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The Seven Types of Bookstore Customer
June 10, 2009 5:12 PM   Subscribe

Hoping to work his way around to describing the graphic novel bookstore he wants to open some day, big box bookstore employee the Rocket Bomber has made strides in natural history by delineating the seven types of bookstore clients. Some snark in the comments has led to a followup post with additional how-to-run-a-bookstore musings.
posted by shothotbot (108 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
His customer taxonomy is unduly harsh. Notice that exactly no type of customer is a good customer. But I still love this guy because he wants to open a bookstore. I had thought I might retire and open an gentleman's bookstore -which is supposed to be like a gentleman's farm, one undertaken as a hobby, not gentleman's club which has an altogether different connotation.
posted by shothotbot at 5:13 PM on June 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've worked big box book store retail. He's harsh, but not incorrect, sadly.
posted by booksherpa at 5:20 PM on June 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


The "Browsers" didn't sound too bad, but I may just think that because, er, I am one.
posted by kyrademon at 5:24 PM on June 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


I spent some years as a bookseller, and it's accurate, and actually kind of fond. Customers are a pain in the butt, also often interesting and a lot of fun.
posted by theora55 at 5:24 PM on June 10, 2009


Oh, booksellerfolks. FWIW the answer to "can I help you" is always "no", but I will curse you under my breath if I find your store to be poorly organized.

Hmm, let's hope the guy doesn't find this thread given his oversensitivity to low level snark.
posted by Artw at 5:29 PM on June 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Notice that exactly no type of customer is a good customer

Happy families are all alike. Unhappy families are each unhappy in their own way.
posted by 7segment at 5:32 PM on June 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


Hey, thanks for this. I'm actually reading his other posts and it's good stuff.

Me, I'm a browser/grazer. I know the books I like, but I can't afford them so I just look.
posted by Sova at 5:36 PM on June 10, 2009


Notice that exactly no type of customer is a good customer.

He clarified further in a comment to the follow up post:

Allow me to clarify a bit, Kristi:
* I love books, always have.
* I like my job. I do. I’ve been at it for 8 years now.
* I like browsers. They know what they like and require minimal guidance.
* I like most seekers, as well: I might come off as snooty and condescending, particularly in the post before this one, but if you know what book you want and I can help you find it in store, that’s great. It’s what I’m paid to do.

[there are some qualifiers that I could lard onto that, but I’ll save it for another post]

* Grazers are usually fine, so long as there is enough room to walk around them. And they buy coffee, so that’s good.
* Campers are usually fine. And they buy coffee. What bugs me is the sense of ownership some take towards the store and our furniture, but that’s OK, too. At least I know they like the place.
* Even someone with a list of books — seven or eight reading list titles, for example, that might take 10 or 15 minutes out of my day, doesn’t qualify as a time-suck. If I can help them, or order it for them, that’s fine. Call them an UberSeeker, maybe, and a handful of books is a great sale.

posted by nooneyouknow at 5:37 PM on June 10, 2009


One of life's mysteries, brought to you by the internet: why do people who presumably want to make a living at something work as hard as they can to advertise the fact that they have nothing but contempt for the people whose custom they depend on to make that living?

Every waiter blog is one more advertisement for the joys of eating at home. A blog like this says "buy more stock in Amazon.com."

Remind me to laugh hollowly the next time someone says that brick-and-mortar bookstores are so much better than online stores because of the customer service.
posted by yoink at 5:45 PM on June 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


Dude kids because he loves.
posted by GuyZero at 5:47 PM on June 10, 2009 [6 favorites]


I'm an Independent.

It is because I like the immediacy and the thrill of the bookstore, but I do not, in fact, like human contact.

I had always thought that being the sort of shopper who required minimal interaction from the staff made me the best kind, but now I see I am wrong.
posted by winna at 5:47 PM on June 10, 2009 [6 favorites]


Campers are usually fine. And they buy coffee. What bugs me is the sense of ownership some take towards the store and our furniture, but that’s OK, too. At least I know they like the place.

Probably folks looking for a Third Place...
posted by weston at 5:49 PM on June 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


I had always thought that being the sort of shopper who required minimal interaction from the staff made me the best kind, but now I see I am wrong.

The only customer he wants is the one who approaches the shop door, throws money through it in homage to this guy's sheer awesomeness, and then keeps on moving.

I have to say, at the point where he switches from bitching about all the people who ask for help to bitching about the people who won't ask for help I figured that it was just possible that this guy might not have found his dream career.
posted by yoink at 5:52 PM on June 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


As another eight-year veteran of the big-box book biz, I really wanna love this guy. He does have some good points, and his taxonomy is pretty damn precise. We actually use similar slang at the store I'm at.

That said, the dude's made a choice. I'm only still a shelf monkey because it's a palatable way to pay my tuition bills. Hell is other people, buddy. Get used to it.
posted by Schlimmbesserung at 5:53 PM on June 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


It is here that I want to plug my local comic book store. Main Street Comics in Milltown, NJ is just the most pleasant place to be. The owner, Mike, is a very pleasant, very cool guy. I am not really even a comic book fan these days, but I buy a few now and then. Despite that, I love this place. I have seen more than my share of comic book stores and Main Street rules. You can find bigger, badder shops in NYC, but few as pleasant as this one. My son has taken a shine to comics and that's why I go so much. I can leave him there on his own to browse for an hour or so while I drink coffee down the street. The world needs more people like Mike. If you are even close, his shop is worth the drive.
posted by caddis at 6:10 PM on June 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure if criticizing customers is the best way to get people to want to come to your potential store. I wouldn't be shopping there and I'm very much pro-comics, pro-graphic novels, etc.

(Most better comic book stores these days are basically "graphic novel" stores, anyway. Yes, they still sell floppies, but that doesn't really seem to be where the draw is. I've been in a couple of comic book stores where the floppy shelves where very much de-emphasized and the graphic novels are very much front and center.)
posted by darksong at 6:14 PM on June 10, 2009


It's time for a new model of the service-industry drone electro-kvetch. We've been linking these on Metafilter for years and they don't get better. I believe I understand the impulse that gets these things written, and why other people in similar situations want to read them. But that doesn't make them interesting.
posted by grobstein at 6:15 PM on June 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


OK. News flash: There Is No Such Thing As A Coffee Table Book.

Having worked as a bookseller, I can say this is inaccurate. "Coffee table books" are the literary equivalent of "art by the pound": people buy them more as conversation pieces than as actual reading material. The tomes themselves are often too large for most bookshelves, which is why casual readers will stack them near the sofa. Casual enough individuals will even use the texts as drink coasters or buffet trays. And some of those hardcovers are...well, bigger than a breadbox.
posted by Smart Dalek at 6:20 PM on June 10, 2009


This has basically made me decide that I should stick to my current method of surfing from home and ordering books online. I'd hate to, you know, actually inconvenience a bookstore employee and force them to classify me.

Oh, and the snide way you casually dismiss my job? Thanks. ‘preciate it.

Oh, and the snide way you casually dismiss your customers? Thanks. 'preciate it. As darksong says, I won't be shopping there.
posted by never used baby shoes at 6:22 PM on June 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


There are only two kinds of book store customers:
1. those who look or ask for books that actually exists and may or may not be in stock at the moment, and
2. those who provide fun pub/bar/dinner/blog/social anecdotes.

(yes, I worked in a book store. And loved every minute of it.)
posted by _dario at 6:27 PM on June 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


OK. News flash: There Is No Such Thing As A Coffee Table Book.

In a more recent post he suggests starting specialty cookbook and coffee table bookstores. Here is a coffee table book bookstore and here is a cookbook bookstore. Both in New York City.
posted by shothotbot at 6:33 PM on June 10, 2009


Yeah, I get it, the cover of the book is red.

Any bookseller worth a damn sees this as a fun challenge to get more information. I once correctly guessed Cold Mountain from "it's a blue book about the civil war."
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 6:41 PM on June 10, 2009 [5 favorites]


Also we already have graphic novel only bookstores. They're called "comic book shops". A store that only sells trade paperbacks of comics is called "a shitty comic book shop".
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 6:45 PM on June 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


I took a few moments to think over my reaction to this, and think I understand it.

1 - I am a serious book buyer - when I go in, I usually have a specific list of titles in mind and some of them are obscure/hard to find/possibly out of print. My recent experience in bookstores has shown me that the staff did not approach finding these titles with nearly the same level of interest that I do (and, it sounds like, other booksellers in this thread would approach it)...so I think part of my reaction is that this guy's classification of customers makes me understand exactly what is going through their heads when I'm talking with them - I'm a pain in the ass, and they wish I would go away. Hence, my desire to look by myself, online.

2 - the business I am in is also prone to this attempt to classify our clients...the problem is, is that they hate it. I know - I receive all the complaints from them when they deal with one of our staff and volunteers who have been just a little too obvious in the fact that they have classified and categorized the client into a niche. So this is a habit I try to discourage in my own organization, hence my further distaste. And, of course, the fact that I have reacted to an attempt to classify me and my behaviour in another area of life just deepens my conviction that this is a potentially very dangerous way for any business to approach its clients/customers.

There. Now everyone knows my in depth thoughts on the matter; a matter, which upon deeper reflection, is probably not worth the amount of time and energy I have invested in it tonight.

*wanders off to find a book and plate of beans*
posted by never used baby shoes at 6:54 PM on June 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Who exactly are these people who spend hours in all the chairs reading from cover to cover? Do they buy anything? It really pisses me off when I just need a few minutes to sit down and evaluate a few books, only to find the chairs all taken by an army of catatonic readers.
posted by crapmatic at 7:08 PM on June 10, 2009 [8 favorites]


The first comment said it all.

>YAWN Hipster dud bookseller hates his customers. What’s new?
>Comment by Max Heilan — 2 June 2009, 09:31

Nothing to see here. Move along.
posted by Mephisto at 7:08 PM on June 10, 2009


The conversation here is a lot less affectionate & more solemn about its snark.
posted by Pronoiac at 7:09 PM on June 10, 2009


Reminded me of Flame Warriors, but not nearly as good.

The bookstore where I worked was also a tobacconist, and sold stationery and had a massive selection of magazines for its day. Grazers in the magazine section were the shop's biggest problem.

Specifically, Grazers Who Would Happily Stay Grazing Even Though It Was Past Closing Time And All The Roller Shutters Were Pulled Down And It Was Obvious All The Staff Were Waiting For Them To Get Their Tight-Fisted Non-Paying Rude Ass Out There.

The boss was a bit of a fiery old character. Occasionally he’d tell magazine grazers to get the hell out of his shop.

I could go on, but I fear this post will become a barely interesting, rambling stream of consciousness.

/My most memorable book store moment was the day David Edding's 5th book came out. We were selling 'em as quick as we could unpack 'em. It was absolutely freakin' insane.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 7:16 PM on June 10, 2009


This has basically made me decide that I should stick to my current method of surfing from home and ordering books online. I'd hate to, you know, actually inconvenience a bookstore employee and force them to classify me.

Meh. I have a great local book store (Unity, if you're in Wellington). I actually look stuff up on Amazon and get them to order it. Costs are pretty similar, ditto delivery time, and they're Good People.

Oh, and the snide way you casually dismiss your customers? Thanks. 'preciate it.

Yeah, pretty much this.
posted by rodgerd at 7:19 PM on June 10, 2009


I don't see the dismissiveness and contempt others apparently do. I'm with theora55: I've worked in bookstores, I go to bookstores, and I recognize myself in more than one of the classes of Rocket Bomber's intimately and accurately drawn taxonomy.

That said... I live in NYC, where you're constantly subject to and therefore become inured to the judgments of cashiers, clerks, other customers, random passersby. Which is not such a bad thing, learning that the rudeness of total strangers means absolutely nothing, has no weight. It's barely background noise.

On preview: never used baby shoes, I'm glad you overthunked things. Your initial reaction seemed strangely vehement and I like seeing how you processed that reaction.

Can I buy you a coffee at B&N?
posted by dogrose at 7:20 PM on June 10, 2009


Who exactly are these people who spend hours in all the chairs reading from cover to cover? Do they buy anything? It really pisses me off when I just need a few minutes to sit down and evaluate a few books, only to find the chairs all taken by an army of catatonic readers.

Exactly. What’s the Economics term for them – Free Riders? I’ve known a few in my time, and they are generally shallow and untrustworthy types who are just as happy to scam off their “friends” as well as the local book shop. Don’t have much time for them at all.

And imagine having to deal with smelly homeless people who want to perform their daily ablutions! Good gravy. The man’s trying to run a business here. Despite all his snark, in this respect there seemed some genuine kindness bubbling to the surface.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 7:31 PM on June 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


He uses this refrain a couple times in the comments on that post, and in the other posts I checked out:
you haven’t read the followup, or my comment to B. Peregrine, so I’ll pitch this right at you:
I have to be calm, polite, understanding, accomodating, creative with solutions and quick to resolve conflict. I have to smile, and occasionally apologise, because that’s my job. I have to be ‘on’ all the time, not just once a month for a sales presentation or once a quarter when a senior VP visits: 100% 40 hours a week, every week. This is book retail — at least, it’s the way I do it and it’s the way my company trained me to do it.
When I am at work, I am doing my level best to provide all my customers, including the types listed above, with the best bookstore experience.

When I am at home, writing on a blog — my personal blog, the one I built and run myself, I am free to also share my frustrations with work, including those feelings that I have to suppress while I’m in the store helping everyone, even the idiots, find the book they have in mind.
Hi, I'm on Metafilter and I could overthink a book guy.
posted by Evilspork at 7:37 PM on June 10, 2009 [6 favorites]


The first comment said it all.

>YAWN Hipster dud bookseller hates his customers. What’s new?
>Comment by Max Heilan — 2 June 2009, 09:31

Nothing to see here. Move along.
posted by Mephisto at 9:08 PM on June 10


Oh hey look, he wrote an entry just for you.
posted by Evilspork at 7:41 PM on June 10, 2009


Any of you guys heard of the British comedy Black Books? The owner is a bit dismissive of his customers, similar to how this blogger comes across. I haven’t watched it enough to rate it, sorry, just thought I’d mention it.

There’s a selection of clips on The You Tubes type sites, naturally.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 7:44 PM on June 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


The other stuff in his "Rethinking the Box" series is much more interesting than the 7 customers thing.
posted by mediareport at 7:47 PM on June 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


dogrose: On preview: never used baby shoes, I'm glad you overthunked things. Your initial reaction seemed strangely vehement and I like seeing how you processed that reaction.

Can I buy you a coffee at B&N?


I would gladly have a coffee with you at a B&N. Of course, I suspect we don't live anywhere near each other - but maybe someday.
posted by never used baby shoes at 7:56 PM on June 10, 2009


Having done three years in the retail book trenches, I have to say that _dario nails it.

Hell, I'm still eating out on some of my Shocking True Life Book-Slinging Tales, and it's been more than a decade.

I kind of miss it actually.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 8:13 PM on June 10, 2009


Three years ago a "graphic novels only" bookstore opened up in my neighborhood (Labyrinth Books). I recall reading an interview were they said an advantage of only carrying graphic novels was that they could rent a much smaller space than a regular comic shop.
posted by bobo123 at 8:17 PM on June 10, 2009


Okay, you know what I really miss from my bookselling days?

I used to have biblio-superpowers. I really could find you a book about cheese with a green cover that was on Donahue in May of '81. I could tell what everyone on the bus was reading, just from the little snatches of cover that could be seen between coat-sleeves and seat-backs as I walked up the aisle. I could identify the books in the set-dressing of television shows. My knowledge was shallow, shallow, shallow, but damn was it broad.

I can't do any of that anymore, and sometimes it makes me sad.

On the other hand, I no longer have to fight the urge to FLUSH ALL SPINES whenever I darken the door of a B&N, and I guess that's worth something.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 8:25 PM on June 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


See, this didn't come off as snotty to me, maybe because it's pretty accurate. He seemed somewhat affectionate towards his customers (especially the homeless) while aware of the ways they can sometimes be problems or annoyances. Honestly, after a few years at Borders, I was much more scathing in my assessments of customers, while still striving to be courteous and helpful--because that was my job.

I think what non-retail workers don't get is that "courteous and helpful" are in fact skills, not really honest reactions to our love of you, the customer, personally. We don't know you, we don't have the time, and we have probably way too much to do for too little pay, aching feet, and a constant nagging worry about how to stretch our pitiful paychecks this month. I took care of my customers and smiled, and sometimes we did connect on a personel level, but mostly, it was just business. And there's nothing wrong with that.
posted by emjaybee at 8:35 PM on June 10, 2009 [6 favorites]


Any bookseller worth a damn sees this as a fun challenge to get more information. I once correctly guessed Cold Mountain from "it's a blue book about the civil war."

Well. It's exciting when you can get information out of the customer and nail it. I've seriously had the ones who know NOTHING about it beyond its colour and a vague idea of department and are enraged when we can't find the blue novel their brother was reading last Christmas.

On the other hand, I no longer have to fight the urge to FLUSH ALL SPINES whenever I darken the door of a B&N, and I guess that's worth something.

Oh God. I do this to friends' bookshelves, and might never kick the habit.
posted by Schlimmbesserung at 8:35 PM on June 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Six Months at a Big Box Bookstore, thank you, and another 12+ at various new and used CD/DVD/Vinyl stores.
I was good at it.
I also learned two things:
1) People aren't opposed to Slavery, it's just the word that has become unacceptable.
2) Working in Customer Service is a recipe for Misanthropy.
posted by I, Credulous at 8:52 PM on June 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


From Hipster Dud's whiny, defensive rant at Max:

Alas, there is still nothing we can do for Independents, but they’re tools anyway who should be shopping online, they just like coming into the store so they can rebuff all our efforts to help, while snidely commenting that if we were really committed to customer service we’d have a self-serve kiosk where they could do everything themselves without ‘interference’.
(yeah. It’s called the Internet, look into it.)
(and I still don’t get the attitude)


He actually thinks people come to the store just to "rebuff all their efforts to help?"
You've got to be fucking kidding me. Narcissism much?

Let's see, we're tools because we help ourselves and mind our own business.
Unless we bend over backwards to make some $7.25 an hour multiple-degreed slacker feel appreciated and special, we don't deserve to be in the store?

I'm willing to bet 99% of the "attitude" is a result of customers picking up on the condescending, disdainful vibe he's projecting. He hates Independents because they don't value his opinion and, by God, you know that can't be right since he's obviously superior to them in all other respects. We just need to recognize our proper place in the bookstore pecking order, amirite?

If he's that defensive about working in a customer service job, maybe he's the one who needs to look into filling orders on the Internet.

Damn. I'll never shop anywhere besides ABEBooks again.
posted by aquafortis at 9:30 PM on June 10, 2009


So now you've enticed me to spend $5 just so I can comment:

You question why I work retail?

I Love Books. My employer provides me with a very nice discount. Given that, I really like my job.

And who says my poor 'retail' skills, uniquely suited to answering questions about books, are of lesser value? Reference Librarians have graduate degreesalas I can’t command their salary but am expected to perform the same tasks because I work in a bookstore and it’s ‘customer service’. ...but I won't belabor that point.

Since I Love Books, I also like talking about books, and talking about what I’m reading, or what you’re reading (or what Oprah’s reading, for that matter)

And since I Love Books — and I love a wide range of books, across many subjects — I don’t necessarily get the ‘no, only this book will do’ mentality. Surely, out of the hundred thousand different titles we have in stock, there is some acceptable substitute? Or if you must have that book, and since you already know where our store is located, can I order that for you? That’s what you want me to do, right? Get you a book? That’s why you’re asking me, at the desk, for a book?

— If I come off as hostile, or hateful to my customers, it’s not so much that I don’t want you to have your book. I very much do want to sell you a book.

Go back and re-read both posts. My bile and vinegar are not a reaction to the customers who buy books, my worst comments are directed and those who do not buy, who never buy, who rebuff my efforts to help…

OK, there are also those who want a book but can’t tell me which book; that’s just annoying and I can only play ‘guess that book’ for so many hours a day.

Anyway… it’s not that I hate people who buy books. I hate people who keep me from selling books. Either because they waste my time, refuse my help, drain me of any and all resources to discover a book so they can then order it online — or who, through their behavior, make the shopping experience intolerable for paying customers.

That’s where I’m coming from. There’s the source of my umbrage. So there.
posted by M.Blind at 10:02 PM on June 10, 2009 [12 favorites]


Dude! His definition of Timesucks?

"I’m looking for a book for an 8 year old, but she reads at 10th grade level. I’m looking for a book for a gaucho interested in pre-WWI german philosophy. I need a birthday present for my cousin’s broker’s tennis coach, but I’m pretty sure he doesn’t read books.”

Those people are the reasons I like being a bookseller! I mean, if they shoot down the first five titles you suggest, well, then they might actually be a timesuck. But otherwise, those are the people who (correctly) revere me as a bookselling genius when I hand them the perfect book they never would have found on their own, aaand it's a more enjoyable challenge than slinging another Oprah book from the pile. Being able to know the stock and match it up to the customer is the whole reason booksellers exist!
posted by redsparkler at 10:08 PM on June 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


Loved your response palmcoder, this has gotten me thinking back to my bookstore days and I swear I knew every book in the inventory.

There are two bookstores near me with completely different vibes: a Borders where I don't like the stocking quite so much, but the staff there is always pleasant and seem happy.
The other is a BN with snarky hipster types who can't be bothered and who demonstrate disdain over every living thing including my well behaved know-how-to-hang-out-in-a-bookstore kids. I can see them judging me but I was assistant manager of Waldenbooks 960 before they were even born.

Sorry you're not working in Blackwells kids, I guess I am one of those suckers who actually liked serving other people and felt that it was pretty consistent with reading culture. And here is my Guess The Book story from back when there were no computers in the store and we got updates of the microfiche every fortnight.

Hot St Louis August, woman walked into the store with a boy about 10 years old.

>My son needs a book for school
--yes
>It is on the required list for St Something school
--do you know the title
>No, it is about dinosaurs
--let me take you to that section and see if anything looks familiar
<>
>None of these are what he needs, it was about a French dinosaur
--uh, you know, if we had it then it would have been in this section
>They said at the school we would be able to get it here (tension appearing)
--really, nothing comes to mind
>Fine, I'll get the list out of the car
<>
>Here, I was right about the book, and they said you would have it
--Ah, yes ma'am, Roget's Thesaurus, please follow me
posted by cgk at 10:31 PM on June 10, 2009 [45 favorites]


The EXPURGATED VERSION of Olsen's Standard Book of British Birds???!!
posted by uncanny hengeman at 11:06 PM on June 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


The very store he wants to open is already here, in Los Angeles, in Silver Lake. It's called The Secret Headquarters. It's a comic book store with a book store sensibility and it's probably my third favorite store in the universe. I'm surprised DrJimmy11 hasn't been here already to extol its virtues considering the gelato place next door is his hangout.
posted by incessant at 11:10 PM on June 10, 2009


Nice to see Rocket Bomber dropping in to say Hi...

Posted in the comments in the blog was a link to George Orwell's Bookshop memoirs essay, which pretty much says the same thing, only 70 years ago..

I have great respect for people working in service industries, especially if they try and make an effort -- they have to deal with self-important asses with a overdeveloped sense of entitlement one minute, idiots the next, and then still be bright and cheerful for the next customer... If this guy blows off a bit on his blog then great, we get to read what is essentially, a humorous article, and with a little luck, they guy doesn't go postal next time someone asks for that great book about kittens with the green color!

Satre said it best:
So that is what hell is. I would never have believed it. You remember: the fire and brimstone, the torture. Ah! the farce. There is no need for torture: hell is other people.

posted by nielm at 11:53 PM on June 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Any of you guys heard of the British comedy Black Books? The owner is a bit dismissive of his customers, similar to how this blogger comes across. I haven’t watched it enough to rate it, sorry, just thought I’d mention it.

Nah, he's more of a Goliath books minion.
posted by Artw at 12:21 AM on June 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Everyone's entitled to moan about their customers now and then, especially if their sketch of customer types is amusing and recognisable.

I suspect some of the negative reaction comes from retrospective embarassment - Oh, gosh, so that time I spent the whole day lying in the bookstore armchair - I behaved badly? It isn't normal to leave your suitcases in the store? They didn't like it? But I'm not annoying, everyone likes me... [cognitive dissonance] No, no, what it is is that this guy's a customer-hating asshole...
posted by Phanx at 1:46 AM on June 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


And since I Love Books — and I love a wide range of books, across many subjects — I don’t necessarily get the ‘no, only this book will do’ mentality. Surely, out of the hundred thousand different titles we have in stock, there is some acceptable substitute? Or if you must have that book, and since you already know where our store is located, can I order that for you? That’s what you want me to do, right? Get you a book? That’s why you’re asking me, at the desk, for a book?

Avoiding this conversation/argument is exactly why we "independents" want to just look it up on a computer terminal rather than talking to you.
posted by mmoncur at 2:27 AM on June 11, 2009


Independents

They don’t want help. ...

In other words, they want a bookseller, but they don’t want any of that messy human contact. And they want an online sales site, but they prefer to drive out to a retail location, as opposed to the convenience of using a website at home.

Yeah, I don’t understand it either.
It's quite simple. We want to physically look at the product, to see if it is something we would spend our money on, and compare it side-by-side to similar products, without hassle or input from someone who doesn't really know what we want. Exactly as mmoncur wrote, plus throw in not wanting to interact with someone who will pass judgment (with a mental sneer) on What Type of Bookstore Customer we are in the process.
posted by moonbiter at 3:03 AM on June 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Developing a complete loathing for your customers is I think from my, experiences on the other side of the counter, a prerequist to opening a comic graphic novel shop.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:17 AM on June 11, 2009


They don’t want help. They want a computer terminal they can use themselves. They want up-to-date inventory numbers aligned with an up-to-date store map, so they can go find the book themselves. If the book isn’t in the store, they want up-to-date warehouse information, so they can order it themselves.

Yep, this is me. And this is also why I don't go to B&N anymore. No computer terminal. I mean seriously, it's 2009. My underfunded library has done *3* computer upgrades since B&N got online, surely they (B&N) can have gotten this right by now.
posted by DU at 4:32 AM on June 11, 2009


Although I am, as I mentioned before, generally a Browser, there is one area where I am very much an Independent.

No, I do not want you to order the book for me.

I will never want you to order the book for me.

If I wanted to order the book, I would not have come to a bookstore.

Coming to a bookstore because I don't want to order a book is the WHOLE POINT OF GOING TO A BOOKSTORE.

(Yes, I realize you cannot have everything in stock all the time right when I want it, and I will not be snippy about it. Nor will I be snippy in your face in a bookstore if you ask, because I realize you are just doing your job. But what on EARTH is the point of going to a bookstore to ORDER A BOOK?)
posted by kyrademon at 4:35 AM on June 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


M.Blind - maybe you could just throw a store T-shirt and abdge or whatever onto DU when he comes in, and make him an honoury employee for the day with full access to the little terminal thingy, on the understanding that if any customers come asking stupid questions he has to answer them?
posted by Artw at 5:33 AM on June 11, 2009


When you order a book online, the "robots" that fill your order are also making fun of you, they're just less public about it.
posted by drezdn at 5:37 AM on June 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Well, now, if we're going to exchange bookselling stories . . .

One of my favorite quickies is the guy who came in looking for "that blue book about everything" and I successfully found him Bill Bryson's _A Short History of Nearly Everything_.

There's the woman who was confused about how Anne of Green Gables could be fiction, since "it's set in Prince Edward Island, and that's a real place, isn't it?"

My first Christmas, I had the guy who was looking for "age-appropriate" Bettie Page material for his 14 year old daughter. I tried, too - I showed him a calendar of her movie posters (some inappropriate images), and then found a book of photography not in the erotica section. As we're paging through it, he's commenting "Oh, this isn't too bad, oh, oh, [erotic photo], maybe I could just rip a few pages out, [many more erotic photos], oh! [turns to look at me after a particularly explicit one] Well, maybe for me, but not for her." I helped him rethink his gift idea.

But my top story . . .

Woman rushes into the store, goes right up to a co-worker who's obviously helping someone else, and screams "Where is your foreign language section?!?!" in a panicked voice. Coworker makes "Um, I'm helping someone already" noises and I finish up with my customer and come over.

"Ma'am, can I help you?"
"Yes, your foreign language section! Where is it?"
"Right over here, ma'am. What language are you looking for?"
"Russian, I need Russian!"
"Are you just looking to learn the language, or are traveling to Russia for business or pleasure?"
"No, I just picked up my new nanny from the airport, she's in the car with my three kids, and she doesn't speak a word of English!!"

I pause at this point, dumbfounded. I refrain from asking her how it is she didn't know this BEFORE hiring this woman, and soldier on. I show her phrase books, books with phonetic pronunciation and no Cyrillic characters, and even some "learn English" books when she asks for those. She rejects everything, finally grabs something less useful (IMO) off the shelves and races for the register. She almost immediately comes back asking if the cafe could ring her up so she doesn't have to wait in the 1 person line. They do, and she races out.

I've always wondered what came next in that household.
posted by booksherpa at 5:42 AM on June 11, 2009 [5 favorites]


I totally read this as affectionate and chiding and not hostile, and I haven't worked retail since my high school record store days...where we had nicknames for all the regulars. And this:

Dude. If you have a concept, and a business plan, and an iPhone, and you’re still trying to run it from a table at the bookstore cafe? Yeah, I know we’re in a recession and all but you’re not a start-up.

Should be nailed to the front door of every place in the DC metro area that serves coffee.
posted by JoanArkham at 5:44 AM on June 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


throw a store T-shirt and abdge or whatever onto DU when he comes in, and make him an honoury employee for the day with full access to the little terminal thingy, on the understanding that if any customers come asking stupid questions he has to answer them?

Deal. I've been tempted to use the little terminal thingies, but I'm afraid someone will think I'm trying to break open the register. The most galling thing would be their assumption that I'm so dumb I think those ARE registers.
posted by DU at 6:10 AM on June 11, 2009


All this is making me want to open a bookstore! There isn't any chance of being able to make a living at a bookstore, right?
posted by shothotbot at 6:21 AM on June 11, 2009


Redsparkler, I came in to say exactly that - I love helping customers find books for gifts, and even giving them plot synopses if that's what they need.

Basically there are only two things customers do that annoy me: Ask if the books are for sale (what do you think?), and shoot down their kids' choice of book because "that looks too hard for you" (I'm of the opinion that if a kid wants to read a book that doesn't contain anything age-inappropriate, they ought to and usually will read it whether it's too hard or not). Anything else I will let go.

Shothobot - read Andrew Laties' Rebel Bookseller (Powell's Link), and then take some hard decisions.
posted by featherboa at 6:44 AM on June 11, 2009


I'm of the opinion that if a kid wants to read a book that doesn't contain anything age-inappropriate, they ought to and usually will read it whether it's too hard or not.

I'm of the experience that they usually will not. Unless they are particularly motivated, they aren't going to plow through a book meant for kids 5 years older than them. And if they are particularly motivated, then my little "are you sure? it looks like it's for older kids" isn't going to stop them.
posted by DU at 6:58 AM on June 11, 2009


>>A store that only sells trade paperbacks of comics is called "a shitty comic book shop"
>a "graphic novels only" bookstore opened up in my neighborhood


Last year I gave considerable thought to opening one up in my neck of the woods. Ultimately, I realized that since most of the stores here have to supplement their business by being gaming/comic stores, collectibles/comic stores, and used books/comic stores, it wasn't very feasible. Add to that my own personal preference for using teh Amazon, and, yeah, well... what could have been, I guess.

Also, Jaded Young Bookstore Employees:Bernard Black::Joe Matt:R. Crumb
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 8:05 AM on June 11, 2009


... it was just business. And there's nothing wrong with that.

No, there isn't. In fact, I don't mind those interactions in the bookstore - that's what I'm expecting, wanting and hoping for. What I seem to be getting, and what I reacted to in this post, was this subtle feeling of what aquafortis is talking about - a disdainful vibe that I'm somehow an inconvenience as a customer because I ask questions, know very much what I want and don't want in terms of my books (format, size, etc), and can be rather insistent on getting it the way I want or I'm not spending my money today. I'm particular about my books. And perhaps that means I can come across as disdainful or snotty towards the staff because their suggestions don't fit with what I want, and we get a nice negative feedback loop going between us. I'm not going to claim that I'm perfectly easy to deal with in the bookstore either - I've worked retail and service industry jobs, and I know the customer isn't always right.

M.Blind, I'm glad you popped by and clarified your position. I like to buy books, and I like to work with bookstore staff who know their stuff - I just don't like to be made to feel like I'm putting the staff out. If this is just business, then I'm expecting someone on the other end who is knowledgeable, helpful, and willing to work with me and help me find what I'm after - recognizing that sometimes, what I'm after may not be possible.
posted by never used baby shoes at 8:14 AM on June 11, 2009


DU, I very often jump on the terminals at BN. One of three things happens when I do this: 1) nobody notices. 2) an employee notices but doesn't care enough to bother. 3) an employee notices, asks if he can help, and I just tell them politely that I'm just looking for where a particular book is located in the store.

If number 3 occurs, I've usually found what I needed from the terminal by the time this conversation has ended and I'm off to find my book. I've never had an employee get visibly upset with me, and if they do get upset that I used their terminal, well, they'll live.

So maybe I'm the reason that bookstore employees hate their lives. I'll live too.
posted by nushustu at 8:39 AM on June 11, 2009


No, I do not want you to order the book for me.

I will never want you to order the book for me.

If I wanted to order the book, I would not have come to a bookstore.


Thank you. I'm not the only one who thinks this way. If I'm paying full bookstore prices, I'm paying for the convenience of having the book right now. I'm not paying to reward your store for thinning its inventory to the lowest common denominator.
posted by jonp72 at 8:43 AM on June 11, 2009 [4 favorites]


So who's going to do the seven types of bookstore employees? Because I've worked in bookstores, and I suspect that one could be a lot more snarky and insulting that the one about the customers.
posted by craichead at 8:46 AM on June 11, 2009


But what on EARTH is the point of going to a bookstore to ORDER A BOOK?

Several years ago, I had finished reading "A Military History of the Western World", volumes 1 and 2, by JFC Fuller. I went to the bookstore where I got the first two volumes to get volume 3. Sadly, they didn't have it. While there are many books that could serve as a substitute for this particular title, for me at that time only that specific book would do. So my choices were to come back another time on the off chance it might magically appear on the shelf, or order it. Which I did. From the bookstore. In other words, the point of going to a bookstore to order a book would be to acquire the book. I'm not really sure where your confusion comes from.

Since we're sharing bookselling stories, my memories of working in a bookstore consists of wandering through the aisles every day to find where customers had hidden the adult magazines inside oversized books, and the day I met Pencilled-on-her-forehead-eyebrows lady who told me all about the time the aliens visited her. Good times.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 8:49 AM on June 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


And who says my poor 'retail' skills, uniquely suited to answering questions about books, are of lesser value? Reference Librarians have graduate degrees — alas I can’t command their salary but am expected to perform the same tasks because I work in a bookstore and it’s ‘customer service’. ...but I won't belabor that point.

You know, your intense anxiety about people looking down on you because you work in retail really says everything about what fuels the attitude in your blog. Your response to Max Heilan's (dead-on) comment that you were just another boring "hipster dude [who] hates his customers" really underscored this anxiety:

Sure, it’s a low paid job in the service sector. It’s a ‘customer service’ job, and hence doesn’t get the same respect as someone who works with numbers and reports all day, or who manages a ‘team’ or a division or a whole company.

But that wasn't Max Heilan's criticism. He didn't say "lowly retail flunky hates his job" he wrote "hipster dude hates his job." The point is that you (oh so clearly) think that the customer service aspects of this job are beneath you, and you want to make damned sure that everybody knows your seething contempt for the work you're forced to do. See, you're just there because you love books ("I'm a hipster intellectual") and get a discount on them. Dealing with customers is contemptible shit work that you have to do in order to feed your book habit, but we must understand that you're really above it.

So "who says your poor "retail" skills, uniquely suited to answering questions about books, are of lesser value"? Well, you do. You clearly take no pride at all in using those skills. You loathe anybody who asks you to use them for anything more complex than "do you have X book by Y author?" questions.

Me, I have no end of respect for someone working in a bookstore who takes pride in their ability to understand a customer's needs and do their best to meet them. That's a wonderful service which takes extraordinarily wide-ranging knowledge to perform well. Some of the best-read and most interesting people I've known owned small bookstores which they ran with a kind of fierce and devoted passion, both to the books and to their customers. Alas, those kinds of bookshops and those kinds of booksellers are fast disappearing. Now we have the soulless big-box "would you like a latte with that?" bookstores full of people like you. And people like me are quite happy to stick to amazon.com and abebooks.com and leave you untroubled by our distressing presence.
posted by yoink at 10:05 AM on June 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think he did miss one type; the Irritating Self-Promoting Local Author. We had one, a local Anne Rice-imitator, whose protagonist was a vampire/detective who solved mysteries. Yeah.

Anyway, she'd have signings, not problem, for her small group of fans; but then, she'd come in to my mystery section and add promotional paper bookmarks hanging out from the shelves next to all her titles. Which I would angrily rip out the minute she left, because that was not kosher. She would also try to face out all her books, even if the shelf was too full, and put them on endcaps, grill us about pushing her titles, and other shenanigans.

There were several local children's book authors who were even worse, but thankfully I didn't handle that section.
posted by emjaybee at 10:14 AM on June 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


Do you ever get "street teams" out "facing" books?
posted by Artw at 10:19 AM on June 11, 2009


Several years ago, I had finished reading "A Military History of the Western World", volumes 1 and 2, by JFC Fuller. I went to the bookstore where I got the first two volumes to get volume 3.

How are they? J.F.C. is kind of fascinating to me, being some kind of occult nazi tank-nut, but I never really thought to read his work.
posted by Artw at 10:23 AM on June 11, 2009


But what on EARTH is the point of going to a bookstore to ORDER A BOOK?

If lived somewhere, liked I used to, where it was inconvenient to get stuff from amazon delivered to (because I wouldn't be in when the post was delivered, shared a letterbox with potential thieves), and I worked within working distance of a bookshop and I could nip in there on a lunchtime, I would totally order books from a bookshop.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 10:26 AM on June 11, 2009


Dude. If you have a concept, and a business plan, and an iPhone, and you’re still trying to run it from a table at the bookstore cafe? Yeah, I know we’re in a recession and all but you’re not a start-up.

That's not a fair characterization. Every year a shit-ton (yes, that's the exact number) of businesses are started at home until they reach a point where they need a full-time office (irritation with surroundings, suitable income, extra employees, etc). Until then, going to a coffee shop or bookstore for awhile to work is a nice escape from the house. Characterizing that as "running a business from a bookstore" and labeling them "con artists" is pretty condescending. Especially since those types tend to buy a lot of coffee, which by his own admission is pretty darn profitable.

Take that post with a grain of salt I think... seems like he was irritated when he wrote it and wanted to highlight all the negatives, and is really stretching credibility to fit everyone into one of his annoyance-boxes.
posted by chundo at 10:32 AM on June 11, 2009



But what on EARTH is the point of going to a bookstore to ORDER A BOOK?


Because you can look at the book before buying it (in most cases).
posted by drezdn at 10:34 AM on June 11, 2009


In other words, the point of going to a bookstore to order a book would be to acquire the book. I'm not really sure where your confusion comes from.

For me a bookstore is about immediate gratification. If I want to order and then wait a week for a book, it's quicker and cheaper to get it online.
posted by chundo at 10:35 AM on June 11, 2009


Shothotbot, you might want to check out this: Boswell and Books. The writer is the owner of Boswell Book Company, a book store that just opened in Milwaukee in (IIRC) April. He's pretty open about the issues he's had with opening a store. Plus, he's been a bookseller since the 1980s, so he knew what he was getting into from the outset.
posted by drezdn at 10:37 AM on June 11, 2009


Also, hats off to anyone opening a book or comic store. You are fucking crazy and I salute you.
posted by Artw at 10:39 AM on June 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


To get one last comment in before lil drezdn wakes up... I worked for bookstores for nearly seven years. When I worked for a chain, the work was depressing enough that becoming a police officer looked more pleasant. At an independent store, we were mostly fine with anyone that bought something in our shop.

As far as the people running the businesses from the coffee shop, I think most employees are fine with it as long as you don't start making demands based on the fact that you're trying to run a business out of our store. For example, someone asking a cafe not to grind a drink because they're trying to handle an important business call.
posted by drezdn at 10:46 AM on June 11, 2009


Hmm, no mention of these guys?
posted by Artw at 10:52 AM on June 11, 2009


As far as the people running the businesses from the coffee shop, I think most employees are fine with it as long as you don't start making demands based on the fact that you're trying to run a business out of our store.
I think that's only true if you're not taking a table that someone else would want or bothering the other customers. And depending on the culture of the cafe, talking on your cell phone all day might definitely bother the other customers.
posted by craichead at 10:57 AM on June 11, 2009


I'm not really sure where your confusion comes from.

Ordering book from bookstore means: paying full price, having to go back to the bookstore to get it.

Ordering online means: usually some net savings except for MMPB's, book comes straight to your home, book delivery date is often more predictable than with a bookstore, possibly avoid sales tax.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:00 AM on June 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


I order from my bookstore because I want to support independent local businesses. I love the hell out of that bookstore, and I really want them to stay around.
posted by cadge at 11:40 AM on June 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


I order from my bookstore because I want to support independent local businesses. I love the hell out of that bookstore, and I really want them to stay around.

I can see your point, but I don't see why it's a good deal when you're dealing with Barnes & Noble or Borders.
posted by jonp72 at 12:27 PM on June 11, 2009


This has basically made me decide that I should stick to my current method of surfing from home and ordering books online. I'd hate to, you know, actually inconvenience a bookstore employee and force them to classify me.

Oh, and the snide way you casually dismiss your customers? Thanks. 'preciate it.



Eight and half years in the trenches at Borders for me.

I've got news for those of you who won't be darkening the doors of bookstores in retaliation. Your supermarket checker hates you. Your postal worker hates you. The guy who processes your order at Amazon hates you. I could go on, but you get the idea.

They don't get paid to like you. They just get paid to appear as if they do. If you're too butthurt by the idea that the retail clerk you're speaking with, who is being perfectly polite, helpful and cheerful while dealing with you, might secretly harbor dislike for you, then you should probably just become a shut-in.

signed,

Former Disgruntled Bookseller
posted by ereshkigal45 at 1:25 PM on June 11, 2009 [5 favorites]


It's not that these folks hate us, ereshkigal45, it's that they do so for no reason other than we're "inconveniencing" them (while they're at work, heaven forfend). I've worked customer service for a long time and in every capacity one can think of (just about). I know how to behave, and I know how the process works from their perspective. At the same time, I don't care if they like me or not. I care if they use that dislike to be less-than-professional.
posted by grubi at 1:33 PM on June 11, 2009


@Artw:
Occult nazi tank nut? Huh, I had no idea. Well, the tank nut part I got, and I've read Liddell Hart and Guderian as well so I've covered most of the bases there. Fuller was a good read, nice overview of a wide range of military history and close-up examination of key battles from someone who knew what he was talking about. It would be interesting to re-read some sections with his personal history in mind...
posted by GhostintheMachine at 1:50 PM on June 11, 2009


I've got news for those of you who won't be darkening the doors of bookstores in retaliation. Your supermarket checker hates you. Your postal worker hates you. The guy who processes your order at Amazon hates you. I could go on, but you get the idea.

They don't get paid to like you. They just get paid to appear as if they do. If you're too butthurt by the idea that the retail clerk you're speaking with, who is being perfectly polite, helpful and cheerful while dealing with you, might secretly harbor dislike for you, then you should probably just become a shut-in.

signed,

Former Disgruntled Bookseller


Do please give us more lessons in how not to sound butthurt about our interactions with people.
posted by yoink at 5:27 PM on June 11, 2009


DU- so after you've looked up your hypothetical book on this hypothetical terminal available to the public, and you can't locate said book on the shelf (because someone else has it on order, or put it on hold, or it just got received this morning so it's not on the shelf yet, or any of a number of reasons), what are you going to do then?

Ask one of those actual human beings to actually help you?

I'm a bookseller. I'm going to have to agree with pretty much everything Rocket Bomber has said. I love connecting with customers, and finding them that special book that they want.

In fact, small confession here, I'm something of a BELIEVER. I've DRUNK the KOOLAID. I would say that, for me at least, working in a bookstore is a SACRED CALLING (sorry I'm doing the whole Owen Meaney 'voice of God' thing). I live for those moments when I'm able to turn someone on to a book that I've loved. I did that twice today. It was awesome.

Love selling books. Hate not selling them.

And seriously, you've ALREADY MADE THE TRIP TO THE STORE. Sure you can order it from home. Of course. But you can do it IN THE STORE. You're ALREADY THERE. Just as easy. Same price. And it's on it's way to your house. EASY. Unfortunately, you DO have to interact with one of those messy 'humans' at the information desk. But that's not really all that hard is it?
posted by geekhorde at 8:57 PM on June 11, 2009


That being said, some people try their hardest NOT to be my customer. Also, some people go out of their way to be difficult and ridiculously hard to deal with. They seem to get pleasure out of it.

I'm always floored when I see someone sitting in my bookstore for 8 hours, in their house-dress, putting their bare feet up on coffee tables, and reading books, but NEVER buying anything.

That floors me. And it's much more common than I think you know.

Also, the condescending attitude that comes off of some people (which used to get to me, but now just kind of amuses me) can be hard for some people to deal with. The kind of person who thinks that because I work in 'Customer Service' in a bookstore that I must be less intelligent than them, or less successful, or whatever.

That happens more than you would think as well. But it's just part of the territory.

What I love is when kids come in looking for that certain book, and you can see that they're SO EXCITED to be reading, and the way their eyes light up when you hand them that book. That's pretty damned awesome.
posted by geekhorde at 9:05 PM on June 11, 2009


Chundo- and speaking of people using the bookstore coffee shop as their office, I have no problem with like 80% of them.

It's the parasitic multilevel marketing bullshit hucksters that I hate. And they come in all the time. ALL THE TIME. Trying to hoodwink young couples into buying into their bullshit.

But the guy who comes in and writes for four hours, drinks 4 cups of coffee and eats a scone? That guy's awesome. He can come back anytime.

Ok, rant mode off.
posted by geekhorde at 9:10 PM on June 11, 2009


Ha. I've worked in a bookshop for 4 years and a bicycle shop for 4 years [both part time while studying] and I've just realised how similar the customers are.

There's the drop in whenever they like, touch, feel, try, get free advice... then order it online scumbags. And then you meet the most interesting, generous, wonderful people… salt of the Earth.

Sheesh, I dunno, maybe I could say the same if I worked in a hardware store or a chemist?
posted by uncanny hengeman at 1:57 AM on June 12, 2009


Sheesh, I dunno, maybe I could say the same if I worked in a hardware store or a chemist?
People who work in knitting stores complain about it constantly.
I'm always floored when I see someone sitting in my bookstore for 8 hours, in their house-dress, putting their bare feet up on coffee tables, and reading books, but NEVER buying anything.

That floors me. And it's much more common than I think you know.
We had a couple of these folks when I worked at a bookstore, and I mostly felt really sad for them. One of them, I strongly suspect, was one of those late-middle-age guys who loses his job and can't figure out how to tell his wife. He showed up at nine every morning dressed in a business suit, read some heavy military history tome all day, and then left promptly at five. It was annoying that these people treated the bookstore like a library, especially because there was a library not very far away, but I had a hard time resenting them. Most of our obnoxious customers were just obnoxious. The people who sat around reading all day felt like they were using the bookstore as a refuge, which was harder for me to resent.
posted by craichead at 6:06 AM on June 12, 2009


One of them, I strongly suspect, was one of those late-middle-age guys who loses his job and can't figure out how to tell his wife. He showed up at nine every morning dressed in a business suit...

There was a guy like that who always came into the bicycle shop during my Monday shift - not all day, apparently he used to hang out at the library as well.

One day his wife gets MURDERED and he used his shop visits as part of his alibi. So one memorable morning I had two freakin' homicide Ds banging on my door asking me all sorts of questions. Not a good morning to have a joint, I can tell you.

FYI, I couldn't 100% confirm his alibi. He got found guilty, served some time, then got found not guilty on appeal. Something to do with her being a hopeless alcoholic and was always cutting herself so they decided the blood evidence was worthless.

FYI, My comment two above was a combination of personal observation and comments here from other Mefites. Books could be ordered from warehouses but not "online" during my tenure.

posted by uncanny hengeman at 8:56 AM on June 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


In fact, small confession here, I'm something of a BELIEVER. I've DRUNK the KOOLAID. I would say that, for me at least, working in a bookstore is a SACRED CALLING (sorry I'm doing the whole Owen Meaney 'voice of God' thing). I live for those moments when I'm able to turn someone on to a book that I've loved. I did that twice today. It was awesome.

Nice to know that there are still a few people who see customers as something other than the fly in the retail-job ointment.
posted by yoink at 9:23 AM on June 12, 2009


Nice to know that there are still a few people who see customers as something other than the fly in the retail-job ointment.

something tells me that, when you heard somewhere that "the customer is always right", you missed the part -right afterwards- that says "this does not necessarily mean that as soon as the Customer enters the store, the celestial spheres gently stop, His majestic figure is flooded by white light, a boy choir starts singing Handel's Hallelujah and rose petals are gently laid at His feet by four virgins (of legal age) gracefully dancing in circle while ambrosia starts flowing from the espresso machine in the cafeteria".

I mean, we used to do that, but only on special occasions, cause the rose petals are just a pain in the neck to sweep.
posted by _dario at 11:54 AM on June 12, 2009


I dunno. I worked at a bookstore, and there were definitely some obnoxious customers. But "customer" is not a species of person. "Customers" are just people who are caught in the act of buying something. When I left the bookstore and went to the grocery store, I magically morphed into a customer. I neither loved nor hated most of my customers. Some of them were fun to work with, some were annoying, and most were neither. They were just people looking for books, not some special category of folks who deserved my contempt or derision or undying love.
posted by craichead at 12:23 PM on June 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


It's definitely not the book sellers here that have the hideously bloated sense of entitlement. I really do wonder how some of you lot manage to get up in the morning and walk down the street without stumbling over the concept that someone might not think you are the greatest thing ever and having to call a wahmbulance.
posted by Artw at 12:26 PM on June 12, 2009


I'm mostly responding to ereshkigal:
I've got news for those of you who won't be darkening the doors of bookstores in retaliation. Your supermarket checker hates you. Your postal worker hates you. The guy who processes your order at Amazon hates you. I could go on, but you get the idea.
I've worked a lot of retail, and I've never hated most of my customers. Maybe I'm just Pollyanna, but I didn't feel that way. I truly hated the random local author who went and got the store owner and demanded that she fire my co-worker on the spot because my co-worker had not recognized the name of his stupid, worthless, piece of shit "sports humor" book. But the people who wanted to know where we kept the vegetarian cookbooks or if I remembered the name of the book that was reviewed on Fresh Air the day before? I didn't have strong feelings about them at all. Helping them was my job. I generally didn't expend a lot of emotional energy on them.

And I've got to say that I did find some of my fellow booksellers to be assholes about customers. It might be an inevitable consequence of selling something that you love passionately and that a lot of customers see as mere entertainment, but it got old.
posted by craichead at 12:55 PM on June 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


It's definitely not the book sellers here that have the hideously bloated sense of entitlement. I really do wonder how some of you lot manage to get up in the morning and walk down the street without stumbling over the concept that someone might not think you are the greatest thing ever and having to call a wahmbulance.

Dude, asking not to be detested as an inconvenience simply for walking into the bookstore is not having a "bloated sense of entitlement." No one in here is asking to have rose petals strewn at their feet; no one is saying that all customers deserve to have their every whim catered to; no one is saying that some customers aren't pains in the neck who deserve to be kvetched about. All I'm saying is that to state that every. single. one. of your customers deserves your hatred says more about you than it does about them.

Or, what craichead said.
posted by yoink at 1:55 PM on June 12, 2009


All I'm saying is that to state that every. single. one. of your customers deserves your hatred says more about you than it does about them.

"CALL ME A WAHMBULANCE I WAS BEATEN UP BY A STRAWMAN!"
posted by Artw at 1:59 PM on June 12, 2009


"CALL ME A WAHMBULANCE I WAS BEATEN UP BY A STRAWMAN!"

You seem to believe that "strawman" means "argument that was made earlier in the thread." E.g.:

Eight and half years in the trenches at Borders for me.

I've got news for those of you who won't be darkening the doors of bookstores in retaliation. Your supermarket checker hates you. Your postal worker hates you. The guy who processes your order at Amazon hates you. I could go on, but you get the idea.


Oh, and if you want to restrict the discussion to the linked article: care to identify which category of customers he spares from sneering contempt?
posted by yoink at 2:04 PM on June 12, 2009


At least a fun selling-books story. Eastern European guy is trying to buy a science book with foreign traveler's checks. The store, a uni co-op, did not take them. In the course of grumbling mildly, trying to scrounge up cash from his wallet, briefcase, pockets, he mentions, "I am a Nobel Prize winner," more thinking out loud than as an exclamation. I took it as someone with a great, deep, blindingly accomplished mind verbalizing internal thoughts about the frustrations of life away from his work, not as, "Don't you know who I am?" I was so hoping he would show us a card, medal or some such. I would have given him the book free.

A colleague wandered over while we tried to sort it out, recognized the man immediately, sprinted off to get one of his books, got it signed, said later he couldn't begin to afford the book, couldn't imagine passing up the opportunity.

Turned out the man was Ilya Prigogine, widely considered to be an extraordinary chemist.
posted by ambient2 at 2:31 PM on June 12, 2009


You'd think Ilya Prigogine would have a credit card. Never thought I'd say that.

Well, from my own bookselling experience (nearly 10 years) there are some real assholes who come into my store. But I'd say probably 97% of customers are not that way at all though, even if some of them seem to fit the categories he's come up with. Most of them, anyway.

And I'm sure in any job you have to deal with assholes. It's just life.
posted by geekhorde at 4:04 PM on June 12, 2009


If he can't transmute lead into gold what the fuck kind of Chemist can he be?
posted by Artw at 4:07 PM on June 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm going to have to go with craichead on this one; in my years of customer service, the only employees who really, sincerely had a chip on their shoulders about doing the job were the ones who sucked at it and/or felt it was beneath them. Just a data point.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:13 PM on June 12, 2009


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