Waterstones under fire for secret shops

Southwold BooksImage copyright
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Waterstones, the UK’s leading bookshop chain, is on the defensive after going incognito at some of its newer stores.

The firm has opened three shops that do not feature its distinctive branding, prompting accusations of deception.

They are Southwold Books in Suffolk, The Rye Bookshop in East Sussex and Harpenden Books in Hertfordshire.

But Waterstones’ chief executive, James Daunt, told the BBC the move was justified, saying he wanted the shops to have a more independent feel.

The policy was quietly introduced in mid-2014, when Southwold Books was launched as “a quintessentially local bookshop”.

The Rye Bookshop followed a year later, while Harpenden Books opened in April 2016.

Media captionWaterstones boss James Daunt hits back

No-one paid much attention at first, but now Waterstones is under fire for apparently masquerading as the little guy in a world of increasingly homogenised High Streets.

As a result, Mr Daunt took to the airwaves to argue the company’s case on the BBC’s Today programme.

He said that all three of the shops in question were on small High Streets that did not have an independent book store.

“We’re coming into quite sensitive High Streets, ones predominantly with independent retailers on them, and we wish to behave as they do,” he said.

By giving his small stores a more independent feel, he said he hoped to change the way in which staff worked.

“Part of the reason that we do it is to convince our own booksellers that they have the autonomy that they do have,” he added.

“I think I have always acted and worked as an independent book seller and I would love for everyone who works for me does so likewise.”

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