Selling Books: How Not To

I don’t often write about customer service, as frankly, there’s more important stuff going on in the world. But after a weekend of cold selling at LFCC the following high street experience maddened me no end.

Headed to a major bookstore in Ireland (floors of freaking books in this place) and headed to the tills on the ground to ask if they had a certain business book. Asking would save me the trek up two flights if they didn’t have it and I make it a point of only exercising at the gym where there’s pumping techno music.

Anywhoo, a few punch of the keys later and the assistant said that they did indeed have the book I was after – three plus copies out on the shelves on the second floor. Brilliant. Usually if they say there’s only one copy it could have been sold and the system hasn’t updated or it could be floating between shelves. But three copies? I was solid.

Bounded up the stairs and proceeded to have a bit of a browse, underarming a couple of other books to purchase in the process. Finally made a b-line search for the book I came for, but couldn’t find it. Now, on this floor, I spotted at least four members of staff – two behind tills at both ends and two stacking the shelves.

Headed to the lady at the till and said I was looking for book X and could she help me as I was told it was on this floor. Without making a move to get out from behind the till (there was no queue as it was the afternoon) she punched the keys into the system.

“Looks like we haven’t got any in stock.”

“But the lady downstairs searched the system and said that you did. Three copies.”

“Oh, did you order it in special?”


“Oh, well go speak to that guy down the end. He’s in charge of business books.”

So, I shuffle off to the till at the other end. Again, I had a stack of books under my arm. Even to the most naïve of people this telegraphs that I’m ready to buy and by helping me you could sell more.

Just as I approach the till at the other end of the store, the phone behind the counter rings and the second assistant proceeds to answer it.

Now, to be fair, I hadn’t arrived at the till at the other end of the store before the phone rang. But I was in this guy’s line of sight. I don’t know about you, but if I see a customer in store coming towards me with a stack of books under his arm, I’ll let the phone ring. Seriously. A bird in the hand and all that.

I give this guy a chance. I wait there with my stack of books patiently and he proceeds to have a phone conversation with a customer that has to do with everything BUT taking his credit card number and making a sale.

Spotting me waiting, an assistant asks if she can help. I tell her I’m after book x. She has to consult with a colleague but she races over to the shelf pulls the book off and hands it to me and I thank her.

I take my stack back to the till with the cashier who had previously said it wasn’t in stock. There were three copies laid out on a not very well-placed promotional table.

“It’s getting good reviews that book, isn’t it?” said the assistant who had just five minutes ago said it wasn’t in stock and who was no more than 12 feet from the book itself.

“Sure is,” I said as she rang up the sale.

What I didn’t say was that she had almost cost the bookstore. Indeed, for a floor covering 24 feet end to end and staffed by at least four people the lack of willingness to shove books in my hand was staggering.

It’s the business section, so a qualified readership with few books under 15 euros. Customers have come into the store – they’re not browsing a website, so by turning they’re expressing intent: I’m in the mood for reading something new. By making the effort to climb stairs, they’re telling you what they’re after and by carrying a stack of books under their arm, they’re telling you you’re going to make a sale.

Conservatively, if there were ten people like me each day that weren’t as persistent or walked off instead, each looking to buy a 15 euro book, that’s 150 euros lost a day in revenue and around €50,000 a year.

That fact may be beyond the purview of the assistants – they get paid whether the business makes money or loses money. But I’m sure it matters to at least one person. But why wasn’t that person on the shop floor, if not personally then at least in spirit through the actions of the staff?

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