August 9, 2019

Online Recommendations: Lessons learned while online shopping

In February I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy, closing out the year of the baby at NoveList (seriously – a 60-person office saw 7 babies over the course of 12 months). With a baby comes rattles and diapers and onesies and board books and emails from every company that has anything to do with babies as your email address ends up on every baby-customer list to have ever existed. And, like many new moms, I discovered the benefits of a next day delivery. 2 a.m. is never a good time to make purchasing decisions, but it is a good time to learn that you can get 14 pacifiers delivered to your doorstep within 24 hours. And for each item I purchased, companies learned a little more about me and began to send me recommendations about other baby stuff I might want to buy.

What does this have to do with book recommendations, you might be asking yourself? Well, the recommendations for what else I might want to buy have been uniformly terrible. Since I work for NoveList, a database known for their on-point book recommendations, I had many thoughts. For example, here’s a list of things I bought and a list of things I got recommendations to buy a couple days to a couple weeks after.

Items I bought Items that companies suggested I might also want
  • Pacifiers, 0-3 months
  • Pacifiers, 18-36 months
  • Backpack diaper bag
  • Same company’s backpack diaper bag in a different color
  • Stroller/car seat system
  • Running stroller
  • Pacifier leashes, bug designs
  • More pacifier leashes, zoo animal designs
  • Cradle cap shampoo
  • More cradle cap shampoo* 

*pro tip: the pediatrician suggested olive oil for 10 minutes before each bath and it worked wonders!

You might notice something in these recommendations — each time I bought something, it was recommended that I buy the same thing, in a different size, brand, or color. And, as you might imagine, none of these recommendations are helpful. Perhaps a suggestion that I buy 14 pacifiers for 3-6 months would be useful now, but I’m certainly not ready to invest in and store toddler pacifiers. 

Back to the books! 

NoveList recommendations work on the assumption that if you devoured The Kiss Quotient, you already have her new book on hold. Instead of recommending a book you can find on your own, we give you recommendations for other romances with an engaging writing style, fake relationship, and well-developed characters like The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory, Roomies by Christine Lauren, and The Real Deal by Lauren Blakely. 

We apply that same care to our series recommendations. If you’re tapping your fingers after reading Charcoal Joe and waiting for your next Easy Rawlins mystery (not to complain, Mr. Mosley, but it’s been two years), we’re not going to suggest Devil in a Blue Dress. We know you’ve read it and probably seen the movie. Instead, we’re going to point you towards other rich historical mysteries with African American characters and/or sensitive coverage of racial justice like the older Aaron Gunner mysteries by Gar Anthony Haywood or the Benjamin January mysteries by Barbara Hambly. 

How do we do our recommendations? We have a brilliant team of librarians and book experts who apply their expertise to reading recommendations to help your patrons. (Want to become a contributor for us? We love our contributors!) We also use our Story Elements to suggest read-alikes, taking great care to make sure that gruesome books are never recommended for any reader who likes heartwarming titles. We also know that just because one book is a bestseller doesn’t mean that a reader will like all the other bestsellers during that month or that because a book won the Pulitzer, a reader won’t be interested in other Pulitzer winners just because they have the same medal on the cover.

Why do we put so much care into our recommendations? For you and your readers, of course!

As librarians ourselves, we know that the reader/librarian relationship is one that’s built on trust and good communication. Whether your readers are getting their recommendations from NoveList Select in your catalog or you’re using NoveList Plus to build a display, you need to have your best foot forward.

Your readers are coming to you for book recommendations. Don’t make the mistake of recommending pacifiers when they already bought 14 of them.

Want to know more about how to get our recommendations in your catalog? Learn more about NoveList Select.

Jennifer Lohmann is the Director of Sales and Marketing at NoveList. She is currently reading Jane Doe by Victoria Helen Stone. 


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