CMPTO Goes Retail

Last week, we hosted CMPTO’s very first retail edition. It was about time we got down to business with the fascinating new avenues of retail that are being introduced or re-introduced in the book market. We had three amazing speakers from vastly different backgrounds and organizations who each brought their own take on what retail means to them and their work.


First up, James McCaulay from Shopify took us on a tour of the magical world of e-commerce. James is a software developer at Shopify, an easy-to-use and ragingly popular e-commerce platform that was born in Ottawa. In the US, Shopify ranked number 3 after the usual giants Amazon and eBay in the online retail race this past Black Friday. James talked about the ease with which it’s possible for content producers, like publishers, to become store owners. His insight into the Shopify experience made it clear that they have a big focus on fostering creativity. Their goal is to keep the back end of shopping intuitive to set up and the front end fully customizable and clean. He gave us numerous examples of publishers taking advantage of an e-commerce platform that caters to their individuality. My favourite one was a publisher whose catalogue is excellent for those who work with web and content design: A Book Apart.

Mobile Payments

Our second speaker was Jazz Samra from Intuit, a company that’s known for it’s line of tax-preparation and payroll software for small businesses. (QuickBooks, I see you!) Jazz spoke to us about their exciting entry, earlier this year, into the Canadian mobile payments ring with GoPayment. We had the idea of getting a mobile payments developer on board for this CMPTO after eating at Come and Get It across the street from BNC HQ. They’re a pop-up restaurant that decided to use an iPad in place of a traditional restaurant POS system because it was quick and easy to set up. The possibility of using such apps to sell books on the fly is an exciting one. How cool would it be if a sales reps could ring up a sale on the road without having to manage the paper and leg work involved in dealing with order sheets? Or how much easier it would be to sell books to credit card users at book events?

GoPayment was one of the first such applications to launch in Canada – months before PayPal and Square. Jazz gave us a terrific overview of why mobile is on the rise in retail and how GoPayment stays competitive in a hot market. When you subscribe to their service, you get a free card reader, which is a small do-hickey with a card-slide-slot, that you attach to the top of your mobile device. This device works in conjunction with their free app. Once a card is swiped, the app can calculate sales tax based on your location, take customer signatures and send email or SMS receipts. GoPayment is currently only compatible with Apple devices and there was some definite interest from our audience about when Android users would be able to get in on the action. Unfortunately, Jazz could not give us a set date but did hint that they are in active development.

An Old Model for a New Time

About a year ago, I got added on Twitter by a company called Mail A Tale. It looked like they’d just started their business in subscription retail for children’s books. They had darling brand design and a old-yet-new business model for selling books through monthly subscriptions. So, it was a pleasure to have Anila Akram from Mail A Tale come speak to us about why they did it and what they’ve learned over the past year.

Anila’s presentation was incredibly candid. She spelled out why they decided on subscription-based retail – because it’s recurring, it accesses cash up-front, and makes it easier to get long-term customers. Mail A Tale works with book distributors and publishers to purchase books that they then sell to their customers. The kicker is that their book choices are specially curated for individual customers, thereby removing the time spent by a parent in searching for books for their kids. What I found most interesting is when Anila revealed that they decided very early on that they would avoid competing on price. They realized that customers don’t care about a book’s sticker value and decided to focus their value offerings on high service and delivery standards and relevant curation. Figure out what you’re good at; do it better. I can go for that!

My favourite part of the night was when Anila, after talking about the fear that pervades the book industry, confidently proclaimed that “nothing is dying here!” I think we see this sentiment play out time and time again at CMPTO, and rightly so. Our next installment will be the BNC Tech Forum edition in March 2013. Until then, friends, keep developing your masterplans and have a great holiday season!