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The legendary Foyles bookshop on Charing Cross Road in London recently shuffled along the street once more and re-opened with a bang.
It's an amazing store with clean lines and ordered stock, a world away from images of a rather cluttered 1930s Foyles such as this one.
I headed in to check out the in-store experience and to assess whether bookshops can benefit from digital in-store (leaving the e-book argument in the long grass).
Chiefly, I tested Foyles' free wi-fi, which features an inventory search and mapping tool.
I arrived in store and checked out the wi-fi available. Great to see it, clear as day, and with no password needed.
Foyles 107 is a big store with high dwell times, so wi-fi is a must, not to mention for students in the cafe..
Buggy log in
I have an iPhone 4S on EE (T-mobile), so I'm a pretty common customer in Foyles 107 (and I'd like to think high value).
This log in screen is quite bad in that I scrolled down to the T&Cs in a small window at the bottom. Only when I hit the end of the T&Cs did the whole page scroll down and reveal 'accept' and 'cancel' options.
Likely this isn't a big barrier for experienced web users who persevere in this sort of scenario. But to a smartphone newbie, perhaps a baby boomer, this is the kind of experience that inhibits people.
Map of the store
In general I'm not a fan of store mapping. Mostly this is because I think it's typical of an uninspired use for digital. It's something I don't see a customer demand for.
However, in a big bookstore, mapping is probably a better propostion than in most stores.
The problem with the Foyles map, one of the options on the wi-fi log in page, is that the categories aren't visible at this scale. View the maps on desktop by navigating to the microsite and you'll see them much clearer.
So, in general, I think this interactive log-in functionality/micro site would be better off without the map. The search facility is good though, and does include a helpful map in the results. Let's take a look....
I think this is a really good feature. The messaging is clear and this screen is the default once you've agreed to T&Cs on the wi-fi log in.
Predictive text and dynamic search results
Ok, predictive text this is a feature of my iPhone, but it's nice that it's enabled in the search bar. Unfortunatey, books have tons of proper nouns in their titles, not to mention their authors.
Potentially this could be annoying but I don't think it's a user barrier.
One slight problem though is that I can't see my search results until I hit 'done' on my keyboard. This might seem like a minor inconvenience, but it does rather defeat the dynamic search results page.
The fact that it's dynamic as I type if impressive and useful, considering I'm looking for inventory that's in stock and matches my query in some way.
Despite these niggles, you can see the design is very nice and easy to use. The cateogry is highlighted and I can switch filters easily. The thumbnail is a really nice touch - so I know what object I'm looking for.
A useful map!
Eating my words, this walkable route is useful. It's not locating me, but it shows the route to take from the top of the staircase, which is the axis of the store.
I found this map useful for striding straight towards a acopy of Moby Dick, rather than having to look at bookcase headers and signage.
(click to zoom)
Perhaps theres a Catch 22 here. If you can't find a book in a store, can you use this mobile interface, or even read a map? I'm being disingenuous of course.
The point is that asking someone is always going to be the quickest and easiest way to find a book, but that's only if people are available to help.
I entered the store on a weekday after lunch. It wasn't particularly busy. At Christmas time, with queues at each till, I imagine the search function will come into its own. So, if I'm looking for Moby Dick in Natural History, I can look at this system in exasperation and realise I should be in Fiction.
Foyles has plenty of staff and till points, and a very well positioned help desk that doesn't take transactions, so it's got its offline service licked. The store may benefit from putting this great store search microsite on a desktop terminal or iPad for customers to use,not just on wi-fi log in. Not everybody looking for a book will head to the wi-fi.
So far, so good for Foyles 107. It's an incredible store and the feature I have reviewed is helpful. But a word of caution that testing the experience for customers is vital to ensure the couple of niggles I mentioned are weeded out and the tool is actually made use of.
I found my book. Here's the proof...