Why She Chose Us and Not Amazon

Josie Leavitt -- August 29th, 2013

Two weeks ago a librarian called the store for a price quote on 14 copies of Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson. This sort of thing never used to be cause for alarm, but lately these price quotes usually pit us against Amazon, and oftentimes that’s a battle we can’t win. I do appreciate the chance to compete, but as I looked up the book and saw it was 41% off (the book is now a mere 28% off) my heart sank. I knew the school would go to Amazon.

Well, I was surprised when Callie came in Sunday and ordered the books with us. I thanked her and told her how much we appreciated the order. I had to ask her why us and not them? “Other than price, Amazon doesn’t do anything for me,” she told me. “We’ve gotten amazing authors to visit the school because of you. And you give to our school in so many ways, it just didn’t seem right.” I practically burst into tears.

Callie gets it. I know we’ve addressed this issue before, but it bears repeating – there is more than savings to consider when you buy a book. Amazon may offer steeper discounts on books than I can even get from publishers (in fact some stores use Amazon as their distributors, the prices are so good), but price is only one piece of the puzzle. Here’s just a small list of what indies offer that no online retailer can compete with:

– The booksellers themselves. Sure, a list of comparable books is handy, but nothing compares to a real person who knows about the books in the store and is there to listen to the customer.

– Selection. Yes, Amazon might have access to millions of books, and, in truth, so do we. We’re just not as glitzy about it. But our selection is hand-picked for our community and that makes shopping at every indie a truly unique experience. We carry required reading for all the schools in the area. It’s easy to find, so when you forgot the title we still know what you’re looking for.

– Personal service. This goes with the first item. But personal service extends far beyond the books themselves. I’ve shared my breakfast with customers who can’t over how good my bacon smells. We hand-deliver books to any of the local retirement and assisted living facilities near us. If you’re sick, we can often drop a book by. Once a very good customer had no car and was desperate for her special order and a bottle of wine. We brought both over and she thanked us with some homemade cookies. Amazon might remember you and suggest books, but they’re not going to know when you’ve been in the hospital or if you just had a baby.

– Educator discounts. Most indies do offer discounts to schools for every book they purchase, not just a select few. Amazon’s discounts are misleading because the majority of their books are not discounted, but the ones that are, are so steeply discounted that folks see only that. We’re actually pricing out a list for a teacher using her Amazon wish list no less, and are discovering that well more than half of her books are not discounted at all from Amazon. This means she’s actually saving money by shopping local.

– Community involvement. This one always gets me as the main reason to shop at your indie. Every indie is firmly entrenched in their community. I have lost count of how much money in the form of gift cards, books and our time we’ve given away in 17 years. Amazon fights every state for the right to not collect sales tax. I not only collect sales tax, I give to the Little League, the library, the schools, the football boosters, the senior center, etc.

– Author events. Indies host countless, often free, author events at their stores. The list of authors who come to independent bookstores is staggering. As best I know, Amazon has never hosted an author event. And while they might do some web-based events, it’s not the same thing as being in a room with a favorite author hearing her talk about her latest book. There is a magic to seeing someone meet a beloved author the first time, or the third or fourth. The exchange between author and audience is truly wonderful and that just can’t happen online.

– School events. How many indies have brought, for free, authors to their local schools? Probably all of them. Being able to bring authors to an auditorium of students is one of the gifts of being an indie. I remember the first time we brought Steven Kellogg to our local school 16 years ago. I walked him in and all the kids started to whisper, “That’s him. That’s him!” Heads turned and all the kids stared in awe with their mouths agape. To this day, I still have kids who were at that event tell me what an impression it made on them.

The list could go on for days. There are countless ways that indies are better than Amazon. There is more to shopping than price. Yes, Callie wound up paying a little more for her books by getting them from us, but we give that back, and more, with all the other things our store offers that just can’t be found on Amazon. And by buying from us, she’s helping to keep us in business and in turn, help her students all year. So in the end, it’s more than just dollars and cents.

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