Retail Struggles

Josie Leavitt - November 16, 2015

As often happens in the retail world, the tough customers tend to come in at the end of a long day. I have sometimes wondered if I would find these folks as challenging first thing in the morning, and yes, I probably would, but there is something about the last half hour of the day that can make certain kinds of customers particularly hard to help because my brain isn’t working as quickly with book recommendations. I’ve created a short list of the kinds of patrons that give most bookstore staffers fits the last 30 minutes of the day.
– People who are already late for their next engagement, but have to get a book first. This is a deadly combination of lack of time and patience on the customer’s part, and a lack of brain power of my part. There is something very challenging about being asked to recommend the next book group book with someone who is practically tapping their foot as I think of titles five minutes before closing.
– Someone with a very specific book need that just can’t be met. Often this happens when someone thinks a hot title is already out in paperback and we’re only selling the hardcover to be mean or are just bad at our business. I have shown people my Books in Print database with the release dates, and they still get mad at me.
– I had a customer this past Sunday who came in 10 minutes before closing to gather all her Christmas book suggestions. I worked very hard to try and match her people with books I thought would be good. But every suggestion was met with, “No, that’s not right.” But no further information was shared, so I was struggling, but she kept asking me to think of more books. I told her I needed more to go on and she would just repeat what she’d already told me.  We were in a bad loop that was compounded by her asking me if I’d read certain titles and I hadn’t. After the third title, she turned to me and said, “Have you read anything?” I didn’t snap, but told her calmly that we have 30,000 books in the store and while I try my best to read as many as I can, it’s impossible to have read them all. She just snorted at me.
– The customer, often a teacher, who comes in five minutes before closing needing curricular help with subject I know nothing about, like physics for preschoolers. This is a confounding situation. I know that some folks can only get us after their workday ends, but to put us on the spot with the a few minutes left of our day is tough. We have worked out a great arrangement with one teacher who is always coming late: she calls or emails earlier in the day so we have time to look things up and gather books for her. This has been a boon for all involved. We’re efficient and she’s not waiting around while we do our research.
– The most disheartening late-in-the-day customer is the one who comes in with a very specific list of books (often popular titles) that we have sold out of during the day. I know it’s disappointing for them (I am always saddened when I’ve got my heart set on something and the store is out of it) but we are doing the best we can. And yes, I can order that for you, but it won’t come in tomorrow because we’ve missed the ordering deadline for overnight shipping. When this happens, I will call other local stores, especially the ones that are open later than mine.
The thing about retail is we’re all human but we all need to interact to complete transactions. I know that there are days when I’m on fire and just hitting the book recommendations perfectly and there other days when I forget the plot to Charlotte’s Web.
And the lovely thing about today: I’m off at two.