How to Start a Second Hand Bookstore

If you have an unbridled love for books plus an entrepreneurial spirit then starting a second hand book business is a great venture you should consider as an entrepreneur.

A Second Hand Bookstore is a Lucrative Business

Today’s digital age has seen a rise in the demand for affordable and eco-friendly used books, creating a lucrative opportunity in online and offline book retail niches. This guide will walk you through the process of starting a second hand bookstore online.

Penguin Books Runs on Shopify.

If you are wondering if Shopify is good platform for running an online book store, You will be delighted to note that publishing giant: Penguin Books: runs its online bookstore on Shopify. Read on for more info on why Shopify is the best ecommerce platform to start an online book store and how to get started.

Most of the guidelines that we will share also apply if you want to start a second hand book store offline. For the offline model, you will however need to factor in costs and modalities of renting physical store space and hiring staff to handle the day operations of the business.

Starting a second hand book store online is one of the low entry barrier business models, meaning you do not need much capital to launch a second hand bookstore business online.

Conducting Market Research

Conducting thorough market research is an important aspect of preparing to launch a second hand book store business. This exercise involves identifying your target audience by defining your ideal customers and their preferences for used books.

Part of this exercise is to analyse competitors in your area. In doing this you need to drill down into what genres of books your competitors are focusing on. Are they into fiction? or textbooks? etc,.

Find a Gap in the Market

The idea is to identify gaps that you can plug as a unique niche in the block. Part of the exercise is also to map the strengths and weaknesses of your existing competition so that you can find a lucrative entry wedge and angle into the market.

You also need to watch market trends and keep pace with emerging opportunities so that you can position your new brand.

The best way to ace your market research is to engage with local book lovers and join book clubs in your area. Also attend community events to understand the interests and preferences of your potential customers.

Defining Your Unique Selling Proposition (USP)

In defining your unique selling you need answer the following questions:

  • What genre of books will you specialise in?
  • What will be your value proposition and make your second hand book stand apart from the rest?
  • What pricing strategy will you adopt?

The world is increasingly becoming environmentally conscious and customers like to align themselves with brands that have a commitment to a more sustainable world. For this reason, you need to align with sustainability values and assert your commitment to offering user-friendly and affordable reading options.

Think out of the box, and consider literacy and educational challenges your community may be having, then you can map those to your product offering to optimise your value proposition.

For example if there are low literacy levels in your community you can position your second hand books store as a great initiative aimed at inculcating a culture of reading in your community.

Create A Second Hand Business Plan

Creating a business plan is an important part of your entrepreneurial endeavour. Many people overlook this step as they think that they have all that they need to do figured out.

A well-structured business plan is crucial if you want to start your second hand bookstore on a solid footing.

Benefits of writing a business plan:

  • It helps you put business ideas into perspective
  • It helps you assess the viability and feasibility of your business idea
  • It helps you define your marketing and operational strategies (crucial for the success of your business)
  • You can use the business plan to secure funding
  • You can use the business plan to monitor and evaluate the performance of your business.

Your second book store business plan must include your bookstores’ mission, goals, target market, pricing strategy, marketing plan as well as financial projections (expenses, revenue and profits). You should include details about your start-up costs, funding strategy as well as projected monthly expenses.

Remember the business plan is your road map for planning, launching and running your business to achieve the ultimate goals that you have.

Registering your Book Store Business

This is an important part of making sure that your bookstore brand and business are above board as a legal entity. Consider what your brand name is going to be and get that registered either as a sole proprietorship or a limited liability structure (LLC), or whatever juristic entity is suitable for your situation.

Check with regulations in your area to establish what licences and permits you need to run a bookstore legally.

In dealing in books, it is important to comply with copyright and intellectual property laws. Make sure you understand copyright laws that relate to reselling used books, including fair use and public domain. Make sure you also comply with licensing requirements for copyrighted materials and rare editions.

Choose the Right Location

If your bookstore is going to leverage both online and offline presences, then you need to apply your mind in choosing the right location for your physical book store. This can be a make or break for the success of your book store.

Consider areas with high foot traffic. Ideally, your book store must be close to schools, colleges, libraries, arts and culture theatres or hubs and such related spaces.

For the physical bookstore you need a location where your store can easily be visible to your potential customers. Choose a location that resonates with the theme and genres of your book store.

Sourcing Inventory for a Second hand Book Store

Gathering inventory is an important aspect of starting and running your second-hand bookstore business. Approach this with the objective of putting together diverse and well curated inventory that speaks to the diverse needs and readership goals of your potential customers.

To do this you must consider sources such as garage sales, thrift stores, estate sales, book fairs as well as online platforms. Go a further mile and build relationships with individuals who are willing to sell or donate books.

Quality is Key

Pay attention to the quality and the condition of the books. As much as you are running a second hand book store, you should not compromise on the quality of your products.

How to Curate Book Selections like a Pro

To curate book selection like a pro you need to offer a wide range of book genres that cater to diverse readings and literary interests. Consider popular titles and also include best sellers in your collection.

Also feature classic books and all-time great reads to broaden your readership audience. Augment your catalogue with rare finds. You can do this by sourcing rare books to attract not only avid and curious readers, but to attract collectors and enthusiasts as well.

Book Condition Assessment

As a second hand book store, you need to be intentional about ensuring a certain standard in your collection. Make sure you inspect each book to ascertain if it is of a good and satisfactory condition.

To do this effectively you need to implement a consistent book grading system where you class books into categories such as: like-new, good and acceptable. The key here is filter out book options that don’t meet this criteria. You also need to be transparent and communicate these book conditions to your customers.

Organize Your Bookstore

The next important part is to organise your bookstore. You need to be intentional about creating an inviting and organised layout for your bookstore. The best way to do this is to organise your book by genre, author or theme.

This helps your customers to explore your catalogue in a structured way and helps them to find what they are looking for easily. Invest in displays, bookshelves as well as comfortable reading areas as a way of enhancing the shopping experience of your valued customers

A cosy reading nook for example, can be a great way to encourage customers to spend more time in your store.

Establish a Solid Online Presence

To take your second hand book store far and wide and expand the footprint of your business, you need to establish a strong online presence. Creating a solid online presence will open new streams of traffic and sales if you do this right.

Online presence empowers you to promote your products on social media and reach customers who otherwise would not know about your book store.

An online presence will enable you to share book recommendations, host online events, engage with your audience and build a loyal community of readers and customers over time.

Building a Second Hand Book Store on Shopify

Shopify Review

Apart from being the leading ecommerce platform overall (based on market share as well as the features and functionalities), Shopify is a great platform to sell second books online for the following reasons:

  • It has a user-friendly online interface for building professional online stores in minutes
  • Extensive customisation options
  • Powerful tools and features tailored for book retailers
  • Dozens of high end and highly customisable online store templates
  • Efficient and 24/7 technical support service
  • Over a 100 payment gateway options
  • Affordable monthly pricing (for as low as $25 per month)

Why Shopify

Shopify enables book sellers to set up professional online stores within minutes. A book store built on Shopify comes with seamless payment gateway integrations off the shelf to streamline the entire shopping process.

Shopify also provides a wide range of apps and add-ons that can be installed to extend the functionalities as well as look and feel of your online bookstore. All these features and capabilities enable book sellers to enhance customer experience and satisfaction.


Remember, if you are keen to build a strong digital second hand book store brand, you need to register your own domain and then connect with Shopify.

Bluehost is one of the best domain registration and domain hosting platforms. Get your unique second hand book store domains registered with Bluehost for as low as $9.95 per month.


To come full circle on a digital book store business you need to add shipping and logistics to your online store model. For this you need to partner with reputable shipping and logistic services for deliveries.

You can as well opt to outsource this to a reputable company that specializes in this so that you get that aspect of your business out of your hands and focus more on marketing and customer satisfaction to grow your business.

Benefits of Selling Second Hand Books Online

The benefits of building a strong online presence are that you can leverage various ways to boost sales and expand the footprint of your brand. A strong online presence enable you to take advantage of the following strategies:

  • Social Media Marketing
  • Email Marketing
  • Affiliate Marketing and Partnerships
  • Content Collaborations and Guest Posts
  • Online Advertising
  • Customer Referral Program
  • Virtual Events and Book Launches
  • Pay-Per-Click (PPC) Ads
  • Virtual Author Events

Remember, you may not need to execute all these strategies per se. What is key is to identify channels that work best for you and focus more on those.

Growing and Scaling your Second hand book store business.

To grow and scale your business you need to consider various strategies to drum up awareness and give mileage to your branding. Consider hosting events and workshops calculated to promote your books.

You can organise book launches, reading sessions as well as author signings with the objective of attracting more like minded people to build a valuable community around your brand. Also consider collaborating book authors, book clubs, schools and various literary organisations in your area.

Crucial to growing and scaling our brand is making sure that you provide excellent customer service. Consider hiring some readies (book worms) or book lovers to read books and write incisive and promotional reviews. Be prompt in responding to reviews and comments.

Also be intentional about creating a positive shopping experience for your customers. Also embrace sustainability standards and leverage data from sales and feedback from your clients to adapt and innovate your business.

Guide Overview

Conducting Market Research
Defining Your Unique Selling Proposition (USP)
Create A Second Hand Business Plan
Benefits of writing a business plan
Registering your Book Store Business
Choose the Right Location
Sourcing Inventory for a Second Hand Book Store
How to Curate Book Selections like a Pro
Book Condition Assessment
Organize Your Bookstore
Establish a Solid Online Presence
Building a Second Hand Book Store on Shopify
Benefits of Selling Second Hand Books Online
Growing and Scaling your Second hand book store business

Final Thoughts

I hope this guide has been useful to you. Starting a second hand book store is not rocket science as you have seen. However success does not come overnight. You need to be diligent and patient in taking the journey step by step.

If you are keen to get started, you will take a leaf of inspiration from brands such as Powell’s Books, Strand Book Store, Blue Bicycle Books, World of books, Book Run, that have built successful brands second hand book stores on Shopify.

You too can start our own journey to running a successful second hand bookstore.

Wishing you all the best!

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Gugulethu Nyoni

Gugulethu Nyoni is a seasoned ICT entrepreneur, a full-stack developer with a portfolio of proprietary SaaS solutions under his name. His expertise span conceptualizing and developing digital solutions, including bespoke eCommerce applications. Gugu is also a proficient eCommerce and Whitehat SEO consultant.