Saturday, September 4, 2010

A backwards way of shopping

I love books. I love bookstores. And I love shopping in bookstores. But I don't really understand them.
I am not a market expert, but I am an expert marketer. Not the seller-type of marketer, mind you. The goes-to-the-market type of marketer. Having been in charge of purchasing of a wide variety of goods from toilet paper to computers to catering services for a small startup company (which was a sort of merger of two independents, which we then grew with the addition of two newbies within the past six years), makes me a bit of an expert. That, and my husband isn't much of a shopper. (The kids are learning though).

When I walk into Macy's looking for new clothes, I love to browse the latest fashions. The new fall looks, hot off the runway, and priced to match. $50 t-shirts. $200 jeans. Its all fresh, beautiful, artfully displayed, and I love to touch the fabrics and sigh over the colors. If I truly fall head over heels in love with something, I might even try it on. And occasionally buy. But not often. I know what that pricetag means. It means "I'm too good for your budget, but you're going to drool over me anyway."

Next I meander over to the loss leaders. These are the too-good-to-be-true deals. There's always one or two. Buy one Get one on a new style (of which there are exactly two on the entire rack). 50% off, for 3 hours only. Lowest price of the season. This is why I'm in the store in the first place. But there are rarely enough of these (and never in my size). So I'm here for the possibility of a bargain, but expect to be disappointed.
Then, I head for the back racks. The regular sale section. 20% off. 40% off. Previously fondled-and-sighed-over-and-tried-on. But affordable. This is where I do most of my buying. This is where the styles still have multiple color and size options left on the rack. This is, I would guess, where the stores expect to actually make a profit. Not from the pretty front-end styles. From the middle.

And then there's my true love, the clearance racks. Bargains galore. A rip here, a missing button there. Perfect styles that only come in size 0 or 18 extra-long. One or two gems (must be a return!) in just my size. *sigh* I love love love a bargain.

But bookstores don't work like this. For them, new-and-hot is typically treated to their 40%-off deal. Everything else, full price. The "bargain" section is comprised of books and kits and crafts, not with the items that are half a season behind on style. And clearance? Forget about it. No such thing. Well, maybe that one tiny shelf by the front door, with half a dozen lonely hardcovers that are still $15 each.

This is where I, a shopper, think that the bookstores are going wrong. The publishing industry returns system is screwy, and takes away any motivation for a bookstore to discount things. (With some of the agency pricing games publishers are playing with e-books, it also takes away the entire ability to discount things) And prices are well-publicized and printed and just don't change from week to week. So to make up the difference, to pad their bottom line, bookstores add junk. Toys, chocolates, board games, stationary, $20 tote bags, and that silly "bargain" section that is not full of "bargains" but full of seasonal merchandise. Sorry folks, that's not a bargain. And carrying fewer books and more junk won't entice me into your store more often--that's what Walgreens and Family Dollar are for.

If Borders and Barnes and Noble want more foot traffic, then add the occasional 14-hour sale. Put a 15% off coupon in the paper, and let a (non-card-carrying) member use it on anything in the store. When books get "old", mark them down incrementally instead of stripping the cover off and sending them back. Seriously, folks, if you knock 25% off the price of your paperback books, I'd likely walk out with 3 times as many of them (and possibly that hard-to-resist-full-price-bestseller too, since I'm feeling rich). I am *that* weak when it comes to a sale (and so are a lot of other shoppers). Do the math, you'd win out.

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