Tuesday, January 10, 2012

You Want Me To Do What? (Why I No Longer Have an Indie, Hello Amazon)

Since the Borders I've worked at closed last May, I made the decision to start shopping at an indie bookstore. It's not that close to me but its very convienent for me to get to and I enjoy visiting that part of town. So yesterday I called with the intention of ordering two of my favorite books from 2011, What Can't Wait by Ashley Hope Perez and Vanished by Sheeri Chari. The first four or five times I called the line was busy. Then I remember the store had a signing coming up with John Green, but I thought it was later in the month. So I decided to go to their website, and double check the phone number and the day of the event. I had the right number and the Green's signing is on the 15th. However they were on the phone all day confirming tickets, hence the busy line.

When I was calling I will admit to being a bit frustrated that the line was busy. At the same time I was happy because I knew a busy line meant business for the store. After giving it a little time before I called again and a bookseller picked up. I told her I wanted to buy two books, and if they weren't in stock I wanted to order them. I gave her the first title What Can't Wait and the author. She found it easily.

I gave her the second title but I didn't have the author. Having worked at a bookstore, I know that it can be very frustrating to search a one worded title without an author. So I told the bookseller everything I knew about Vanished - that it was published in 2011, it's a middle grade mystery, written by a South Asian author, I also gave her the publisher and the imprint.

The bookseller searches the title and comes up with a 100 matches and tells me she can't find the book. I am thinking to myself WTF really I gave you all that information and you can't find it. No matter how outdated or archaic a stores search engine is it should be able to display title matches based on publication date. So while the bookseller was telling me she couldn't find it I was thinking to myself how many books in the U.S. could've been published last year entitled Vanished. Mind you I didn't say this out loud. Nor did I say when I used to work at Borders our computers could search by date, can't yours do that. I trust that people know how to do their jobs. I am not the type of customer who tells someone how to do their jobs, I hated customers like that.

I didn't expect nor want the bookseller to scroll through the 100 matches. However I did expect a little more effort. If she had looked through the first three pages and didn't find the book, I would've happily said thank you for trying, I will call back later with the author's name. Or If the bookseller had simply offered to get my information and call me back after she did a quick search, I would've politely declined the wonderful offer and called back later with the authors name. For me excellent customer is sometimes showing a willingness to make effort. There was no effort here. While the bookseller was not helpful she was at least nice. But sometimes nice is not enough.

When I searched Vanished on amazon, Sheela Chari's wonderful middle grade debut was the 7th title on the first page. Of the 11 titles that appear on the first page only 3 there were published in 2011 and only one by a South Asian author. When I searched it on Barnes & Noble.com it the was the 19th book on the first page. I am still baffled as to why the bookseller couldn't find it.

When the bookseller suggested I call back when I had the author, I was thinking to myself you want me to do what? I was livid. I did something I normally don't do I asked if someone else there could take a look. I don't do this because I don't like to question anyones ability to do their job. If they're new or unsure of something its up to them to seek out the help of a co-worker.

I heard people laughing in the background and assumed at least one of them was another sales assoicate. The Little shop of stories bookseller basically told me there's no where else to look and there's nothing we can do. She didn't even take the time to ask her co-workers, in a childern's bookstore mind you, if they were familiar with the middle grade title I was looking for. Inside I was seething.

I did not scream or question the booksellers lack of effort. Nor did I say I am never shopping at The Little Shop of Stories again, though I won't be. I simply said thank you, I will buy the books elsewhere. I did not say I will be buying the books from amazon, though I will be.


teacherninja said...

I'm glad you posted this. I like them, but have had more than a few similar situations like this happen there. I hope someone gets the message. Try the Blue Elephant Book Shop around the corner on Ponce (across from Farm Burger). It's a great little indie.

Doret said...

Hey Jim, thanks for the suggestion, I will check out The Blue Elephant Book Shop

Remember I told you about the not being greeted a couple times I went in. (that's a serious pet peeve of mines in small stores) but didn't blog about it because I didn't think it was worth bringing up and the last two or three times I was in I got my hello and one of those times I ordered a book.So everything was good until this, and I couldn't not talk about it.

Called Toni right after it happened and just started ranting. Sorry Toni.

Melissa said...

I understand your frustration, but have you tried calling and talking to a manager or the owner about it? So often when working at an indie myself I would hear about problems after the fact, problems I would have bent over backward to apologize for and fix if only someone had complained to the store rather than just decided to stop shopping there.

Little Shop of Stories said...

Hi Doret,

I am so sorry to hear you had a bad experience at the shop. I would welcome the chance to speak with you further about it, if you are interested.

Little Shop of Stories

Ashley Hope Pérez said...

How frustrating. I think one of the hardest things in the world is to see a job you care deeply about (like book selling) not being done well. I'm that way about teaching.

Indies are so important, but I think each has to (in light of Amazon) find a new identity as a center for community, not just retail. That's something I love about Bloomington's Boxcar Books, which is staffed by volunteers, helps support Pages to Prisoners, and hosts writing workshops and even memoir consultations for elderly folk who want to get their stories down on page. Wow--that's what I call value-added! But I've noticed other indies that have very aloof staff. I don't get it; how can they afford not to make customers feel welcome?

And as you said, we expect ordering local to be a bit more work than popping on Amazon, but we at least want it to be pleasant.

P.S. So glad What Can't Wait was one of the books that was chosen! That's the best kind of award. :) And you've reminded me that I really do need to get my hands on Vanished.

JenFW said...

I was going to suggest what Melissa did, but that's no longer necessary. Way to go, Little Shop of Stories, for jumping in here to respond.

Unknown said...

As a bookseller, I was never afraid to say "I'm not sure, let me take a look and call back." Sometimes that's all the customer needs to hear.

Claire said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ms. Edith Campbell said...

Wow, Doret. She really should have been able to do an advanced search including publisher and date to find what you wanted, or she could have even looked into it and called you back...if she wanted the sale! She has no idea what a good customer she just lost!

Doret said...

Well on the upside at least I was able to give a little more exposure to What Can't Wait and Vanished.

I can't help but wonder why this is a forgivable offense for a indie and not a chain. Shouldn't the customer service expectations be greater for an indie If someone had this same experience at BN, I doubt people would suggest talking to the manager, but rather shop indie.

Though I am willing to talk with the co-owner and see if we can work this out. Thanks for the offer Diane, will email you.

:paula said...

I have to laugh! At the public library - where we don't sell books, we give them away - I don't know a single librarian who would have stopped looking before she found that book for you.

It gets so that a customer can approach the desk, or call, saying, "There's this children's book, and it has a long title, and I can't remember the author.." and we say, "Do you mean The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Boat of Her Own Making?"

Love booksellers, but all librarians earn their wings every day.

Ashley Hope Pérez said...

Paula! That is so true. Librarians are my #1 heroes. I'm the biggest librarian groupie you've never met.

Playing by the book said...

What a sad story :-( Unfortunately lots of shops don't employ / train staff in their specialism so much nowadays. With google we're all meant to be able to do everything.

MotherReader said...

What Paula said. I can't imagine a library stopping without an answer, and we don't even depend on customer purchases. I'll also say that working at a library, if our catalog didn't do the trick with incomplete info I often turned to Amazon to figure out the book information I needed. No reason the store couldn't do the same.

Unknown said...

I can assure you that you were talking with an employee and not the owner. It is simply too easy to hire people that just don't have any common sense! If you do ever decide to go back to that bookstore, the owner would grateful for your feedback.