When I first heard that Borders was going bankrupt, I didn’t feel too surprised. My local Borders has been kinda empty for a long time.
I used to work at different book store chain during college, and I saw the environment change rapidly over a few short years. Before I share some on my personal experiences working for a book chain, I wanted to document my last trip to the Borders closing around the corner from me.
It was really sad to see the giant “Store Closing” sign. Unfortunately this Borders seemed to be struggling for awhile.
There were more people in the store for the last-call deals than I’ve ever seen in there! By the time we arrived, whole book racks were completely cleared out.
Sadly, the deals weren’t even that great. Most books were only marked 25 to 30 percent off, but even then the prices couldn’t compare to Amazon’s- especially when compared to Kindle books.
I was excited to purchase the The Iron Witch (mentioned here) and Jovah’s Angel because both books aren’t currently available as e-books. And, I can never resist cute stationary either. Unfortunately, those were the best deals- my total was $21, and the books are non-returnable…so I really hope they’re worth it!
I hate to see any book store close- especially because I’ve actually been a part of that process. Which brings me to…
My Experience Working at a Book Chain
Back to my story- I only worked at the book store for two summers- the summer of my sophomore year and the one immediately following my graduation from college (as my career field hit a major decline).
The first store I worked at was back home where my mom lived and was located in a popular shopping mall in town. I loved it there! I had great hours and awesome co-workers, and there wasn’t a lot of pressure to sell. I mean, there were plenty of things to sell, but the managers understood if you had a bad day or if there was a lull in shoppers.
As a general book seller, our job was to re-stock books, arrange table displays and put back all of the items that were left behind, i.e. the pit of destruction that is the children’s section. But, probably our most important task was selling discount cards. If someone paid $20 for a card, they could save 10 percent on any item in the whole store- along with the other perks of signing up.
Note: Discount cards are a vital way book stores make money. (Borders only implement discount cards a few months ago…) As a book seller, I had to sell a certain percentage of discount cards compared with the total transaction amount. If the total transaction amount at my register was $1000, then I would have been expected to sell 3 to 4 discount cards during that time.
At the store in the mall, it was pretty easy to make percentage. It never felt like there was a shortage of people coming in and out of the store, and managers continually gave tips and tricks to help the workers make the store’s percentage goal.
Fast forward 2 years, and the same book chain’s atmosphere could not have been more different. There definitely felt like a significant change had been made in the company’s attitude and outlook. Please know this is my opinion only and does not reflect any actual changes in company policy or direction.
After I graduated college, I worked in a new store location that was closer to where I lived. A few things were out of anyone’s control but made working at the store a lot more challenging:
-The terrible location near theme parks and other tourist attractions (= not a lot of people who need or want discount cards)
-A lack of customers in general
-A staff that was constantly berated for not meeting percentage goals
Although nothing could be done to change the dismal location or the influx of non-English speaking tourists, the pressure to sell was not diminished. In fact, it was increased to the point of damaging any chance for team morale. I was told every week that if my discount card sales didn’t improve that my hours would get cut and that I could be easily replaced. If that was true, however, the management would have had to replace all of the book sellers who worked there…
After only a few months of working at this location, the book store closed. The chain I worked for decided not to have a close-out sale, so all the employees packed up the books to send to other stores, broke down shelving and cleaned up the battered store. Even after I was transferred to another store with a higher traffic volume, the overall atmosphere of desperation and high-intensity selling was still present.
I can only wonder how other popular book chains and indie stores are faring, as well.
Do you think price-slashing websites like Amazon will force more brick-and-mortal book stores to close? How can they continue to compete? Please feel free to share any thoughts, opinions or questions!