Smartphones in the Bookstore

Josie Leavitt -- April 24th, 2014

The advent of new technology has been a boon for the bookstore as well as a liability. Smartphones make it easy to communicate with staffers when I’ve forgotten something that needs doing. They allow me to jot down notes when I’m away from the store and more importantly, they help customers remember book titles. The dark side of the phone is they can take photos of books that customers will order elsewhere.

Being able to communicate with staffers in a way that doesn’t involve the phone works really well for me. Sometimes, I have a quick, non-urgent item I just need to share that doesn’t merit a phone call; I know if I wait till I’m back at the store it will be lost from my memory. Staffers will text me similar things. Often, when I’m not at work, I’m not really able to speak on the phone, so texting allows us to stay in touch. Yesterday, for example I was taking a four-mile walk at Shelburne Farms where the cell phone reception is bumpy at best, but texts come through just fine. In three texts, Sandy and I  solved the problem of the eight book Police Exam special order efficiently with smiley faces, no less.

Customers use their phones as a way to remember what books they want to order. Often, there are copious pages of notes with book titles or jottings of when and where they heard about a book. Being able to dictate often results in notes like this: Fresh Air, Monday, Prison book. That is more than enough to go to find a book, and since the notes are automatically dated, it’s so much simpler to find the titles. Sometimes, people bring us photos of books they’ve seen elsewhere. That’s enormously helpful, although I always feel bad if they’ve taken a picture at another indie. I never feel bad if it’s from a chain store or Costco. Any device that helps customer retain book information is a win-win for everyone.

The down side of a smartphone at the bookstore is when people take pictures of books they want to order on Amazon. Or, more stingily, books they’re ordering on Amazon while in my store. Some people are brazen about it, clearly having no compunction about using our store as their Amazon showroom. Others are at least a little bit sheepish about it and try to be more discreet. It’s hard to not react when it’s clear someone is photographing book covers in the store or scanning QR codes. I don’t say anything, but I do try to notice what books seem to be getting the most cell phone activity. I do wonder, sometimes about generating my own QR code labels and putting them on books so customers would be led right back to my website.

Lastly, the beauty of cell phones at the store is getting photos from staffers about cute things at the IMG_0251store. Usually, it’s a puppy or a really cute baby holding a book. But Tuesday, our youngest staffers were working together and Laura texted that there was $2.91 postage due on a poster tube. She wanted me to know that she paid the postage from petty cash. I said it was all right and then I got this photo texted to me. Not only did that poster cost us $3, it’s enormous. And it’s a promo for the movie. But it was funny and all because everything about it could be shared, and that’s a good way to use a phone.

9 thoughts on “Smartphones in the Bookstore

  1. Laura Purdie Salas

    I feel guilty taking pics in bookstores because I always think the booksellers will assume I’m ordering elsewhere. But really, they’re notes to myself about books for tbr list, or they’re books by writer friends and I want to FB or Tweet the picture, or they’re ideas for me about illustrators whose work I like, etc. So many people are unaware of challenges facing indies, I wonder if a sign up front would help any. Like, “Please feel free to take pictures of books for your birthday wish list or (etc., etc.), but please don’t take use your smartphones to take pictures and order books from Amazon. We are struggling to stay in business. Thanks for your support and book love.” Or something like that, but better. Just a thought. A few people would be offended, but they’d be the ones who were using you as a showroom anyway. Some other people might learn something… Love your giant $3 movie poster–ha!

  2. Stacy Whitman

    I also use my phone in stores to put books on my Goodreads TBR list. And then I eventually buy them from an indie if I can, but generally I check them out from the library.

    As an editor, I also do cover research in stores using my smartphone, either taking pictures of the covers, or putting them on a special Goodreads list. I use those to look at comparison titles to see what books in the genre/age group I’m publishing a book in look like, so I can give the designer directions. I doubt you run into too many editors doing research in your store, though. :)

  3. Jenn

    I want to echo what Mary says. I used to take a lot of photos in a bookstore when I was working as a teen librarian. The review journals rarely show every book’s cover, which really impacts circulation, so I’d take photos of eye-catching covers and later research to decide whether or not to order them.

    As a writer/big reader, I also have a limited budget for what books I can buy, and tend to get a lot of books through the library. It’s much easier to take a quick snapshot than fumble through typing a note to myself re: which books caught my eye at the bookstore.

  4. Lori

    The worst incidence of showrooming I’ve encountered was at an offsite event for a local charity. They have an authors’ salon every year. The authors donate their time, and we give the charity 20% of sales, and I caught a woman taking pictures of books, and telling her friend “I’m going to get these on Amazon – so much cheaper”. It was all I could do to not yell at her.

  5. Mary

    I wouldn’t necessarily assume that just because customers are taking photos or scanning codes, they’re ordering from Amazon. My library now has a mobile app that allows me to look for books via my smart phone. In many cases I check out books from the library for my son as a way to preview before buying — because let’s be honest, as much as I’d like to buy every book we are interested in, I just can’t afford to do that.

  6. Kath

    I have never ordered anything from Amazon. I update my Word-sorted hard copy book list after purchases or library acquisitions.

    Finding and supporting local bookstores is one of the greater joys of travel.

    How rude to visit a bookstore only to do business elsewhere!

    1. Wren

      I feel the same way too! I like to check my Goodreads “to-read” list when browsing and often have used it to find an author and ultimately purchase a book. But I feel like such deviant and want to tap everyone on the shoulder and say “look, look, it’s not Amazon” (though, I know it’s technically Amazon now).

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