Date
19 September 2017
Hong Kong has become a priority market for Taiwan online book vendors. Photo: Bloomberg
Hong Kong has become a priority market for Taiwan online book vendors. Photo: Bloomberg

Taiwan online bookstores log into Hong Kong

Online bookstores in Taiwan are seeking more business from the Chinese community overseas, with Hong Kong particularly in focus due to the growing economic, cultural and people-to-people exchanges between the two sides. 

Evidence of this trend is an initiative announced this week by books.com.tw, one of Taiwan’s leading online book vendors, to enhance its service to Hong Kong readers.

The company said on Tuesday that it is launching a facility whereby customers in Hong Kong can pick up their books at selected convenience stores in the city 30 hours after they place the order with the Taiwan online store. Apart from quick delivery, the service enables the buyers to secure Taiwan books and magazines at lower prices compared to the costs incurred on buying them at local bookstores.

The service, which comes after another Taiwan bookstore launched its own initiative in Hong Kong last year, shows that online book vendors are extending their offline reach in a bid to win more consumer trust, as well as to convince traditional offline buyers to shop online.

Under the service launched by books.com.tw, which is a subsidiary of President Group, a person who places an order and completes the payment before noon from Monday to Friday can have the books ready for pick-up at selected 7-11 convenience stores across Hong Kong by 6 pm next day. The company will charge readers transportation fees that ranges from NT$210 (US$6.97) for a single book to NT$560 for ten books.

Books.com.tw is not the first Taiwan online book store to offer offline pick-up service for Hong Kong readers. Last year, Kingstone.com.tw, the online subsidiary of Taiwanese online bookstore Kingstone, introduced a similar pick-up service for Hong Kong customers in partnership with the Circle K convenience store chain. Readers can have their orders ready 4 to 5 days after the order completed.

The pick-up service launched by the two online bookstores demonstrates their ambition to build their own overseas online-to-offline (O2O) ecosystem for their business, after they gained sufficient experience from local O2O operations in Taiwan.

For example, Kingstone and book.com.tw have in Taiwan committed to have the orders ready for pick up at selected outlets 24 hours after receiving the orders. Kingstone even provides 3-hour shipment services for selected products to urban consumers. The delivery service promise reflects the bookstores’ strength in warehousing and logistics management, which is the key in O2O operations.

The extension of the O2O ecosystem business model in overseas markets should help the Taiwan online bookstores offset the impact of weak consumption in their home base. Industry observers have pointed out that the Taiwan publishing industry needs overseas markets to maintain business growth.

Apart from the two online bookstores mentioned above, Eslite, a reputable book store in Taiwan, has opened its first Hong Kong outlet at Hysan Place in Causeway Bay, marking its first overseas exposure. The Eslite Hong Kong store not only sells books, but also brings several Taiwan original products ranging from snack foods and tea to handbags to Hong Kong consumers. A wide product portfolio means the store does not have to rely on book sales alone for its survival.

Taiwan’s publishing industry has huge influence in the Hong Kong market, as both Hong Kong and Taiwan publications use Traditional Chinese characters. Taiwan is also a front-runner in the Greater China publishing industry in terms of number of titles and quality of publications. That could provide a win-win situation for both Hong Kong readers and Taiwan book sellers if the direct sale business model matures.

However, small local Hong Kong bookstores, especially shops located in the upper floors of old buildings in places such as Mong Kok, could lose out under the onslaught of Taiwan online vendors.

The small bookstores had traditionally been the main suppliers of niche publications from Taiwan. As store rental costs have been surging in the past decade, the smaller players have been finding it difficult to survive. The new service by Taiwan online vendors will only make matters worse by squeezing the market share of the small local bookstores further.

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RC

EJ Insight writer

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