[Weekender] Mega stores seek to connect with readers
Kyobo focuses on personalized consulting, Yes 24 engages customers with offline events
Published : Jul 11, 2014 - 21:21
Updated : Jul 11, 2014 - 21:24
In an effort to overcome a decline in sales, and the profoundly dwindling public interest in reading, Korea’s two largest book retailers Kyobo Book Center and Yes 24 set out their own unique strategies.

For Kyobo, Korea’s largest book chain with 14 branches nationwide, it is tailored book consulting service.

At the core of this service are a new breed of professionals called “book masters,” who find books that customers are looking for, make recommendations based on their preferences and manage the book selection and displays.

Kyobo compares them to Starbucks baristas.

To be called a book master, one must pass a six-month curriculum and a final test ― all developed and run by Kyobo. About 20 percent of its staff have earned this title.

“Many customers don’t know what we can do for them. But those who know come and ask for book recommendations. We send customized emails to them on book recommendations and new releases based on their preferences and interests,” said Jeon Seol-la, a book master for literature at the Gwanghwamun branch. 
The main branch of Kyobo Book Center in Gwanghwamun is one of the largest and busiest bookshops in Seoul, stretching across 8,595 square meters and dominating the market with sales of around 535 billion won ($527 million) last year. (Kyobo Book Center)

Jeon has about seven regular customers who seek her out when looking for books and consult her about the right books for different occasions. Her clients vary in age.

“A middle-aged man came up to me asking which book he should give to his wife, who is hospitalized. High school students ask me to recommend books to give to their teacher on Teacher’s Day,” said Jeon.

Kyobo isn’t the only book retailer that tries to personalize customers’ shopping experience. 
The automatic system allows Kyobo Book Center to ship a book order within one day. (Kyobo Book Center)

Yes 24, Korea’s largest online book seller, invites customers and writers to take part in a literature camp every year. Based on an online survey, the company selects the writers who will go on the trip with readers. Last year, two authors, Jo Jung-rae of the best-selling novels “Taebaek Mountain Range” and “The Great Jungle” and Jung Yoo-jeong, who wrote the novel “28,” went on a three-day trip to South Jeolla Province with some 200 customers.

“Thanks to the support from the readers, the literature camp has been around for 10 years. We will continue to create more opportunities for authors and readers to communicate,” said Choi Sae-ra, book director of Yes 24.

It also invites customers to the distribution center in Daegu to give them a better understanding about its one-day shipping service.

About 25 percent of all orders at Yes 24 are delivered within a day. The “bullet shipping” service covers not just metropolitan areas, but also major provincial cities and Jejudo Island, the company said.

Kyobo and Yes 24 claim to have the nation’s largest book warehouse and distribution centers. Yes 24 has two distribution centers, in Paju and Daegu, which together process 80,000 books per day. Kyobo has three distribution centers, with the largest, in Paju, handling online orders. The whole process is computerized. Once an order arrives, a machine takes out the book from a stack of books, wraps it up and ships it off automatically.

By Lee Woo-young (