Friday, 20 June 2014

Have Certain Nameless Online Retailers Changed the Way We Shop?

We all love convenience, and what's more convenient than being able to log onto a website and search for that book/ cd/ other that we want, pay a fraction of the price for it and then have it delivered straight to our door.  But is this ease of access in the online world making us unreasonable in the real world?

First, take a look at this article that was published on the esquire site earlier this week.  It was shared by lots of Perth bookshops via their Facebook pages.  I originally found it via Elizabeth's Bookshops.

What's great about this article is that it's doing something.  It doesn't just sit there on the web like some angry little hate bundle, pissing people off, either because they agree but nothing changes, or because they disagree.  No, this article, by Stephen Marche celebrates real book stores and what's wonderful about them in a cheeky set of instructions on how to use them.

But it also illustrates to me the root of a fairly common problem in book selling.  How many times have I been at the receiving end of someone's impatient ire because their book club is THIS Tuesday, and they need ten copies of Burial Rites like *right now* and I only have four.  Or they need ten copies of a best seller from 2008, and what am I talking about I don't have it in stock.  Living in Western Australia, like we do, we're not only facing the possibility of (shock horror) a wait for items ordered to be delivered, but we're waiting for them to be road freighted across the country.  That's a ten day wait sometimes, provided that the book you want is in stock.  And book club lady wants it now.



The assumption that shopping for books (or CDs, or other sorts of products that are unique and can be indexed by titles) is a singular transaction seems to come from a misunderstanding that shopping instore can be just like shopping online.  To the customer of today, it seems as simple as approaching the counter, saying what book you want, having the staff member retrieve it, paying and getting the heck out of dodge.  But as Marche says, where is the joy in that?

And don't even get me started on e-books, man.

Shopping instore can be an act of discovery.  There is nothing quite like a browse in the store.  There is nothing quite like asking the bookseller what they're reading, what they love, what's great but isn't selling.  The joy of discovering your new favourite book.  And the shopping habits we form when we get used to shopping online, they are keeping us from this joy.  So next time you visit a bookstore, venture deeper than the enquiries counter.  Go on.  I dare you.  

For a hilarious take on bookseller problems (#booksellerproblems?) you should definitely check out Customer Service Wolf.  Particularly this one.

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