Friday, February 12, 2010

Borders 1, Customer Service 0

I'm not the type given to rants. Not normally. Well, OK, once in a while maybe, but not on these pages. Not until now, not until returning from a failed shopping expedition to my local Borders.

Let's go back to Tuesday to set this up. Tuesday I went to Borders expecting to buy a book. It was just released that day and I had every reasonable expectation of finding it on the store shelves. Except it wasn't to be found. The computers said it was in the store, but I couldn't find it and a rare helpful employee couldn't locate it either.

I went back today. It wasn't on the table where the computer indicated it should be. I walked up to the checkout and asked for help. Essentially the woman blew me off. There was no one waiting in line, no one eagerly waiting to buy a book, but she gave a cursory glance to the sheet of paper with the book listed on it and said I'd have to go to the Information Desk. She'd have someone meet me there.

But no one did. I waited a while, looked a little longer and left.

I know Borders has experienced difficulties in the past. I know they are struggling to generate a respectable stream of revenue. Look at their music section, it's a shadow of its former self. I know that its employees labor under two expectations 1) get the books on the shelves and 2) take the customers money. But is a little basic customer service too much to ask?

This kind of experience is exactly the sort of thing that sends people to the computer to shop online or buy an ebook.

I can't say that I won't go back. I want books more than I want to stay angry, but I'm not going back any time soon. And there are multiple bookstores within easy distance of my workplace, so I can take my custom elsewhere for a while.

And while I am on the subject, is it too much to ask that bookstore employees know a little bit about books? I tried to buy Wolf Hall at this same Borders a few months ago and no one had heard of it. Presumably, they hadn't heard of the Booker Prize either.

Computers are handy things, and its especially nice to be able to look up an obscure title or two. But wouldn't you think Borders employees might know where to find certain titles, certain authors without resorting to electronic help?

I still like to browse, to hold books, to study the cover and the contents, so this isn't enough to send me online -- and sure as hell won't drive me to an ebook (but that's a rant for another day) -- but it is going to send me elsewhere. And I hope for a good long time.

This also seems like a good time to say something about independent bookstores. I buy from several -- Politics & Prose, Murder by the Book, the Mystery Bookshop in Seattle, Mysterious Galaxy -- and I often pay full price plus shipping. I do this because of the customer service I receive.

Independent bookstores live in a world of small profit margins that are largely made possible because they know books and they know their customers. Customer service ranges from book recommendations to signed books to books shipped with dust jacket covers and to occasionally throwing in those little extra promotional items that collectors love.

Suddenly I understand why people use their blogs to rant and rave. I have run out of choler much as I ran out of Borders this morning. Trust me, I plan to keep running.

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