was not in any way ideal and takes a lot of time for staff as it’s not particularly slick.”

This was the process for off-site selling until 18 months ago, when Blackwell’s decided to work with Itim and take its in-store POS system mobile. The retailer trialled a Cielo tablet from Box Technologies and then decided to purchase six more devices. Meanwhile, the improved experience for both colleagues and customers has led to the decision to take its fleet of tablets up to 10.

Blackwells attends many conferences and literary festivals throughout the year
Blackwells attends many conferences and literary festivals throughout the year

“Gradually we want to allow the shops to keep their own tablet and not have to move them over the country,” explained Stilborn.

She described how Itim helped the retailer deliver its Windows-based POS system on the tablet, which provides a “slick” customer experience: “There’s no more adding up on a calculater.”

Meanwhile, concerns about theft and breakages have so far been quashed and Stilborn said she can imagine when Blackwell’s current in-store POS undergo a refresh in the years to come, the business would look to replace static tills with tablets.

“During a six-week trial period, we were able to take an extra £100,000 by being able to use tablets off-site and by being at events where thousands of extra books can be sold,” said Stilborn. “This has now escalated to around £500,000 when we started to use them more.

“But its customer experience that is the real selling point,” she added. “For the money it gives us improved CX and much more seamless operations, saves a lot of man hours, improves accuracy and reporting.