Visiting a Store

Josie Leavitt -- September 6th, 2011

I was recently traveling out West and my sister-in-law took me to her local store, a well-respected independent bookstore, and I was excited. My excitement was short-lived. I walked in and saw many dark cases filled with books, lovely books. A bookcase of staff picks case contained only one staffer’s choices, but I counted well over 20 books with intriguing, well-written shelf talkers covering an amazing range of current titles. I was impressed by her choices and thought it was a great case to have right by the door as you walked in. Cozy chairs and a table or two sat invitingly by the window. People on laptops sat contentedly. What I saw looked great. But what I didn’t hear once, in the 20 minutes I was in the store, was, “Hello. Let me know if I can help you.”

I saw staffers milling about (the store was not busy) and several looked at me, but kept moving without saying hi or extending any sort of greeting. This was really off-putting. I was in an indie, not a massive big chain store. I expect to be greeted in some way, especially if I’m roaming around. I understand folks need their time to browse in peace; I’m not suggesting following people around the store, but everyone should be welcomed to the store.

I ventured to the children’s section and found no one there. It always bothers me a little when there’s a large kids’ section and no staffer there. To me it sends a message that this section is on its own, and it’s actually the section that benefits the most from help, as customers often get overwhelmed by it. So, here I am alone in a room of kids’ books and I start walking around. The section is organized sensibly, but it looks a bit like it’s suffered a tornado. Books are all cattywampus on all the shelves, books are on the floor, whole shelves are full of books just leaning to one side with massive gaps and the staff picks in this section are from last year. The selection was sparse. I was so disappointed. I was left wondering why they even had a kids’ section. I know I sound critical, but if a store is going to dedicate a fair amount of space to kids’ books, then make that area cozy and inviting and full of books and staffed with someone who knows the section.

This experience rededicated me to the power of good customer service and looking around my store with fresh eyes to see how it looks to someone coming in. Ironically, I stopped by the airport bookstore on my way home, and the woman behind the counter piped up immediately with “Hi, let me know if you need anything.”


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