There’s no doubt that retail is big business.
Marketing officials are constantly developing new ideas to encourage us to part with our money. A snazzier jingle, an added freebie, a ‘buy two, get one free offer’ – they’ll try anything to create more cash for them and a sense of fulfilment for us.
Christian products are often extremely lucrative for the manufacturer or storeowner. There are entire chains of stores, online empires and production houses dedicated to producing, promoting and selling a selection of Christian merchandise. A single well-loved Bible no longer seems sufficient for today’s Christian; he or she must now own a range of t-shirts that spell out the wearer’s faith, CDs to bop along to and books and magazines that tell them how they should be living.
As the Christian retail industry faces competition from chain stores and online retailers, more Christian stores are closing than are opening each year. Retailers and publishers say that innovation is the key to success. As a result, they are tapping into the Christian market with ‘added extras’. For example:
- A new Christian bookstore in the US has made available comfortable chairs, a coffee shop and a smoothie bar for its patrons. An entire section of the store is dedicated to building skateboards
- Zondervan, the Christian publisher owned by HarperCollins, was forced to cut five executive positions and a dozen others this year. But is has introduced Symtio, a digital merchandising system that allows in-store customers to buy a gift card for a book which they can then download at home onto their computer or MP3 player
- Bible publisher Thomas Nelson cut about 10 per cent of its staff, after previously deciding to halve its number of new titles this year. But it is hoping to profit from future quality and innovation. ‘You don’t talk to any retailers that are saying what we need is more books,’ said Michael Hyatt, president and CEO of Thomas Nelson. ‘What they’re all saying is, “We need better books.”’
Although the Christian retail industry may be suffering from internal pressures, for the consumer at least, all appears well. We can buy a smoothie with our CD or enjoy a beverage with our Bible. We can shop in-store (taking advantage of comfy couches) or online (when we can’t be bothered changing out of our pyjamas). Best of all, we can choose from a growing range of superior-quality, innovative products.
Even the statistics seem to demonstrate that all is healthy in the world of Christian products: a publishing trade association reported that sales of Christian books have had an increase in net revenue of 6.3 per cent last year – a higher figure than the net revenue gain for all publishers (4.4 per cent).