Waterstones works with us to create UK’s first bookselling qualification

“Working with UDC has been a rewarding and challenging experience and we would not be where we are now with the Certificate and our learning and development strategy without their expertise and guidance.”
Vikki Boekbinder, Learning and Development Manager, Waterstones

To compete with other booksellers, including online giant Amazon, Waterstones needed the people in its stores to offer unique expertise and outstanding customer service. It chose us to help them develop a bookselling qualification that would achieve this.

Their brief

Waterstones had established its own Academy to offer professional training in bookselling to its employees. However, before recruiting its first cohort, the company wanted to accredit this training to add value and credibility. Following a competitive tender process, we won the contract to help them do this.

Our solution

We followed our rigorous accreditation procedure, which includes a number of quality assurance checks. We looked closely at the existing course materials to determine the appropriate higher education level and number of credits. We also helped Waterstones devise suitable ways of assessing and capturing evidence of learning. 

The training was accredited as a Level 4 programme that gave people a University Certificate – the UK’s first ever professional bookselling qualification.

The course aimed to upskill Waterstones’ bookselling staff, ensuring they were knowledgeable and that they understood current thinking and priorities at Waterstones. Content focused on three key areas:

  1. Engaging with customers
  2. Selling to customers
  3. Winning customers.

Topics included:

  • Marketing, customers and competition
  • Principles of visual merchandising
  • Product groups and genres and their importance to Waterstones
  • Customer service including the Waterstones’ customer experience
  • The book industry and the retail market
  • Understanding the local community
  • Profit and loss, including how to interpret Waterstones’ weekly and monthly shop reports
  • Competitor analysis – who are Waterstones’ competitors?
  • Accounts and customer sales.

Learners worked through online materials and completed a series of practical business challenges, such as curating a commercial display in their Front of Store or Window, and then critiquing this display.

Line managers provided support, on-the-job learning and feedback and our University’s online tutors were also available to help.

As with all accreditations, Waterstones in-house tutors were required to undertake our Supporting Work Based Learning programme. This programme enables in-company trainers to understand the context of supporting learners in higher education, and the underlying principles of design, delivery, assessment and quality assurance in a work based context. It also means that those taking the bookselling qualification can get support from colleagues who understand both work based learning and the business.

The results so far

A pilot cohort of 40 employees completed the programme in 2013 and following the success of that pilot, Waterstones now offers the course to all of its booksellers.

So far, another 232 booksellers from almost 150 shops have enrolled and are completing the Certificate. The company also plans to include it in the induction programme for all new booksellers.

Waterstones has rolled out the Supporting Work Based Learning programme to more in-house tutors, so there are now 23 tutors trained to provide support to learners.

"It is quite exciting to be one of the first 40 people in the country to be awarded a bookselling qualification.
"It was a very interesting and enjoyable course and a fruitful experience. It really gave me a better understanfing of the business as a whole."

Angela Macrae, Senior Bookseller