Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Magic of the Bookstore

Not really a writing post, but I was at Nathan Bransford's blog and found a little something that made me want to rave a bit.

Originally posted here, but I found it re-posted here (where I found it). Now I'm putting it up, but with my own Barnes & Noble twist to it (as in, comments). My comments to the original are in white.

How NOT to Shop in an Independent Bookstore
by Joe Neri

You would think that browsing a bookstore is pretty easy. Walk in the door, find the books that interest you, and browse. You might be surprised, however, at what Kris and I encounter when we open the doors for business each day.

Based on our real experiences, here are some suggestions for how NOT to shop at an independent bookstore:

Let’s face it. Most of this applies to ANY bookstore. A lot of it should be common sense if not common courtesy. Granted, some of these are definitely worse when it’s an independent bookstore, but try not to be a jackass wherever you happen to go, okay?

1. Don’t tell us how much you’re going to miss Borders.
I work at a Barnes & Noble, but I still like visiting the Borders 20 minutes away from time to time because it’s a nice change. Joe’s right – don’t be babbling about bigger stores while in an independent store. I’m one of the few that will sympathize with you since I work at a big store, but be more sensitive around the little guys.

2. Don’t tell us that you just got a Kindle for your birthday.
Don’t tell US you got a Kindle either. Or, if you do, don’t ask us if you can download B&N books on it because you can’t and you should know this. Oh, and don’t ask us how to work your Kindle either because we sell Nooks, not Kindles. Don’t ask us how to use your Pandigital or your Sony ereaders either because we don’t know. We’re not paid to show you how to use devices we don’t make or sell. Call the tech support for them like you’re supposed to. Would you go to a Verizon store and ask them how to work an AT&T phone? I rest my case.

3. Don’t only look for books by James Patterson and Danielle Steele. Believe it or not there are literally thousands of good authors, encompassing all genres, who actually write the books with their names on the covers.
There are, though they may be a teensy bit harder to find at us big chain stores than the local independent bookstore down the way. But if you can’t find what you want, for heaven sakes ask because we may be able to order it for you. If not, then don’t be mad because remember – you’re in a big retail store. Unlike what you may think, we actually aren’t able to physically carry every book in existence. Why don’t you go help out the independent bookstore instead?

4. Don’t ask for paper and pen to write down the titles and authors of wonderful books you discovered by browsing in our bookstore, with the intention of buying them online. Especially don’t use our high quality (i.e., expensive) business cards and/or bookmarks to do so.
I support this for the independent guys. If you do it in B&N, I’ll likely never know and probably won’t care as long as you don’t point it out because let’s face it – that’s just annoying. When people say things like, “Well, I guess I’ll just have to get it on Amazon” loud enough for us to hear (on purpose) then it’s not cool for the simple fact that you’re acting like it’s our fault the book isn’t in stock. But we do have scrap paper so you can make as many notes as you want.

5. If you must do #4 above, please don’t steal our pens.
Dear sweet heavens, REALLY. You think just because we’re a big bookstore that we have some magical endless line of pens? I think people must stroll by and take them because one day we have a full box of pens and the next week I’m looking through drawers and behind the computers for one stupid pen. I don’t care if you borrow the pen but PLEASE bring it back. That costs money in the long run, and that costs payroll, and that means in some time down the road you may get some crap customer service because, guess what? There’s fewer employees around to help you find the book you want. You know, the one you wrote down WITH OUR PENS.

6. Don't use your cellphone's internet connection to check online availability and pricing for books you find here.
Yeah, that’s pretty rude for the independent guys. And anyway, why didn’t you do your research before going out? And you should know (or geez, at least guestimate) how much the independent store might charge. And you know what? In case you haven’t heard by now, 9 out of 10 times, online prices are cheaper. Yes, even at B&N. And no, we don’t price match our own online price. Neither does Walmart so get over it. If you’re willing to wait for shipping just to get a cheaper price, why are you even out at a bookstore?

7. In fact, don’t use your cell phone at all while browsing in our bookstore. Your need to be “connected” at all times doesn’t quite fit in with the ambiance we’re going for (why do people think they have to shout into cell phones?)
I support this. Independent bookstores are cozy, quiet, and a place to snuggle up to good books. B&N is like that too, but since our customer base is wider, people are going to use their cell phones. I don’t care, but I do care if you’re shouting. That’s a valid question up there. Why are you shouting? I think perhaps you need a better phone. And please, please, please don’t ask me to help you when you’re on the phone and only giving me 10% of your attention. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve already found a customer’s book and had to wait another 5 minutes just to let them know while in the meantime, other customers are waiting for help.

And while we’re on the topic of cell phones, I really, REALLY do NOT like it when people hand me their cell phones to talk to their sister/brother/father/cousin/roommate about the book he/she/they are looking for. I don’t know what virus is hanging out on your mouthpiece, okay? Get the information beforehand and just to be sure, write it down. And you know what? Ask them to double check their information because I’d have to say 6 out of 10 times, they don’t know what the heck they’re talking about either.

One more thing. Get off your cell phone before checking out or you might lose out on something. Why? Because half the time people don’t pay attention. So if you have a member card and fail to give it to me for your hardcover book, guess what, you just lost out on a 20% discount. Need a gift receipt? You don’t realize it until you get home. Have a coupon that expires that day? Too bad for you. Buy two books from the buy two, get the third free table? No free book for you. Hang it up already.

8. Don’t ask us to research a book, of which you don’t know the full title or the proper spelling of the author’s name, taking up half of our counter space with your notes on scraps of paper, and preventing other customers from getting service, if you don’t intend to buy the book from us.
True enough. Independent bookstores are not libraries. Neither are we. Most of the time, yes, I will bust my ass for you to find the book because there’s a big chance you’ll buy it from the store or order it either right there or online later. If you’re not buying it from the independent store you’re in, then you’re not worth their time. But for us, since most of the time you will end up with the book as you walk out the door (or at least with it on order), we try. Personally, I like the challenge and I’m damn good at figuring it out, though I must say on busy days or times when a line starts to form at the customer service desk, I really wish you had your stuff together so that I would spend 10-20 minutes trying different titles and author spellings for you.

Here’s a tip for beforehand research – find an ISBN number. An ISBN number is a 10 or 13 digit number that’s attached to the book. Either one is fine. Those numbers are like a book’s fingerprint and allows us to find the *exact* book you’re looking for the first time, every time.

9. Ditto for phone requests. If you can’t find it yourself on Amazon, don’t ask us to help you.
I am much more willing to help spend the time with you if you’re driven all the way to the store than if you just call on the phone. Why are you calling me when you know nothing about what you want? What do you expect me to do for you? This is especially true if you have a computer. Why don’t you use the dang thing because guess what? That’s exactly what I’m going to end up doing anyway when I can’t find what you want in our database. If you’re ill, stuck at home and infirm, or are without internet, then that’s different.

10. Don’t pretend to browse when all you really want is to use our restroom. Just ask – we won’t refuse your request to answer nature’s call. Just don’t take any of our books in there with you (the “George Castanza” syndrome).
Haha, oh George. We don’t have to worry about this since we’re a big store people know our bathrooms are pretty much there for them whether they’re going to buy a book or not. Generally I think most people who use our restrooms are perusing the store. We also prefer you don’t take the books in there with you – that’s why we put a little table outside the restrooms for you to place your books before heading on in there.

That said, just because our restrooms are public, that does NOT mean you get to be a freak in them. I don’t understand what it is about public restrooms that let people think it’s okay to be totally gross and/or not clean up after themselves, even something so small as flushing the freaking toilet. What is WRONG with you? Do you act this way at your house? I’d hate to visit then, yuck.

11. Don’t take books from our shelves and randomly scatter them around the bookstore. Unlike the large chain stores, our talent is our knowledge of books, not our need to pick up after you.
I take offense to this. My talent is NOT cleaning up after you. My talent is my knowledge of books and putting them right in your hands if at all possible. Just because I work part time at a Barnes & Noble does not mean I’m just some stupid girl who half-asses it her job.

I’d also like to add that most of us hate it when you pull every single cake cookbook off the shelf and leave it in a huge Sears tower pile. Or magazines. Especially magazines. Let me paint a scenario for those of you who think, “Well, it’s your job to clean the store, isn’t it?” Yes, it is, but that doesn’t mean you get to be a slob. Chew on this for a moment (and this is a real story, mind you, and happens more than you know).

When you put a book back where it’s not supposed to go, or if you grab a dozen magazines and leave them in a pile, there’s a good chance that the next person looking for said book or one of those magazines won’t find it. I had a woman call once looking for a book. Was it where it was supposed to be? No. I checked the back room. I checked nearby sections. Finally I was out of options and told her I couldn’t find it. Two days later, I discovered it. It was a book for teachers. I found it in the teen religious section.

A co-worker had a customer looking for a magazine. They searched virtually the entire newsstand section for one of the few copies left (oh, and by the way, stop damanging our magazines because then we have no choice but to recycle them and there’s no way to take them out of the system. If it says we have three and all three are damaged, there is no way for us to know this). They couldn’t find the magazine and we can’t even order magazines in so the gentleman left. About five minutes later my co-worker was cleaning up a massive pile of magazines in the floor and guess what she found? The one the customer was looking for.

Now I want you to think about when you can’t find a book. What if it’s in one of those gargantuan piles people have sitting next to them and then leave behind later? Do you do that? Maybe you should stop. I’m not above putting books away for you – bring them up to the desk and just let me know you aren’t sure where it ought to go. It happens. But if you’re pulling truckloads of books off shelves all at once, I don’t feel as sorry for you because, let’s face it, it’s hard to miss an entire shelf worth of cake cookbooks, and none of us likes you when you just leave it on the table for us as well as for the next customer who wants to sit there. This includes both the book floor as well as the café.

12. Don’t hide your empty Starbucks containers or banana peels on our shelves or under our chairs or tables. If you have trash to dispose of, just ask us where to put it.
Indeed. I don’t understand why it’s so hard for people to ask where they can throw something away. Especially when you can see garbage bins near every computer and guess what? *gasp!* We have a café! And do you know what that means?? It means there must be garbage containers there too! Oh my! What a surprise!

I don’t understand why people think we’re there to pick up their garbage. Leaving books behind is one thing, but your gas station Big Gulp is seriously another and one that we appreciate far, far less than the books and magazines. Do you know what happens with some of those? People will leave their cups half full and they can get knocked over and ruin an entire shelf of books. I’ve seen it before. If your plastic supersized cup is full of ice, condensation builds up, drips down, and leaves a puddle that can eventually seep into the nearby books. And by the way, people don’t really hide their stuff in our stores – they just set them on shelves and LEAVE THEM THERE. I’d like to let you know right now – when you do this it just makes it look like you are two things; lazy and stupid. Or maybe stupid should come first.

Of course, the above represents an extremely small fraction of our daily experiences. Most are with the wonderful book readers and book lovers that make owning an independent bookstore worthwhile and satisfying.

I’m not sure what their fraction happens to be, but even if our fraction is small, it’s still big enough to be extremely annoying and above all, obnoxious.

However, it isn’t big enough to make me not want to work at B&N because I love it there. What makes a work environment truly suck is bad management and negative employees. I admit, my PA B&N was better, but I’m plenty happy to be where I am now.

But, someday I’m going to write a book. Retail – gotta love it!
I already have written a book (or…more). Now all I need is to get it (or rather, them!) in print!


Tara Tyler said...

Aaah! I worked in retail and most of the 2nd half "do nots" apply to all stores. I wish people could be more considerate and think of how their actions and comments affect others. The only time I write down titles is to give others gift ideas for me, and I still like to hold the book :) Thanks for the sharing!

Mary Quigley said...

I worked in retail for a while, and it amazes me how rude people can be. Your "do nots" definitely can apply to other stores. Good list!

Nicole said...

Glad you guys enjoyed! Hopefully other people see this and maybe change how they shop in retail stores!