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Kieron Smith of the Book Depository

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The Book Depository is a fast growing business which sells books internationally from its UK base. Last year, its sales grew by 160% to £40m, enough to take the number five slot in The Sunday Times’ Fast Track 100 list.

I’ve been talking to MD Kieron Smith about the site, the reasons for its success, and the challenges of running an international e-commerce operation.

I hadn’t heard of The Book Depository until recently – how long has it been going?

It was launched four and a half years ago, making £4m in the first year, and £40m last year. This year we are on target for sales of £65m.

It has been a relatively low profile business, and
has managed to grow through word of mouth, both in the UK and
internationally, partly thanks to the international free delivery
offer. We do get a lot of recommendations online. For example, Book Depository gets four times as many mentions online as Waterstones.

It hasn’t done much in terms of getting its brand values out there so it isn’t as well known as it could be, but we will be looking to do more on this front later this year.

We have tried to include a lot of options to drill down in searches, and avoid customers having lists of books to look through which are too large. We sell a lot of long tail titles, which is part of the reason for our success, and people often arrive at the site knowing what they want.

The challenge is to combine social / directive search with the ability to search for specific titles using things like library codes.

A lot has to do with the availability on the site, and the fact that we can offer titles within 48 hours. Amazon has availability for 1.2m titles, then it pushes customers onto the marketplace after that. Waterstones only carries 100,000 titles, while Borders has only one wholesaler and 250,000 titles. It can back order, but this is an effort for them and a wait for customers.

Our proposition is that we only advertise the books that we can get hold of, that and the free worldwide delivery is our USP.

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