June 10, 2009

"Yawn. Hipster dud bookseller hates his customers. What’s new?"

You go to all that trouble to elaborate numerous categories and subcategories of people and that's what you get for your first comment? Life is harsh!

Well, there's some interesting detail in those categories (along with some boring humor — e.g. "a $4 half-soy-half-decaf-latte-with-a-shot-of-pretention").

I found that 7 types of bookstore customer post via an Ezra Klein tweet. Ezra parks himself in the category "Browser."

I think there's an 8th category, into which I'd put myself. "Reminiscer." This is someone who used to hang around bookstores all the time and leave with a pile of miscellaneous books, but now drops in only occasionally, looks around, and remembers when she didn't spent nearly all of her reading time on line. Now, all those book covers look like front pages of websites. She might click on a few — i.e. open them up and read a few lines, maybe even a few pages — and then she contemplates the way she used to feel that she needed to make these blocky objects into personal possessions and proceed through them systematically, front to back. Then she shakes off that reverie and goes somewhere else, somewhere where the WiFi is free.

33 comments:

Kevin said...

Fortunately, the hipster dud bookseller will probably lose his awful job soon, given how the bookstore business is doing.

He hasn't figured out that personality and helpfulness is the one area where you can out-compete Amazon.

EDH said...

See, this is the type of salesperson who should be beaten about the head with that bio-degradable shoe the nice little saleman was trying to sell you.

Leaves no evidence, an additional selling point!

:)

rhhardin said...

A bookstore in Manhattan, I think Stam's, would alert my dad to new books that might interest him whenever he wandered in.

I think his wandering-in habits would be different today in the online world though.

He'd still buy books, but only online.

BJK said...

I'm guessing Ann hasn't seen the British comedy "Black Books," or else we'd see a youtube clip with the article.

No one has done bookseller hating his customers better.

traditionalguy said...

Aha! You admit that you are a Republican because you said that you read books Front to Back. All Democrats start in the middle and skip around.

Aaron said...

This is the flame i left on his comment feed, in case he deletes it:

Um, are there any customers you like?

Of course i am reminded of a quote from Ghandi on customer service:

"A customer is the most important visitor on our premises. He is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us an opportunity to do so."

The fact is that most of the people you hate so much on that list pay your salary. Are you under the impression that your job is to fill a bookshelf? No. Your job is to sell books--to customers. A little more gratitude and a little less attitude would be appreciated.

The funniest part was when you complained about people wanting coffee table books. The fact is we all know what coffee table books are, and the fact that ya'all don't deign to admit they are coffee table books is only proof of how far we have strayed from the principle that the customer's always right.

I myself is am an Independant. Gee, imagine that? i don't want to talk to an ungrateful snotnose like you.

Aaron said...

Btw, by all accounts Ghandi really did say that.

and even if he didn't, doesn't ghandi have the right attitude?

Hmm, i think i will put that in my email signature. although i like my old one "I am serious. And don't call me Shirley."

Henry said...

I prefer libraries.

Joe said...

I'm still trying to figure out how most bookstores make money. The few times I visit my local Barnes & Noble or Borders, it's like a ghost town at the cash registers (and sometimes the whole store.) Of course, the usual reason for my visit is to check some technical reference material that sits on one or two pages of an otherwise tedious, useless book. If I actually want to buy a book, I use Amazon.

Joe said...

Oh and the Coffee Table Book comment was odd since the local Barnes & Noble has massive shelves smack in the middle of the store stocked with nothing but (and to be fair, their prices on those are pretty good.)

Bissage said...

Sometimes I wonder how many new houses are being built with bookshelves. Maybe now they’re calling then curio shelves or something.

Mrs. Bissage likes to stack the coffee table books on the floor to make little pedestals and end tables. I’m not crazy about the idea but I can’t come up with anything better. Besides, the cats seem into it.

Maybe I’ll start calling them floor books.

reader_iam said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
reader_iam said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
reader_iam said...

Wait. Wait. Hold on for a minute:

You mean to say that the writer of that blogpost, a guy who makes his living selling books and buys and reads them himself is saying that the kind of people who actually read books and buy books--or at least like hanging around books and the people who read them--can sometimes be assholes?!? That those people, those book-readers and book-hangers-on can, in the aggregate, exhibit the whole range of behaviors that one can also see, say, online in comments sections, or for that matter, in the general population anywhere in real life?

Well, suck my non-existant dick.
: ) ; )

Note: Deleted and reposted only to consolidate previous comments and to correct typos in first one. No other changes. Sorry.

Kate Gosselin said...

There is an eighth category: the scum sucking son of a bitch who sneaks down to the Borders in Reading while I am buying healthy food for the children and tries to get it on with Patty who works there. That category would be called "The Scum Sucking Son Of A Bitch" category.

Sean E said...

He hasn't figured out that personality and helpfulness is the one area where you can out-compete Amazon.


I don't get the hate for this guy. Browsing around his site for a few minutes, It sure sounds like he absolutely gets the importance of customer service. He just gets frustrated with dealing with the public sometimes, like pretty much anyone who's ever worked in retail, and was letting off some steam.

William said...

I'd bet a law school professor has by this time divided her students into several genres or archetypes. The Pottery Barn saleswoman probably knows several distinct classes of customers. Life would be just too confusing if we didn't have stereotypes.

Penny said...

I am with Sean E on this one. The guy is a self proclaimed geek and nerd, but also probably a dork. This "type" has never been noted for their interpersonal dealings.

I spend weekly time in a bookstore, and I was identifying almost all of his types with people I have encountered there.

Ann Althouse said...

"I'd bet a law school professor has by this time divided her students into several genres or archetypes."

Not this law professor. There is much more to most students than the little bit I get to see in class, and the behavior in class is pretty uniform, other than degrees of eagerness to speak. I put absolutely zero effort into looking for reasons to dislike students or making up stereotypes about them. I have a professional duty to them and a 25+ year commitment to performing it as well as I can. You might notice the complete absence of posts on this blog that are about mocking students.

former law student said...

I go to bookstores either because I want a book to fill a specific need, or because I want something to read. In both cases I want to take one or more books home.

I don't see the point of delayed gratification. You look at a book, you read part of it, you read the blurbs, you compare it to other books that caught your eye, you pick it up. Eventually you have an armload, so it's time to think about putting some back. Then you check out, go home (or not) and begin reading.

If I'm planning a trip to, say, Grobnik, I will look at every travel book they have on Grobnik. Then I will select three or four, and compare their coverage of, for example, live steam trains, or attractions and accommodations in the city of Delphic. Though I usually end up with either the Lonely Planet or the Rough Guide, checking them all out prevents regrets.

Sealing up books is pointless. The purpose of going to a bookstore is to flip through books. Hand the customers cotton gloves when they come in, if you don't want your precious books marred.

Back in the day, bookstores had multiple copies of everything, so that one could be the sacrificial browsing victim, while you purchased one of the clean copies.

Bookstores should cherish and accommodate the person who "wants the red book." This is a person who cannot function in the world of Amazon and so must go to bookstores. Catalog your books by color, dimensions, and heft, and make the sale.

Despite their profitability, I hate and despise coffee bars in bookstores. I once was looking at armchair travel books in a Barnes and Noble. Flipping through one, I saw a croissant crumb fly out. The grease it contained had soaked through three pages on either side. Of course it was the only copy. If you want to sell such used books at a discount, fine. But I'm not going to pay list price for one.

William said...

I think it's unfair to stereotype stereotypes as being uniformly negative. Many stereotypes are positive and life enhancing if only we would judge them as they truly are instead of stereotyping them.

Bissage said...

Speaking of stereotypes, whenever nature has called upon me with an urgency both impudent and uanticipated, my experience has been that the cleanliness of bookstore restrooms is second only to that of hotels. But you know what they say, any port in a storm.

kentuckyliz said...

Superior salespeople are aggravating, which is why I don't shop in person. Online shopping is great.

I am superior to salespeople, no matter how hip they think they are. If they had valuable skills they'd be elsewhere in the marketplace getting paid better. Like me. I haven't worked restaurant or retail since age 18 because I have more to offer and the world wants it.

So contemptuous hipster dude can kiss my ample white wealthy professional bee-hind.

Pogo said...

I suppose I'm a type of bookstore guy. He's the "used to be in here buying tons of shit now he hardly ever comes in" guy.

Advice:
1) Don't comment about my selections. Seriously. I don't know you.

2) Don't ask me if I'm a goddamned member of your club or whatever. I would have to spend $250 to break even on the fee, so find stupid somewhere else.

3) Ditch the Altars to Obama. Shit, why not put in a row of candles and a kneeler, and let the worshippers light one for a dollar?

4) Didn't the fact that someone was buying hundreds of dollars on certain topics sway you in the least little bit to carry something similar?? Nope. I had to order it every goddamned time.

5) Kick out the Somali dudes taking the Maxim and FHM to the bathroom. gross.

Pogo said...

6) If you aren't selling the remainders, get rid of them! Cut the price. Hell, they sit on the shelves sometimes for years. That can't be lucrative.

7) Here's an idea: Find out what the grade- and high-schools are asking the kids to read and have more than one copy of the book on hand. Make a few calls at the beginning of the year. Ask for the syllabi. Or just carry one copy like you do now and promise you can order it within two weeks, well past the day they need to have it in class.

You got three To Kill A Mockingbirds in the whole damn town? Three? Shit.

8) I'd like to pay for my books and magazines. Is there anyone here? You stopped me in the stacks about 8 times asking if I needed anyhting. "Nope, thanks." Now I do. Where'd you go, wanna-be-helpful dude?

Pogo said...

9) Are badly-healing body piercings now a job requirement for bookstore clerks?

Can I get you an antibiotic or a bandage?

former law student said...

7) Here's an idea: Find out what the grade- and high-schools are asking the kids to read and have more than one copy of the book on hand. Make a few calls at the beginning of the year. Ask for the syllabi.

This big independent I stop at every summer, apparently does just that. They have compiled all of the summer reading lists from the local schools, ordered tons of each book, and laid them out on tables in the front of the store. It's a great opportunity to pick up a classic you missed.

9) Are badly-healing body piercings now a job requirement for bookstore clerks?

In my experience, the number of clerks who "fell face first into the tackle box" has been declining in recent years.

rhhardin said...

Mike Munger suggests not tipping the baristas in Starbucks.

They'd just use the tip money to buy more body piercings.

$9,000,000,000 Write Off said...

#10. Type: "There but for the grace of god go I."

Enter to look at the book store employees (N/A to very young) and reflect that working hard in school, accepting responsibility, delivering commitment, achieving consistent professional courtesy really does save one from a crappy life. Alternative: Bring children to teach life lessons.

Pogo said...

The article reminds me of how grade school teachers make fun of parent s and students. It helps them deal with stress. happens in all jobs, to an extent.

Just black humor.

It's really only a problem when you are that way all damn day.

J said...

"they don’t want any of that messy human contact. And they want an online sales site, but they prefer to drive out to a retail location, as opposed to the convenience of using a website at home.

Yeah, I don’t understand it either"

Well, let me explain then.

Some customers need (or merely want) merchandise faster than a website can get it to them, or may need to physically inspect it prior to purchase for a variety of reasons. Either situation requires a visit to a physical store, which presents a couple of problems:

1. Many of these customers, despite advancing years, cannot recall even a single instance in their entire lives in which the input of a salesperson had any value whatsoever in a purchase decision. They may resent your effort to waste their time.

2. Many of these customers do not regard shopping as a social experience and, much like Elaine Benes, resent those who attempt to forcibly impose a social component on it.

3. Many of these customers are men, patronizing businesses whose managers have inexplicably failed to grasp one of the most basic, obvious truths in all of behavioral science: unsolicited assistance is one of the most annoying things a man can experience short of actual physical torture.

But you're right; these customers definitely want human contact kept to a minimum.

Balfegor said...

Re: Pogo:

1) Don't comment about my selections. Seriously. I don't know you.

I don't actually find that quite as annoying from the salespeople as I do from, say, random strangers in the train/bus/wherever. There is at least a reason the salesperson is talking to me, viz. that I am buying a book.

Re: J:

2. Many of these customers do not regard shopping as a social experience and, much like Elaine Benes, resent those who attempt to forcibly impose a social component on it.

This is actually something annoying about shopping in America, not limited at all to shopping at bookstores. That is to say, people will try to inject their own personality somehow into the job they are performing, usually to grimace-worthy effect -- a sharp contrast with the service experience you get in Tokyo or Hong Kong, which usually isn't like that. I particularly dislike it on transit systems, e.g. when the pilot decides to crack painfully unfunny jokes over the intercom.

On the other hand, I think part of it may just be the environment. If I imagine the convenience store clerk in DC performing according to a strict script like the convenience store clerk in Tokyo, it's not refreshing -- it's even more annoying. Different sets of expectations are built into different contexts, I guess, and those minor annoyances are built into my expectations of the American retail/commercial experience.

Sean E said...

Mike Munger suggests not tipping the baristas in Starbucks.

They'd just use the tip money to buy more body piercings.


It's honestly never even occurred to me to tip at a Starbucks (not that I go there very often). Do people do that? What about at McDonald's?

i think there's something about standing in line to place my order than puts me in a frame of mind unconducive to tipping.