Tuesday, April 14, 2009

What's Happening to Borders Books - Borders Rant #2

Has anyone been into a Borders bookstore lately? Were you immediately approached at the door by a bookseller, or approached shortly after? Did the bookseller dive into a litany of “recommended” books for which you had no interest, followed by a breakdown of the store’s special promotions?

I don’t know about you, but I do not like to be approached by salespeople, least of all at a bookstore. Before I worked at Borders, I would go out of my way to avoid the information desk at the center of the store because I didn’t want anyone to approach me. I realize that it is common for a salesperson at any store to approach a customer to ask if they need help and give the rundown on the promotions of the day. But because I hate being approached, I feel like such a hypocrite now that it’s what I'm supposed to do, and as a supervisor, it’s what I'm supposed to train other booksellers to do.

So if you are approached at a bookstore, don’t blame the booksellers – they’re only trying to keep their jobs. Trickling down from the corporate headquarters, everyone from district managers to GMs to Supervisors to booksellers, are being threatened. “We can only keep the best booksellers, so if you don’t sell this many of these key items for the week…” (Insert finger across the throat motion here). The way booksellers are trained to sell these key items is to approach every customer within ten feet and mention at least one or two of them.

These “key items” are books or DVDs selected by someone in the corporate headquarters. Nothing specific has been communicated to me about these titles, but I believe that Borders made a deal with some publishers to sell a certain amount of these items in a certain amount of time – and supposedly business deals like this will help to keep Borders alive.

As a writer and a reader, I find this completely discouraging that one of the major book retailers in the nation is pushing a few select titles to the exclusion of thousands of others. I did not read the key titles, nor do I have any desire to, nor would I have the time to if that desire was there. What if a customer comes in asking for a recommendation? If I want to keep my job, I will direct the customer to the display of key items. If I actually want to help the customer, I will engage in conversation to find out the customers interests before making a recommendation.

To be fair, Borders is going through a re-training process with all employees about how to engage with customers and make recommendations based on customer’s interests. But there’s also this undertone that it is the bookseller’s job to coerce the customer to be interested in the key items.

This is only a small piece of what’s happening to Borders right now.

**Disclaimer: In case my bosses or any other higher ups at Borders see this, I just need to say that I am writing this from a writer’s point of view, not a bookseller’s. As a bookseller, I see how these changes benefit Borders as a business and will adhere to them while a Borders employee.**

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