Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Book Stores, Bozos, and the Best Gifts

I don't claim to know how to run a book store. But I do know, while in a book store, when I am not feeling inclined to stick around. There are lots of reasons – poor lighting, too crowded, insanely loud music, disorganized, no visible human help. And then there's feeling manipulated.

Yesterday I stopped in a large chain bookstore to buy four copies of a friend's humorous book about aging, which I intend to give to relatives at upcoming birthdays. It's a new book and the local author has been featured on national major media. The book was nowhere near the front, so I asked a meandering clerk where I might find it.

He turned wordlessly and sprinted off, losing me after two quick turns in the stacks. He returned with one copy of the book in his hand.

This was wrong on so many counts.
I did not ask him to get it for me; I asked where I could find it.
I had a need (for multiple copies) that this clerk never bothered to learn.
He did not respond to my question verbally, just took off.

I'm sure the marketing gurus have determined that putting a book in a customer's hand makes it more likely to be purchased. And yes, clerks who point in some vague direction and mumble, "over there" do irritate me.

I would not have minded being personally escorted, but someone has to tell employees to walk at a pace designed for adult humans who are not track stars. By bringing me the book, the sales geniuses think they are serving my needs. But what if I wanted to browse the entire section, and maybe buy something in addition to the book I came for originally?

When I said I needed three more copies, he looked surprised and a little annoyed, as if I should have said so in the beginning. Ahem.

Of course, I could have phoned a local independent bookstore, where chances are they would have gladly put copies aside for me. The truth is, I wasn't going to be in that neighborhood for a few days, and the double discount I get at the chain does matter (more in some months than others and this is one of those months).

I do understand the value -- both to a reader and the store -- when a genuinely interested book store worker "hand sells" me a book (by picking one up or pointing it out and telling me good things about the book or author). But that's an entirely different matter. That's communication, interaction, and product knowledge.

Maybe it was just this particular clerk. Even so, I felt manhandled and at the same time, ignored. Or maybe I'm just acting old, in which case, I need to pay more attention to my friends blog (which spawned the book).

I'm still glad to have helped support a fellow writer's efforts by choosing books as gifts. And, I recommend it, no matter where they are purchased.

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