Women executives in retail #6: Nicole Vanderbilt, MD of Bookshop.org UK.
Nicole Vanderbilt, MD of Bookshop.org UK
Women who have reached senior positions in the retail world are (all too) rare, not to mention invisible, which is why we decided to get to know them better by inviting them to tell us about their career paths, the challenges of the past and those of the future.
Q&A with Nicole Vanderbilt, MD of Bookshop.org UK.
Can you tell us about Bookshop.org and the business model?
Our mission is to support independent bookshops. We do this by helping them get a greater share of the growing online book market. Every single sale supports indie bookshops. When an indie bookshop drives a sale through the platform they get 30% of the cover price as commission. All our orders get passed to our wholesale partner who then ships them directly to the customer. This means the bookshop is making that commission as profit and with no hassle.
What prompted the creation of the business?
The business was started in the US by our CEO and founder, Andy Hunter. He launched the business in January 2020 and had been building it for some time. The simple idea was to help indie bookshops thrive in the age of e-commerce by creating a pooled platform that would make it easier for them to provide a good alternative to Amazon for online purchases.
What business challenges have you faced and what elements have you had to adapt?
We built the team and the UK business during lockdown and we launched in November 2020 during peak trading for the book industry (and retail in general). We had to do everything for the first time at a time of year when the stakes were incredibly high. It was challenging and exhilarating. We got a lot of good customer feedback very quickly.
What about personal challenges?
It’s hard to identify any challenges with this role. I’ve long been an Internet person professionally, but I’ve also long been a big reader and book-obsessive personally. So to find a role where I could bring those two things together has been a dream. Add to that that I get to work with the best team and on behalf of the best humans every day, and I would say I have zero complaints.
What advice would you give a young woman who’s about to enter the world of work and is the book sector embracing diversity?
For young women entering the workforce, I would say simply to put yourself forward for things. Don’t wait until you feel ready. Be prepared to make yourself a bit uncomfortable in the interest of learning.
Can you share some numbers about the business?
We’ve just hit a big milestone in that we have raised £3 million in profit for indie bookshops in the UK since our launch, and we have 572 bookshops on the platform.
What are the biggest opportunities?
The single biggest opportunity is to help consumers understand that they can support independent bookshops while also buying online. They need not compromise at all on the standards of service, selection and speed they have come to expect from e-commerce in order to support the local businesses in their communities.
How do you see the book market develop in the future?
Our ambition is for indie bookshops to get their fair share of online sales. In a survey with the Booksellers Association, bookshops told us that they currently only get about 7% of their sales online. This is in contrast to the 60% of the total book market that results from online purchases, according to Nielsen BookData. Our aim is to equip bookshops with the skills and confidence to translate their in-store strengths to online sales. We provide a platform that allows them to remain focused on the part of their job that they makes them great and that they enjoy.
Do you feel that being a woman boss makes a difference?
Of course, anyone can be a good leader. Unfortunately, I think women are often still held to higher standards.