Thursday, 6 October 2011

Book Store Etiquette 101

Before I started working at a bookstore, I thought that it would be a fair assumption that most of its customers would be learned, intelligent, broad-minded people. After 3 and a half years in the industry, I can assure you that this supposition, is in fact, terribly incorrect.

Yes, there are also lovely book buyers out there. Rational ones that understand that you are only an employee, and it’s not exactly your decision as to how the business is run. Loyal ones who bring your team cake when they hear that the company survived voluntary administration. But there are some pretty shocking ones too. Ones that yell at you over a gift card that expired about 2 years ago, even though it plainly states on the back of the card that it has an expiry date.

And so, after my stint in book retail, I present you with some tips to remember when you are on your next book-buying spree.

1. Staff can help you better if you can supply them with the title of the book or the name of the author. If these details are not handy, even a rough idea of what the book is about can be extremely useful. Only telling them that it was reviewed on tv or the radio this morning will only probably get you a 1 out of 10 success rate. Telling them the book colour and nothing else won’t get you that far either. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard something along the lines of, “It’s green, I saw it here last week. Right on this table. No, I don’t know what it’s about or what it’s called.”

2.     For anyone who has never worked in a shop, displays normally get changed on a daily to weekly basis. This is so customers can browse what’s new, topical, popular or on sale. This is why the book you saw on that shelf on Monday might not be there by Friday. Please also remember that most retail shops have a large number of part time staff, meaning they are only there for a few hours, roughly 2-3 days each week. Yes, it’s their responsibility to know where everything is, but please bear in mind that sometimes, up to 30 or more new titles can come within a single week, so this may make it harder for them to help you locate your book.

3. Books can sometimes be misplaced, either by other customers or staff. It helps when you put it back where you found it. If you don’t want anyone else to have it but wish to pay for it at a later date, ask the staff to put it on hold for you.  Hiding it doesn’t help anyone, even yourself, if you forget where exactly you’ve hid it.

4.     If you do decide you’re going to come in every day to read a particular book from cover to cover, staff can’t exactly stop you. But you can stop yourself from bending the spine or creasing the cover or pages. It is, after all, for sale.

5. As comfortable as you are trying to make yourself, please keep your shoes on.

6. Please and thank you go a long way.

7.  Your children are your responsibility. If they break something, or colour in a book, it’s your responsibility to pay for it. The play area is not a crèche. Staff members are not there to look after your children, but are there to assist you with your purchases.

8. If your child vomits or spills something on the floor, clean it up.  It's not fair on staff to get them to clean it. It’s not their mess, nor their child. Also, just because you’re in the children’s section doesn’t mean you can change your child’s nappy there. Would you change your child’s nappy on the floor of a toy store? I didn’t think so.

9. Yes, they are paid to tidy up. But please remember that there are roughly 200 customers who walk through the doors every day, and about 5 or less staff who can tidy.

10. Don’t get annoyed if a staff member can’t satisfy your request for a recommendation. Remember that not all of us have the same interests. If you cannot quite click with the staff member you’re dealing with, politely ask them if there is anyone else whose interests might be more in line with your own. They should also offer this option to you any way.

11. When you are notified that the store is closed, please leave. This is due to security reasons as well. Also, no one enjoys being detained any longer at work, so why inflict it on others?

Hopefully these will make your shopping experience more pleasant, for everyone involved. And next up on my to-write list, is a Customer Service 101, in defense for customers. It’s only fair you know.


  1. Hi Toni,

    (Found you through BookBlogs =)) I love bookstores and luckily possess good enough etiquette (according to your list) ... Now I know those bookstore officers haven't been complaining about me. Also, it only makes sense to give the officer at the info counter the accurate title and author's name of the book we're searching for. But I guess not everybody knows that.


  2. Hi Claudine, thanks for your comment! It's really surprising how many people come into the bookstore with not enough information and get annoyed when staff can't help them. Oh well! :)

  3. Very well said. You have a new follower.
    The Beauty of Eclecticism

  4. Good post. Informative and amusing at the same time :D

  5. I'm not a fan of people who weren't raised to have some sort of manners or learn to give out some form of respect in public to anyone. I was taught not put the elbows on the table, say your P's & Q's, and always cover your nose when you sneeze.

    I'm aware of people who don't get just simple concepts or even when going to a bookstore, to write down a title or author. You would think that with all this technology, that some people would whip open one of those "apps" and use one to record the names of a books. Even snap shot the cover for crying out loud or bring it up on the web browser and show it to the sales associate working there that is trying to help you.

    At the end of the day most people just don't have plain ol' common sense 90% of the time. It's the main reason I could never work in retail. I'd go out of my mind with such brainless questions that show the answer right in front of people half the time. They just get so lazy and care to never look.

    This is why I felt so awful for all the employees at my local Border's bookstore when it was closing. The children's section was a HUGE mess! They all looked frantic and people were just not even caring.