The Frustrations of Having to Explain Yourself to 'Unaware' Bookstore Patrons

Another guest post by Therese Holland

As a Bricks and Mortar book store owner I find one of the most difficult things to manage is unsolicited offers to sell or exchange books. Some offers are so patently unfair it is difficult to fathom whether the customer has any comprehension at all of the costs of doing business (not to mention the fact that I am trying to make a living).

One of my first experiences of this was a retired lawyer who exchanged Mills and Boon romances for her mother. She had a domineering personality and because her books were new releases insisted that she get 2 book in exchange for every one of hers. I stood at the counter dumbfounded holding six paperbacks while she waltzed out of the shop with 12 books. She said the previous owner had been happy with the arrangement. The previous owner was terrified of her. I resolved to let her know that that arrangement was NOT satisfactory to me.

There never was a showdown as for whatever reason she never came back.

Another gentleman had finished reading Dan Brown’s Da Vinci code and wanted to swap for Angels and Demons because as he explained it would be just as easy for me to sell one as the other. I politely declined his generous offer.

The previous owner had given cash on exchange but in an area with a known drug problem we knew that books were being stolen and returned for cash. I gave notice when we moved premises that that practice was going to be discontinued. Four years later I still have the odd customer gleaning our Box Hill stock from Oppportunity/Thift stores and garage sales and hopefully bringing it in expecting to get cash. I blithely inform them that we stopped giving cash refunds in 2006 because people were getting discarded books from charity stores and garage sales to sell back to us.

Not to mention the odd customer who steals my books to sell back to me…

Initially I was giving pretty generous store credit to find customers picking the eyes out of my stock and carefully calculating the prices so they just used up the credit and paid no cash. Too many days of being busy and no money in the til made me rethink that and start to insist that they spend at least $5.

In the last month or so I have been advising new customers it has to be 50/50. For ever dollar in credit they must spend a dollar cash and if necessary they can carry excess credit over.

This is the only way I can stop my inventory continuing to expand beyond reason and have reasonable cash flow.

Then there is is the customer who paid $32.95 for a new release at the book store who is flabbergasted at being offered $3 in store credit. I have to explain that I can’t sell it as new and I sell them for $12 to someone else who is also using store credit.

You’d think when customers came inside the store and saw how many books I have in the shop they might realise I won’t be paying top dollar for even more books. If I have a waiting customer for a title I will buy but if it is likely to sit on the shelf for weeks or months then thankyou but no thankyou.

I remember a lady drove in from the country with exlibrary hardback fiction from a relative’s estate -she only wanted $5 a book. She didn’t call first and thought she was offering me a great deal. I felt bad but I wouldn’t have taken them even as a gift.

My suggestion is if you want to make money on your books sell them online, sell them at the market, open your own bookshop but the chances that both you and I can make money on your used fiction are pretty slim.

Why do I keep doing it?

I have a loyal base of regular customers who spend more than enough to make up for the difficult ones and enough new customers who are happy to accept the exchange arrangement I offer. I make sure I have new books every week and keep back listed stock of most popular authors so my regulars have plenty to choose from.

I have one wonderful customer who comes in every two/three months who will spend $150 to $200 in cash and many more who come in every 2/3 weeks and spend $30 $40.


McLeods Books
10 Station St
Victoria 3131
McLeods eBay Store

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  • Doing a 50/50 credit that requires cash is the only way to go. Every now and then we get someone who will want to scream about the policy and will want to stomp about claiming that if we do that we will loose them as a customer. I am always happy to point out that if they are not spending money then they are not a customer.

    • One’s that get that huffy, I point out that I have to charge them some cash, otherwise the state doesn’t get any sales tax. Then they can rail against the big bad sales tax instead.

      I really could do without the ones that then try and talk me around to selling on consignment for them. No, really, your books are worth about $1, if that, on open market. It is not worth my time to do the paperwork.

      • Nora, surely the State tax would be determined on the full price of the book sold, whether or not there is some exchange involved?
        Otherwise, we would all be living by bartering – and I know the Feds at least don’t take too kindly to that!

        My shop (in Melbourne Australia) is general secondhand. I do not do exchanges – whole or partial – if people want to sell me books, I am happy to make an offer and if they accept, they can spend the few dollars I give them anywhere they like.

        So far as I know, the classic ‘book exchange’ is virtually extinct in this country.

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  • Therese, you ask if they have “any comprehension.” No, they don’t. They’re not in the book business. You are, I am, and we have to be clear in our own minds about what our policies are, how we’re going to make a profit, and how we’re going to treat customers. I’ve found that most people seem to understand when I tell them that I can’t pay bills with books. 50/50 is fair. I have some customers who bring in books and “don’t want anything for them,” not even credit, and I tell them I WANT them to have store credit and USE it because only if people buy books will I make a living.

    It’s frustrating to explain over and over, but we have to accept that public education is part of the job of bookselling. What’s obvious to the person in business is not obvious to the person walking in the door.

    How wonderful that you have customers making regular large purchases!

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  • My initial problem was naivety -I used to think that if I offered generous store credit people would ‘do the right thing’ and spend some cash as well -obviously some did but a lot didn’t and all I got was hurt feelings

    I do sometimes jokingly say despite repeated requests my landlord simply refuses to take books for rent

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  • Hi Therese … I sympathise with you fully!!! I have the wonderful example of a man (who claimed to have had a bookshop previously) who drove in from an outlying region, with a boot full of books, and he wanted to sell the whole lot (300) to me. For $800. On first glance, I could tell I didn’t want all of them. Self help titles mostly, Men are from Mars kind of stuff. I offered to buy 10 or so, at a reasonable price, because they were more interesting… but he refused, saying all or nothing. I offered $400 for the lot, then, knowing that a lot would end in the recycling bin, but maybe I could have sold some of the others and got some return for the outlay. He refused – in fact, he started abusing me, called me a “smiling assasin” and then drove off in a fury. The situation reached the point (after a couple of phone calls and even a letter to me saying that it was because of me, part of the capitalist machine, that there had been wars that killed millions of people) where the police were notified. Hem.
    And more recently, a local man who has been swapping (outright) op-shop sci-fi for my good (recent) sci-fi. I’ve now put the brakes on that.
    Takes nerves of steel, sometimes…

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