By this point we’ve all adjusted from an “OMG how can the store close” to a “Let’s get this shit done as best as we can” mentality. Again, I love my coworkers because while work was light-hearted none of us are putting up with nonsense.
A woman got very upset that we’re required to mark out the UPC with a permanent market to avoid returns and started snapping at a bookseller and the three others ringing along side him all chimed in to defend him. Managers rotated out with us during the rush and made sure we all got breaks on time. There are reports from other stores that GMs and other management are taking vacation days rather than setting foot in the store. But not at my store, where my GM rang for an hour and half, did store recovery/helped people on the floor for two hours and single handedly stripped the first floor of chairs and extra tables to “encourage” people not to keep coming in and leaving piles of books everywhere.
Our African American fiction section is more than half gone. I’d say YA SF/F/H is about a third gone. And we got new hardbacks in stock today for the normal Tuesday release (these were, of course, sent last week before all our deliveries had been cancelled).
Here’s the a thing; our discount right now is 20% on paperbacks, 30% on Paperchase products and 40% on magazines and gift cards. People are flocking to the store in droves, salivating at thought of a liquidation sale but, and it’s a big but…If you take the coupon that Borders sends out about twice a week (and plasters on their website, Facebook and Twitter) and your free Borders club card to a store that’s staying in business you can get everything except magazines and newspapers for 33% percent off. And if you paid your $20 (which it really isn’t, since Borders has been running a bonus where you get $10 back in Bucks and a coupon book with a $10 off coupon, so if you take advantage of this the Plus membership is free) then you get 43% off with your handy dandy coupon.
So people are rushing in to snap up books they didn’t seem to want before, foaming at the mouth over a discount that’s less than half of what they can get at other stores. Why? Because Borders is going out of business so of course they have to get there for the deal.
Twenty percent is not a deep discount, as people are discovering at the register when their armful of books that they’re sure will be a deal because we’re going out of business still hit over $100. They seemed confused by this.
This, more than ebooks, more than customer loyalties and more than downward trends in reading defines the current sales culture. We are trained to flip out over a series of trigger words to the point where without those words, without that perception of a deal (but not an actual deal) people don’t spend. I can’t believe that all the people there buying today would be doing so if they literally could not afford to. They have the money now, why didn’t they have it a few months ago? Because we weren’t having a liquidation sale then.
There’s no real time to be angry at the jackal behavior anymore. Instead I’m starting to feel sorry for people who need to buy things because it’s on sale, or because they’re surrounded with trigger words. There’s nothing wrong with buying because you just want something, but we can’t be honest about it, we have to justify it with “But it’s on sale”.
And it’s clear that we’re creating an environment where 1) the expectations of constantly, limitlessly growing profits is utterly ridiculous, but the pressure for such is so great that Walmart is being downgraded for not being a dollar store. 2) People (aka “consumers”) are beginning to only respond to perceived deals and are becoming less willing to pay a normal price, sometimes even a discounted price, for anything. The price of books hasn’t changed much in the last few years. Paperbacks have been $6-8, trades $13-15 and hardbacks around $25 for as long as I’ve been paying for books with my own money. This used to be okay with people as they understood that was the fair market price of a book. Now people think $9.99, the price Amazon sets for many books that is actually below what it costs Amazon to sell that book, is a fair price.
In our rabid price wars we’re undercutting ourselves and just like Borders is paying for its loss of flexibility and individual tailoring to the areas it serves we’re going to wake up one day and discover we’ve cut off our own legs.
But in other news one of my favorite customers came in. Remember when I said we deal with a lot of special needs people at our store? This man is probably in his seventies and is smart, kind and passionate, but also suffers, I’m guessing, from Parkinson’s. His wife brings him in the store a few times a week where they read, putter around the store, chat up a number of people (in a friendly, not creepy way), have a snack from the cafe and buy some books. They’re great people and they came up in my queue today during the lunch rush. The husband stopped to tell me how much he hated that we were closing because we were the only place they felt comfortable going, and our employees were the only ones who ever actually helped them find books. Not even the library, he said, was friendly and helpful. but this point his tremors have gotten pretty bad. He asks to hug me, then proceeds to cling to me for almost twenty minutes, trying not to cry, trying to calm down so he can stop shaking some and make it out of the store. Before it’s over he’s kissed me twice on the cheek, begged me to come to church just so he can see me again and had to wipe away tears a handful of times.
This is why the store closing is so hard. For many people we meet needs that keep them going, that bring happiness, civility and peace into their life. Doctors and hospitals attend to the health of the body, even the mind, but books feed the soul, and book people can’t help but get caught up in the process.