How to Survive the Holidays

Josie Leavitt -- December 6th, 2012

We all know that the holidays can be enormously stressful for customers and bookstore employees. After being in business for 16 years, I have some insights to share that might make the holidays go a little more smoothly for everyone involved.

– First, and foremost, do not take things personally. Emotions can run high during the holidays. There is inherent stress in shopping for everyone in the family. Sometimes customers are buying books for nieces and nephews they only see once a year and they feel bad about that. This feeling can come out at the bookseller in the form of irritation when books are recommended. The customers are not mad at you, they just can’t answer the question because they don’t know the kids. Roll with it and state with confidence that the books you’re recommending are great for that age child.

– Feeding people is always a good idea. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, having candy around is generally helpful for shopper’s moods. It still amazes me how happy a little nibble can make shoppers at the end of the day.

– Booksellers should remember to actually have lunch around lunchtime. Too many holiday workdays find us eating lunch after three. This is a recipe for disaster for the poor customers who shop between noon and the 10 minutes we allow ourselves to inhale protein. We keep a massive jar of peanuts in the back room and we just zip back and down some quickly before we hit the floor from hunger. But not getting too hungry is always a good idea.

– Patience with overwhelmed customers is essential. I come from a tiny family and am often stunned by the sheer number of people some folks have in their families. Often the overwhelmed person is often the one in the family known for getting the perfect gifts. That kind of pressure can be very hard to live with and it’s our job to help them maintain their track record.

– Patience with the bookseller is also helpful. We are running flat-out all day and sometimes our brains can’t keep up, especially at the end of the day. We are not stupid, we are exhausted and doing our very best. Our goal is to match all the gift recipients in your life with the perfect book and occasionally we falter, but we always regroup well.

– Listen, listen and listen some more. A good bookseller should be able to start handing out recommendations within seconds of the customer explaining who the gift is for. Resist the urge to think your job is done if you’ve handed someone a stack of books. Often the first pass misses the mark and it’s the clarification chat that can really be instrumental in getting the right books.

– If you’re not connecting with a customer for whatever reason, ask for help from a colleague. Usually a fresh set of eyes and ears can make all the difference.

– Take breaks. This goes for shoppers as well as store staff. You’re no good to anyone if you haven’t gotten some fresh air all day. Take a quick walk around the building. Run to the post office. Offer to go on a coffee run to refuel everyone.

– This ties in to the above: don’t drink too much coffee. While you might feel more alert with two cups of coffee, four cups can render you unintelligible to customers who are not operating at your speed level.

– Be kind to everyone, even if they are making you crazy. This goes hand in hand with the first list item. A little extra kindness during the height of the holiday shopping can go a long way to help someone’s mood. Offer to help take books to someone’s car or read a story to a toddler while a parent shops for the kid.

– We have a staffer here who zips out to the Shelburne Country Store to get “vitamins” which are really penny candies. I know it’s been a rough day if the back counter is littered with little bags of candy.

– Don’t forget to bond with your co-workers. Work is stressful and I think we need to resist the urge to fly out of the store when the day is over. Sometimes it’s great to share a meal or a drink with folks who’ve had the same tough day you’ve just endured.

– Finally, I find that wearing a Santa hat really helps the day go better.

3 thoughts on “How to Survive the Holidays

  1. AnnMarie

    You make a great point to consider the stresses customers may be encountering, including financial issues, the relationships with the intended recipients of the gifts, and the self-instigated pressure to get just the right gift. A smile, a candy, a sympathetic ear, a helpful suggestion are sometimes just what a customer needs. Happy holidays to all!

  2. Heather Doss

    I actually had an eclectic supply of reindeer antlers (some that lit up, some with bells, the single one from the Grinch) to wear every day between Black Friday & Christmas Eve while working retail. It kept me sane since customers tend to find it very hard to get mad/frustrated at someone wearing antlers! 🙂

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