Bookselling the Old-Fashioned Way

Josie Leavitt - November 12, 2012

This past Saturday found my store struggling once again with computer problems. They began quite simply with a broken modem and ended with our computers rendered utterly useless by mid-morning. I have thought that I could never run a bookstore without a computer and I feel more certain of this fact after barely surviving the day.
Our point of sale system went down with the Internet for reasons I still don’t quite understand. But when the computers stop talking to each other, there’s precious little that can be done. You can’t look up anything in inventory because you get on the computer. This made the game of guess-what-the-customer is really asking for all the more difficult. Relying on my own memory for who an author might be or what the title of book really is proved exhausting by the afternoon.
Sandy and I were doing a great job, though. We would help each other out with book support when we could. We were forced to ring up sales on paper receipts and do math. Okay, we had calculators, but there is always pressure, for me at least, to not dyslexically switch numbers when I write them down and then add them. The store was also extremely busy while all of this was going. Why is that always the way? I would love for my next computer breakdown to happen on a Monday morning during a snowstorm.
While ringing up books by hand was irritating, it was not debilitating. Not having access to the Internet was a massive liability. We couldn’t look books up in any way. Nor could we go to any book source to look up a book. For instance, a grandmother called today and asked if we had, or knew of a book about a child with a broken arm. I drew a complete blank. I reflexively went to go to the Internet for a quick search, but couldn’t get online. We could neither sell nor redeem gift cards. Thankfully there weren’t too many birthday parties this weekend, or we would have been in real trouble.
A lovely friend of Sandy’s came to the store Saturday afternoon and fixed the computers so they would work. He was good, but not a miracle worker and the Internet remained out and won’t be fixed until Tuesday. I did find myself using my iPhone to look books up even though it was impossibly small and hard to navigate. I would get the ISBN I needed only to realize that without the Internet I couldn’t place an order anyway.
I was driving home Saturday afternoon after some order had been restored. I got home and thought to myself, this is so trivial compared to what the post-Sandy world has been like for so many people. So, I had to ring people up on paper. Honestly, that’s not that big a deal, it’s inconvenient, but at least I have heat and power, and my store is unharmed. No customers left because we took longer to process their sales than normal. All our customers were appreciative for their books and more than understanding about the situation.
The one thing I learned through all of this: I’m not really qualified to be our IT person, and that young man has just gotten himself a job.

6 thoughts on “Bookselling the Old-Fashioned Way

  1. Tone Blevins

    honestly. how big is your store? and you don’t know the inventory? and how smart/informed could your customers be that you couldn’t guide them? I can certainly identify with the arithmetic issue however!

    1. Elizabeth Bluemle

      Hi, Tone. We have an inventory of more than 30,000 books, and when someone remembers part of a title (or remembers a word he thinks is in the title but in fact isn’t), it can be pretty challenging.

  2. David

    You need a POS system that will run in an offline mode.they are all over the place.Where ever you are getting your software,you should ask them about this.

  3. Ellen Scott

    I would hate to go back to the days of only being able to look up books in a hard copy of book in print!! When our computer or the phones are on the blink, i just want to curl up with a good book! Thousands of titles without the computer makes my head hurt.

  4. Rebecca Bartlett

    I remember the days of microfiche, Books In Print–in print, yellow-pad inventory management, and long games of “name that book!” that involved the whole store. Now-a-days, fewer people can manage more detail faster. But are we having more fun?

  5. Dianna Winget

    Nothing like a temporary hassle in our life to make us stop and think how much worse things could be. What’s that old saying about “I felt sorry for myself because I had no shoes, until I met the man who had no feet.” Something like that anyway 🙂


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