With a nod to George Lucas, J.J. Abrams, and Disney, this is the time of the bookselling year that I summon the inner strength of Rey, the wisdom of Yoda, and the near-constant smirk of Lando Calrissian while I face the dark side of my customer base, as they slink into my store like Admiral Piett, bags in hand, ready to return, return, return the things they purchased in December.
There is nothing quite as disturbing to the retailer force in the morning (when the register sits at zero) as to have the first three or four customers visit only to return items, shooting a hole in the day’s sales report that may not climb back into positive numbers until late afternoon. Payroll, of course, fires away with hour after hour missiles of employee time and wages during these dark days of limited sales. Even my most energetic and sales-savvy staff can rarely encourage enough exchanges vs. outright returns to make the transactions even, and the constant barrage of X-wing minivans and mom-mobile gauntlet fighters with our store bags in back make us feel like rebel forces hiding behind the sheltering moon of our front counter.
I piloted the ship at the store all weekend, and here’s a few of the return sorties that we saw:
Stormtrooper #1 marched in with the delightful and carb-laden NOODLEHEADS SEE THE FUTURE, (which I sold her, and she thought was “perfect” for her newly-emerging reader who is still a bit intimidated by lots of words per page, and likes funny stories) because “It has fortune-telling in it, and that’s not appropriate for a 6 year old.”
The crystal ball is on the cover. She held the book in her hands before she bought it, read the first few pages, and listened to my plot summary as we perused the graphic section together in December. But now, in the bleak interplanetary light of January, that crystal ball image must be blasted from her safe little universe, and so we gave her store credit.
Grandmother Sith #2 entered with an entire bag FULL of Newbery winners, each still wrapped in our store holiday paper and painstakingly labeled by my staffer with each child’s name and age. “I talked to my daughter. She said that the kids have a lot of required reading to do at school, so they would just rather have money. I’d like to return all these, and could you just put the money on my card? As you can see, they weren’t opened.” As I slid her credit card through our reader, I thought about all those lost planets – errrr – lost afternoons of reading, all those magical adventures of imagination that will never happen for those kids, as those books return to their hangers – I mean shelves – in my store. These great book generals for good will lead other missions, and inspire countless other adventures, I’m sure.
The next two customers were toting “defective” toys, seeking monetary bounties on returned items. In the first case, a remote control car was returned to mission-ready status by my crew after simply removing the batteries and re-installing them in the correct direction. The customer muttered an Ewok sound, grabbed the car, and left the store. Some small amount of dancing ensued among the loyal staff tribe after her surrender.
The second customer complained that the sound puzzle she purchased was defective, as it remained silent after her (gifted) toddler grandson put the correct pieces in place. Flipping the puzzle over, I removed the “sound strip” preventing battery contact, and demonstrated that the dog did indeed bark and the cat meow. “That should have been done before it was wrapped, and it RUINED Christmas morning.” Suitably chastened, I tucked some stickers into her bag and invited her to join us at our Winnie-the-Pooh birthday celebration next weekend with her grandson. “He doesn’t like noise” was her response. I resisted the urge to slip the little piece of plastic back into the puzzle, for which I think I deserve some kind of medal, I really do.
The next customer entered our store galaxy with a large bag of items, all of which she dumped unceremoniously on our counter. “I need refunds,” she demanded, and as I pawed through the merchandise like a Jawa, not immediately recognizing any book or toy. “I’m sorry, do you have a receipt?” I queried. “Nope. I’ll take cash, though.” “None of this looks like ours, I’m afraid.” “Oh, then I’ll take credit, I guess.”
“Ummmmm…. it doesn’t work that way, I’m afraid. We can only give credit or refunds for items that were actually purchased from our store.”
“Oh, then where do I download the label to return online?”
May the force be with you this January, my shopkeeper friends.