Face Out or Spine Out: One Customer’s Opinion

Josie Leavitt -- September 27th, 2011

I was working alone in the store on Sunday, having a really great day, when a customer came in and challenged me on how to shelve books. After I had rung up his $89 of books — Dick Cheney and the new Jackie Kennedy (if only everyone could be so bipartisan) — and he was leaving, he called me over to the front door.

“You want to sell more books?” He asked. “Of course.” I said.

“Well, you ought to face them all out. Then they’d be easier to see.” He suggested this like it would be a revelation to me. He even did a little demonstration of how he found one book, but had to ask for help for the other, even though it was eye level, but spine out. I explained that the face out, while lovely and ultimately, ideal, is not practical for space reasons.

“You just need new shelving.” He kept saying over and over. I told him, nicely, that it wasn’t the bookcase that was causing the problem — it was just a space issue. If I faced out all my books two things would happen: I’d need to be in a store three times as large, or my stock would be cut in half and then people would say I had no depth to my inventory. I even showed him how many more books can fit on shelf spine out (20) versus the seven faceouts on a nearby shelf. If I have 30,000 books now and I faced them all out, without culling the stock I would need to have a 4,000 square foot store, or get rid of two thirds of my inventory. Either way, it just wouldn’t work.

Still, he persisted. “They even have this problem at Barnes and Noble.” I know! It’s a space issue, not a bookcase one. He said he hated looking for books all in a row on the shelf. I told him that’s why employees are there, to help folks find books, just like I had with the new Jackie Kennedy book.

So, how do other stores deal with the face out/spine out issue?

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