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October 5, 2010

Doomed

All right, used bookshop owners are always a bit strange anyway, so I won’t even start on the woman who, because it was hot that day, couldn’t locate a book she knew was in her stock. Or rather I will start on her, then stop there, and just say that this experience is pretty representative of my efforts to support my local independent bookshops. Where I go out of my way, and spend even more money than elsewhere so that I can help these stores remain in my neighbourhood (because what we would lose if they didn’t), and then the customer service is so absolutely abysmal and I wonder why I bother.

I am fortunate to have independent bookshops all around me where I live, and when I needed a book for our next meeting of the Vicious Circle, I made a point of ordering it from the more-independent bookshop than the other one. I know that ordering a book takes time (which is another problem. Why does it take 2-4 weeks to have a book delivered? As a business model, this totally sucks, and it has to be changed. It just does.), which might be another “why do I even bother?” scenario, but one I was fine with overlooking.

Today I went into the store to see what was going on, and once they finally located my title, I was told that it had been ordered from a distributor that didn’t have the Canadian rights. Somehow it had taken nearly a month to figure out this had happened, no one had gotten in touch with me about it, but they would be happy to place another order from the correct distributor, which would take another 2-4 weeks. Except I need the book on Tuesday, and I was just annoyed by the waste of my time and my effort– I could have had this book from amazon in days at a discounted prize, I could have bought it right off the shelf at Book City. And though I really want to support this other bookstore, why on earth would I ever order another book through them again?

Seriously, if you’re an independent bookshop and you can’t keep *me* as a customer, than there really is no hope for you. And that this doesn’t seem to bother anyone is totally depressing.

11 thoughts on “Doomed”

  1. I don’t think that’s an issue that is specific to independent bookstores — it’s just bad customer service. All sorts of businesses have bad customer service… unfortunately in this case it’s a bookstore.

    P.S. I agree that sucks. I have been trying for weeks to get to an independent music store instead of HMV or ordering from Amazon. So I feel your pain.

    1. Kerry says:

      Monica, my problem is bookstores that don’t feel like they need good customer services because they’re bookstores after all. And we customers return to them anyway, because we feel the need to support them (because they’re bookstores after all), but maybe we shouldn’t be supporting them. We lose either way.

  2. steph says:

    It really bothers me!!

    I work at an indie and our orders are usually 10-14 days. I think THAT’s long. At first I was upset that we weren’t stocking the books in the first place, but I get budget now, and also our particular clientele, different from me and uninformed about prizes and popular books and such, but still…

    I’m trying to change exactly what you’re talking about, though: lax service. They can’t bitch about no biz and Chapters and what have you if they’re not working to get and keep customers. All it takes is caring.

    Thanks for this post. I’ll keep it in mind whenever I’m working. 🙂

  3. steph says:

    PS. And I’ll share it!!

  4. Hear hear! Of course it depends on the bookstore in question. 🙂 I like to think we’re pros at special orders here – we’re research phenoms. Meanwhile, we’ve been picking up loads of business from a local indy which shall remain unnamed because of exactly the issue you’ve pointed out (which seems to have gotten worse lately).

    I’ve always attributed this kind of lax service to businesses where the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. One person takes the order, another tries to order it, a third gets the NCR report. Person A was part time and doesn’t follow up, person C makes a note that nobody sees, and Kerry does not get her book in time. Too many part-time staff? No long-term staff? Not sure what can cause such confusion.

  5. Lisa says:

    Horrible customer service but not limited to bookstores I’m afraid. I wouldn’t blame you a bit for taking your business elsewhere.
    On an uplifting note, I troll used bookstores regularly and often leave my name and a request for books by a particular author who’s out of print and extremely difficult to come across. So earlier this summer I browsed through a newly discovered used bookstore, as usual left my name and author request and as usual walked out thinking I’d never hear from them again (because I typically don’t, but hope springs eternal). Much to my delight, they called me several months later to say they had in a copy of a much wanted book. Yay! Needless to say, I pretty much solely patronize their store (I’m in a small town and used bookstores are few and far between and quality ranges widely, but this one is clearly awesome!!!)
    Now doesn’t this give one hope? 🙂

  6. Kerry says:

    Thanks for passing the message along, Steph. And Lisa, thank you for the hope. Warms the heart indeed.

  7. Rona Maynard says:

    It’s not just the independents. Last week I went to Chapters/Indigo in search of a friend’s just-released mystery, which is getting all kinds of buzz in the U.S. “It’s on order,” I was told. And when would it be in? “By October 20.” I apparently had a faster option–ordering online–but am hooked on the old-fashioned pleasure of walking into a store and emerging with a book in my hands. I’m chagrined to admit that I actually ordered the book and paid in advance lest I forget to support my friend. I resent supporting a store that disappointed me. My friend, by the way, is former Torontonian Hilary Davidson. Her book, The Damage Done, sounds terrific.

  8. carin says:

    I’m guessing (and I sincerely hope) these are blips in what must be extremely rough waters for independent bookshops. In fact, I’m stunned that any of them are still standing and impressed with what the more creative of the lot are doing to keep afloat. Given what they offer us that Amazon and Chapters do not (okay, maybe not always the fastest delivery) I’m prepared to put up with some inconvenience in order to support them. And to support an industry for which I’m enormously grateful.

    Furthermore, maybe we’re all getting just a little too addicted to ‘fast’? Used to be we were able to wait for a book. Because there ARE other books to read in the meantime. Now we want it at the click of a button. I’m sad at what we’re losing in our neighbourhoods, and in society, generally, as we succumb to lure of instant everything.

    1. Kerry says:

      Carin, you’re right. We expect things too quickly and I myself like to move at a slower pace, but I had given them a month to get my book in stock… I wish the slight inconvenience of choosing the indie option wasn’t just compounded by bad customer service. And I guess I wish that it seemed like they appreciated my patronage, but it really didn’t feel like that. What I like best about indie book stores IS the community they foster, but sometimes the idea is more real in theory than practice. I wish it were otherwise. And oh my, there are independent bookstores where this is not the case. Thank goodness.

  9. Andrew M says:

    i hope it wasnt the bookstore i moonlight at. something tells me it was, though. i remember something like this happening a week or two ago.

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