So, You’re Telling Me Not to Buy a Book?

Josie Leavitt -- January 23rd, 2012

Sometimes part of providing good customer service means not selling someone a book. I know it sounds wrong to suggest that folks can have a great experience while being told not to buy a book, but it’s true.

Case in a point: on Friday a mom and her sweet but very quiet 10-year-old daughter, let’s call her Denise, came in looking for a book. Shy kids often struggle with answering the question, “What’s your favorite book?” This question gets asked after “What kind of book are you looking for?” has gotten no response other than a shy smile. She couldn’t articulate her thoughts, so I went back to the cardinal rule when talking to shy readers: ask yes or no questions.

This worked like a charm. I discovered she like adventure and fantasy. Finally, I could make some recommendations. I suggested Tunnels, The Sisters Grimm, The Frog Princess and The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles. I handed her each book slowly and gave a sentence description of each book. Then I told her to curl up on one of our fabric cubes and see if she liked any of the books and I went back to the register. I could hear them talking about each book.

A short while later they came to the register holding the stack of books. Denise looked a little sheepish and I looked at her mom who said, “The ones she likes the best we have at home.” I took that in and then said, “Well, go home and read them because you’ve got the books you think you’ll like.” I forget that kids have bedside reading like adults. And, like adults, that stack can be full of treasures that might have been forgotten.

“Wait, so you’re telling me not to buy a book?” the mom asked. Yup. The mom really couldn’t believe it. She asked why and I told her it’s because she has the right books at home. It’s not always about making a sale, it’s about helping folks find the right book, and if that book happens to be at home, well then, that’s okay with me.

Happily, Denise chose The Sisters Grimm and Tunnels, both firsts in a series. So, if she likes them, then she’ll come back to the store for the sequels. This totally works for me.

4 thoughts on “So, You’re Telling Me Not to Buy a Book?

  1. Riley

    It would seem to me that sometimes telling them not to buy a book might actually result in _more_ future sales since it helps to generate a sense of trust that your main concern is more about making sure they find something they’ll love to read than in making a sale. Doing so would likely make them also feel a sense of loyalty to the store and a sense that you’re someone they can trust to help them find a book that they’ll love. So in the end, it seems like a win-win situation for everyone.

  2. Emily

    I read Tunnels during my long stint as a children’s bookseller and I absolutely hated it. I was excited at first because it seemed to be an adventure book with archaeology mixed in, both of which I love. But when it turned violent and disturbing, I suddenly felt that the writing suffered as well, and I really didn’t enjoy the rest of the book at all. I thought it was too violent and disturbing for a lot of kids and never once recommended it to anyone. I’m just curious as to what made you recommend this book to what sounded like a shy and sweet ten-year-old girl. Your other recommendations sounded great. (No offense meant; I’m truly curious what your thoughts are. Let me add: it’s extremely rare that I find a kids’ book that’s violent and weird enough that I don’t think kids should read it. I’ve certainly recommended stuff like Golden Compass to kids who seemed serious, mature, and inquisitive.)

    And on a few occasions, I also assured people it was okay not to buy anything, because it sounded like they had lots at home. The goal is to get kids (and people in general) reading more, and I would encourage in any way I could when I was a bookseller.

  3. Carin S

    I had to stop more than one customer from buying Watership Down for a 10-year-old. They think because it’s about bunnies, it must be innocent enough. I have to tell them about the sex and violence to convince them. They were always shocked. Rabbits! Having sex?! I was baffled but stuck to my guns.

  4. lindacbugg

    I’ve been honest with customers and told them when I thought a book was a stinker. Had one woman buy a copy of a title I won’t mention(a friend’s recommendation)but when she came back she told me I was right-it was a stinker! I’d rather be honest and lose a sale today than lose a customer forever by giving them a BS line.

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