Bailing on Special Orders

Josie Leavitt -- April 16th, 2012

Admittedly, this issue frustrates me. When people order a book that we specially order for them that they never pick up, or worse, to suggest it’s somehow my fault that they had to get the book somewhere else, it’s disheartening.

Let me explain our very straightforward process. A customer calls or comes in to ask for a book. If we don’t have the book, we’ll always order it for folks. We don’t ask for pre-payment because we don’t want to hold on to the customer’s money in case there’s a problem getting the book. We trust that the customer will get the book from us. When the book comes in, we call them and let them know the book is here for them. We do not put the book on the hold shelf until we’ve left a message. We date the form that wraps the book so we know when we’ve contacted the customer. Periodically, we purge our special order shelves, but first we call everyone who has had a book on the shelf for more than a month, or more likely, three. This usually results in people apologizing about forgetting and then coming in to buy the book. Every once in a while these calls result in sheepish customer calls to the store about how they already got the book somewhere else.

One woman called last week in response to one our reminder calls and said, “My husband just now told me you called two weeks ago. But since I hadn’t heard from you, I went ahead and downloaded it from Amazon.” Ouch. So, now I’ve lost a sale because a husband can’t take and deliver a message. I could do without the accusatory tone. If someone is eager for a book, they can always call and we can track the order and find out where it is and when it will be in the store. After 16 years of not taking money for special orders, I am considering taking money for them because I tire of being stuck with more stock than I need.

But before I take this step, I’m curious how folks feel about this. Do you think it’s okay to ask for pre-payment? How do you feel when you’re asked to pay for your special order in advance? And booksellers: how does your store handle special order payment?

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