A Study in Bookstore Customer Service

Last week, I heard about an interesting book that was published recently. Soulless by Gail Carriger is a historical paranormal fantasy; not a genre I typically read, but the description was too intriguing to pass up:

“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” meets Jane Austen in this wickedly funny debut novel, which kicks off Carriger’s new series set in an alternate 19th-century London that not only knows about vampires and werewolves, but accepts them into the upper tiers of society. Original.

Description and photo courtesy of IndieBound.org

Soulless by Gail Carriger

Soulless by Gail Carriger

Yesterday, I went to not one but three bookstores in search of this book. Although really I was just looking for a good read, as the day wore on it turned into something of a personal quest and an experiment in retail service. Which bookstore would be able to fulfil my needs?

The Details:

  • I could only remember: the name of the book, that it was somehow Jane Austen-esque but with vampires and werewolves, and a vague memory of the cover: pink and purple and grey, with a woman holding a funky-looking umbrella.
  • I’m usually fairly self-sufficient at bookstores. I know what I want, and where to find it.
  • At each store I visited, I first checked the ‘news releases’ display(s), and they quickly browsed the general fiction and sci-fi/fantasy shelves, hoping to recognize the cover on the off-chance that it was shelved face-out.

First stop, a local chain (lets call it Bookstore A) that I don’t often frequent, but I was in the neighbourhood. When I realized that I couldn’t find the book on my own, I approached the clerk working at the front counter and gave him the name of the book as well as the basic description. He started looking on the computer, checking with me to make sure I didn’t mean “Solace” rather than “Soulless.” After about eight minutes – by which time I had wandered back to the shelves – the  clerk eventually says, “Yeah, it’s not in our computer.” And that was it.

Since I was already out and about, I decided to try another store a few blocks away – this time a huge national chain with a much larger selection (Bookstore B). Alas, the larger selection made it more difficult to find a specific book without knowing the author’s name. I look around but don’t immediately spot any store staff – but I do spot a couple of in-store kiosks. Searching by book title, I find Soulless. Alas, the computer shows none in stock at this location, and none available at any other store. The book was available for online ordering via the kiosk, with delivery in 1 to 4 weeks. Hmm, pretty big margin there. I decided to pass, and headed out of the store.

Now, you may ask “Why didn’t she just ask one of the clerks at this store?” A valid question, and I considered it. But with the kiosks there, I honestly would have felt more than a little useless walking up to a clerk and saying “I checked the computer but could you check too?”

A wee bit frustrated, I returned home, sans book. Luckily, later that afternoon, my husband and I went out for a drive which took us within the vicinity of a prominent local independent bookstore (Bookstore C). Once there, I went to the Information desk and asked the clerk if they carried Soulless. She searched the store’s inventory system – with the screen angled so I could follow along – but couldn’t find the book. Then, she brought up Amazon.com to look for the book there! Interesting strategy – major potential to backfire if I was the type of customer who would be inclined to order it online for less. But she confirmed that it was the cover I remembered, noted the ISBN and went back to the store’s computer system to double-check that they really didn’t have it – all the while making small talk about the variety of Jane Austen-related books being released right now. After confirming that they didn’t have the book in stock, she offered to order it in for me. Hooray! The clerk let me know it would take about a week, got my name and phone number, and that was it.

Happy that I’d found some real service as last, I continued to browse and found two other books that I had been wanting to read, and so I purchased them as well.

So even though none of the three stores I visited yesterday had Soulless in stock, one bookstore was able to make the customer happy and get the sale (as well as some additional purchases) anyway.

A summary of my findings:

Bookstore A: Made a reasonable effort, but didn’t take that extra step of offering to order the book in for me.

Bookstore B: Inconclusive results. I managed to walk through three floors of the store without a single person asking if I needed help finding anything, and I don’t know if the outcome would have been any different had I actually spoken with a real live person.

Bookstore C: Even though the book wasn’t currently in stock, they took the time to find more details about it and offered to order it in for me.

Update! October 15. Bookstore C called this afternoon – Soulless has arrived and is waiting for me!

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About Erin

Bookworm, word nerd, grammar geek. Small town girl, living in a lonely world. Running a race-per-month in 2013.
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