#SaleFail: Losing Sales Through Every Fault of Your Own

Elizabeth Bluemle - May 3, 2010

A lovely Canadian tourist couple came into the store the other day, and after browsing for a while, they bought a couple of books, among them a book group reading log we’ve had on the shelf for a good long while. I was delighted to see it leaving the store in the hands of an appreciative buyer — especially one who lives out of the country, which diminishes the possibility of returns by about 100%. (Doesn’t it seem as though the books you’re most happy to see leaving the store are always the ones that get returned?)
We chatted a little about her book group; she was getting the log as a gift for one of her reading companions. Suddenly, I remembered a brand-new reading-group log we’d just gotten in — one with a less handsome cover but a lot more oomph inside, most notably checklists of up-to-date literary prize winners. I suppose I was thinking the customer might want a reading log for herself, too; at least, that’s how I justify the following downward spiral of salesmanship:
“Oh!” I said. “If you like reading logs, you need to see the one we just got in. It’s jam-packed with features…” At this point, I started seeing the yellow flags alerting my inner Paco Underhill to the bad path I was heading down. I was committing a couple of errors here: 1) undermining a customer’s purchase; 2) pointing them toward a different, less expensive alternative.
Unable to stop myself, I leapt out from behind the counter and dashed to the Book Group Picks shelf where she’d found the other log. I could have pretended we were out of the new book, sure, and I certainly didn’t need to point out all of the cool features it had. But I am a book enthusiast first and a businesswoman second, and truthfully, in good conscience I couldn’t just let her leave the store without seeing all of the choices.
As surely as bread falls jelly-side down, she hesitantly asked if she could exchange the first book for the second. “Of course!” I said brightly, hiding my disappointment. To add insult to injury, the new book was $3 cheaper. Why didn’t I let her leave with a book I wanted to get rid of, that she was perfectly happy with? Now I had to run a credit through the machine, and since her card is from a Canadian bank, I racked up a few extra fees on both sides of that transaction. #SaleFail!
I comforted myself by not offering to giftwrap the book, and she didn’t ask, so at least I wasn’t out the price of the paper.
The bookseller in me is, of course, happy that she left my store with the best possible book, but I was kicking myself for the rest of the day for my idiocy. The spine of the older, less oomph-y, nonreturnable reading log sits spitefully on the shelf, a mute reminder of my failure.
In case you’re curious about the new reading log, there are actually two versions, adult and teen. Both are really terrific (although I wish their covers looked less “school assignment”-y) and are nicely and cleanly designed inside. Read, Remember, Recommend: A Reading Journal for Book Lovers and Read, Remember, Recommend for Teens: A Reading Journal for Book Lovers, both by Rachelle Rogers Knight (Sourcebooks, $15.99, EAN 978-1402237188 and EAN 978-1402237195 respectively).
Booksellers, have any remarkable sales fails to share? Tell us. It’s cathartic. Kind of.

5 thoughts on “#SaleFail: Losing Sales Through Every Fault of Your Own

  1. Carol B. Chittenden

    Oh that would never EVER happen in our store. (Snort!)
    But I did miss one the other day when a customer asked for a copy that hadn’t been out on the shelf yet, because the (perfect and beautiful) copy on display might have been touched by someone else. “It’s for the first grandchild, you know, so I just want to know nobody else has breathed on it.” We didn’t have another copy, and I was to slow at the switch to take the one copy to the back and bring it out front again with a big smile and tell her it was her lucky day.

  2. Pat Fowler

    I was busy talking to a customer at the front desk and missed greeting a stranger who walked into the store and immediately went to the back corner. Thinking they might be looking for kids books, since that used to be where our kid’s section was, I went around the corner to greet her & said that “oh if you’re looking for kid’s books, they are up front on the right side now.” In a huff, she came back with the following response “if I wanted a conversation, I would not have come into a bookstore – I came here for a book but if you’re going to talk to me, I am leaving” and she walked out the door.
    Everyone in the store stared at her as she stomped out.
    So by saying hello, I lost a sale. And I was 6-8 feet away, so I wasn’t “crowding” her at all.
    Is that the chain store way? Maybe so – I stopped into the Holyoke B&N store on my way back from our NY publisher tour last week to use their facilities – not one person greeted me as I walked around & finally figured out the restrooms were upstairs in the corner. I was greeted in the coffee shop though. Different rules?

  3. Sandy

    How about, “Oh, did you know that book will be coming out in paperback next week?” And next week, that hardcover will still be on the shelf, and I’ll end up selling it at 1/2 off because I talked the customer out of spending an extra $8-10. D’oh!


    No one to blame but myself for the loss of these sales:
    1. Not stocking a book/series based on the horrible, doe-eyed, glittery cover.
    2. Confusing authors’ works, especially those with similar names, talking enthusiastically, and then losing all credibility with the customer when realizing the mistake.
    3. Steering customers away from a book, toward a “better” book, only to have the original title win an award shortly afterward.
    I’m sure I have about 99 more, but I’ll spare you recounting them here.


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