Retail Solutions 2008: Borders launches online shop

Borders UK online shop which opened this month is on course to become the firm's largest store within a year, the retailer revealed yesterday.

Borders UK online shop which opened this month is on course to become the firm's largest store within a year, the retailer revealed yesterday.

The book seller outsourced the main components of the website to get it up and running within six months of getting the go ahead, said Geoff O'Neill, Borders UK's head of supply chain.

O'Neill said he expects the online store to turnover £6m to £8m in its first year, making it one, if not the largest, of the book retailer's 42 UK outlets.

Borders UK had to wait until a 10 year non-compete agreement with ended in February this year to launch its own online store.

Borders has outsourced the websites suggestion engine, dubbed Spookily Accurate Book Selector to Readers of the site have put up 20 million tags to express their opinions on books.

"Most book sites says if you liked The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, you will like everything by Dan Brown," said O'Neill. "With Librarythingy, we think we have got something different that will surprise people."

London-based Tangent Labs is responsible for website development and hosting. Gardners Books, which has a back catalogue of 4.5 million books, handles order fulfilment.

Outsourcing has helped to cut costs and speed to market, said O'Neill. The cost of the site is "considerably lower" than others he has built. He says it will not pay back much in the first year but as it takes the money from the customer before it has to pay for the goods, it is already cash-positive.

"All my competitors have efficient accurate supply chain systems, so I had to do something different, and that was to stay true to what the company stands for," he said. Those values include an unrushed browsing experience, a stimulating challenge and a quirkiness that Borders believes is unique.

The online catalogue contains around one million books and half-a-million CDs and DVDs titles. It features the usual opinion spaces and forums where visitors can discuss anything they like, plus digital TV interviews with authors, something O'Neill thinks is unique.

Borders spent the months before the launch taking in-store customers' e-mail addresses. "We are now emailing them with the news," he said.

O'Neill said his chief executive is already asking him how he is going to improve the site and to "jazz it up to beat Amazon". He is cautious, saying they have to let the system bed in first. However, it is in the back of his mind to work on a suggestion system that crosses media. So if you like John le Carre, you might also like to watch The Bourne Ultimatum and listen to U2.

"There is no silver bullet," he says. "Everything we have done so far is pretty much common sense. But it is also what we consider important. Underlying it all was the question: what does the customer want? What you see is our answer to that."

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