Time is precious in a bookshop and unless you have a plethora of sales assistants working for you, then you need to carefully ration your time. Some customers are worth the time you spend on them because they make worthwhile purchases and have interesting information to offer, others just want you to chase after them and have no intention of buying anything. How do you detect the difference?

Listen to what a customer has to say when he/she enters your shop. Certain comments send an instant red flag up: “Oh, I’ve left my reading glasses at home”, “I’ve got plenty of books at home”, “I’ve bookshop just browsingforgotten to bring my wallet”, “I’ve just come in to browse”, “Do you buy books” and “You have a lovely shop here”. Expect zero purchases from these customers. I turn my stereo on extra loud and hopefully AC/DC starts belting out some unholy anthem and they scurry out the door.

Listen to the requests of your customers. “I want a true crime book for my 14 year-old grandson who doesn’t read very well.” Time waster. True crime books aren’t written for children and particularly not for those who can’t read well. “I want the third edition of the Pictorial History of Australia” What’s wrong with the first and second editions? Then there are those customers who ask for a specific title and by some fluke you actually have it on hand and then they find some excuse not to purchase it. Time waster. Then there are those who ask for a specific title and you haven’t got it and then they put on a display of sulking which I counter with: “There are eight million books published each year. What are the chances of a bookshop with 10,000 books having your specific title? Slim.” That results in the end of the sulking. If I feel sorry for the customer I might do a book search for them but a viable customer would browse the relevant section in the shop and purchase a book on the same topic.

I am always wary of customers who claim they are buying books for others and then say “He might have already read this” Time waster. I say to them to bring the reader in and forget about trying to buy a book for him or her. Worthwhile customers have already read books in a genre and even if they don’t purchase anything, and most do anyway, you can learn a great deal about their particular genre of interest. I have had viable customers write up lists of names of authors who are worth stocking. In relation to the science-fiction genre, one customer wrote down the key authors in a generational flow chart form.

Customers who are serious about acquiring a certain book that you haven’t got readily at hand leave their name and telephone number and either write down the title themselves or ask you to do it. They also badger you by returning to the shop several days later. Less serious customers say “It’s alright if you put it on the shelf if you find it”. I usually leave books on lay-by for two weeks and then put it on the store shelf to allow the general public access to it.

Everybody who walks through the door of my shop usually assume to be a legitimate customer willing to purchase a book, they start with credibility in the bank so to speak. But that credibility “money”, so to speak, gets withdrawn or deposited depending on the comments the customer makes. Body language also influences “money” cred levels: arms folded in front and a stern, angry look means an automatic withdrawal. Bookshop managers can’t allow time wasters to monopolise their time particularly when they have other customers in the store. Moreover, it’s becomes quickly exhausting dealing with customers who want to play games.

I suppose the issue comes down to communication – ask the pertinent question: how can I help you? Carefully listen to the answer and ask clarifying questions. Spend your time fulfilling the requests of legitimate customers and avoid those who just want to waste your time.

thanks to Paris Breakfast for the image: Paris Breakfast

By Leonid Kouvelis

Owner & Manager: Books by the Bay

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4 thoughts on “How to detect customers that will waste your time or will be valued.”

  1. Potential customers who want to buy a book for someone else are prime candidates as purchasers of gift certificates. I’ve been slow to learn this, but it works like a charm, and everyone is happy–bookseller, purchaser and recipient.

  2. As a customer and not a bookseller who has wandered on to this page, perhaps my input isn’t valid – although I have to say that this is one of the most arrogant and mercenary things I’ve ever seen. Your potential customers are more aware than you may think that they are treading into an arena where the proprietor will have specialist knowledge, and your treatment of these people will dictate how they view your business, and what they will say, or not, to anyone they know. The example situations you list in your article could apply to any potentially ‘worthwhile’ customer. If you treat a customer with respect and are helpful, then they will return to your store ad infinitum. They’ll also recommend you. Listen to yourself:

    ‘Listen to the requests of your customers. “I want a true crime book for my 14 year-old grandson who doesn’t read very well.” Time waster. True crime books aren’t written for children and particularly not for those who can’t read well.’

    How awful is your response? It’s shameful. And then:

    ‘Then there are those who ask for a specific title and you haven’t got it and then they put on a display of sulking which I counter with: “There are eight million books published each year. What are the chances of a bookshop with 10,000 books having your specific title?’

    I’m glad you feel your counter is worthwhile – although that would be the cue for any sane person to walk out of your shop. And then the really telling comment:

    ‘If I feel sorry for the customer’

    Ha! And I really doubt anybody who walks into a bookshop wants to ‘play games’. . . .

    Good luck with your business. Perhaps what you really need is a sign outside your store with a huge dollar sign emblazoned on it. That would weed out the ‘timewasters’.

    Paul

    1. Paul – why do you question the validity or value of your input? Perhaps you realise you have little or no understanding of customers in bookshops? Some customers are time wasters, they have no intention of purchasing a book nor supporting a bookshop in any way. It’s not about dollars as you so unkindly insinuate, it’s about a bookshop manager and his/her staff using their time with well meaning customers. I hope to help others in the bookshop trade to weed out time wasters and spend their time fruitfully with people who will support their business and help it to grow. I might venture to add that you Paul sound like a professional time waster.

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