- Poor Customer Service. This is a killer for stores -which is why smaller and locally-owned places are generally staffed by friendly, enthusiastic people. The B. Dalton employs solely grumps. These women are so lazy that they have refused to turn 90 degrees and search their computer database to see if a book I wanted was in stock. Instead I have gotten "Welllll, I don't know. I guess you could check on the shelf." These women (they are all women) do not greet customers or ask if they can help locate a book, but instead glare at anyone who dares to walk into the store as though they've been rolling around in shit for several days. Ladies - lighten up! You treat a customer right and you'll still have a paycheck. Consistently piss them off every time they come in, you're going to lose them to the competition, which clearly has you beat in this regard.
- Selection. Okay -no bookstore can cater exclusively to my tastes. I know this (and it irritates me). But it's like the B. Dalton people looked at a catalog of "Books NO ONE wants to read EVER" and bought 90% of their stock from it. And then, when those books didn't sell, they put sale stickers on them in the hopes that they could lure a few saps foolish enough to judge content based on a sale sticker and make a purchase (don't you judge me). The other 10% is comprised of Twilight and Twilight knock-offs. I'm not really even exaggerating that much -that's the worst part of this. I wander* through the store picking books off shelves only to replace them with a sigh, wondering who in their right mind would actually read such a book. Or write it. I shudder to think. The selection really is just laughable.
- Layout. I am aware that space is pretty tight. The store is crammed into an oddly-shaped corner store of the mall, and it's not very big. But anyone with even a basic understanding of design principles -or common sense- will walk in, attempt to *wander and, after either bumping into every other patron and bookshelf in the place, throw up their hands and say, "Screw this, man." The front of the store is open and inviting: tables present hot books and sales, and there is plenty of room to move around without tucking your elbows into your lungs. There's even a wall -a whole wall -showcasing best-sellers and favorites. But then, dear reader, you step into the traditional shelving area, and all hell breaks loose. Or is crammed into a tiny, tiny space and becomes even more hellish. The walls are lined with books and those cool Beauty & the Beast sliding ladders (which are for employees, of course, as if any of those biddies would ever slide exuberantly along them singing about books!!). The organization of these walled books seems to be...whatever they couldn't fit on the other shelves. It really makes no sense. The other shelves are squat, disorganized and depressing. Fiction is divided into...fiction. There's a separate section for sci-fi and romance, but otherwise it's like genre doesn't exist. Looking for a mystery? Oh, it's in there somewhere. Maybe. Classic literature? Well...it's probably in fiction, but finding a specific book in this store is about as probable as finding a thriving colony of Emperor Penguins in the Sahara. I've never seen a less efficient way of organizing books -and the majority of my own books are stored in bins.
- Upkeep. Don't these people dust? Even occasionally? I know the mall has janitors. What the hell is going on in this store? When I worked in a (small, local and ultimately doomed) bookstore, we were cleaning constantly. Dusting, vacuuming and -most importantly -keeping the books straight. Customers come through and leave books lopsided, halfway out of their shelf space or on the floor. Part of working in a bookstore is noticing things like that and taking care of it. I did a test. I took a book (I'm pretty sure it was Dean Koontz's Odd Thomas -great book) and pulled it off the shelf, turned it face out and upside down and sat it on the shelf above its original home. I went back a week later...and it was still in the same place I'd put it. Unmoved. I put it back in the sad hole it had left behind in the shelf below. That is criminal, as far as I'm concerned. A whole week went by before anyone even noticed that something was out of place, and it was the person who put it out to begin with.
- Romance novels. They sell well. I'm sure. And that's fine -a bookstore needs to sell books. That's why it's a store. But didn't someone -anyone -think that putting the romance novels right next to the YA and kids' books was kind of a bad idea? Are they trying to attract mothers who have nothing better to do than, oh, say, watch their kids? To whom is this set-up supposed to be attractive? If teens are going to read trashy romance novels, that's whatever -it's personal taste. But I think some common sense was checked at the door when they set this up.
- Lighting. The front of this B. Dalton is warm and well-lit. Inviting, as I said earlier. You walk back into the stacks and it's like being in a totally different store. It's like shopping underwater. Blindfolded. At night. The light in the back of this place is like light that needed a place to go die and picked the bookstore. It's dim, bluish and for some reason vaguely nauseating. After 15 minutes shopping there, I feel as though I will never see sunshine again and I really need some coffee. This is not a conducive atmosphere in which to shop for books. The lighting needs to be consistent, bright (but not glaring) and above all showcase the store's books to their best advantage. I feel like I should buy books there in order to rescue them from the awful lighting.
- The Shopping Experience. It's almost impossible to have a good one in this B. Dalton. Shopping for books is like any other kind of shopping -you have to be able to browse, to have a secluded area in which to try the books on for size. Instead, the awful layout, nasty employees and horrible lighting tell potential customers, "Look, jackass. You better have a book in mind the second you walk in this store or get the hell out. Also, find it yourself. Do I look like I want to help you?" After approximately 10 to 15 minutes of aimless browsing (or increasingly frustrated searching), the employees will emerge from behind their registers like resentful slugs and walk by whatever aisle you happen to be in, glaring at you, suspicion evident on their rotund, pasty faces. Apparently in their world, no one reads anything that isn't Twilight or featured in Oprah's Book Club, so someone who doesn't know exactly what they want when coming into the store can only be some sort of miscreant who will probably attempt to steal all 8 (unnecessary) copies of Paul Coehlo's The Alchemist (which, as an aside, I didn't like all that much when I read it). It's a horribly uncomfortable way to shop. I like to crack open a book and read a few pages...or chapters...before I am prepared to drop $7-20 on it. Most bookstores don't mind this. But B. Dalton? Get in, get out and don't just stand there. God forbid you just want to browse through some books.
- Technology. I wouldn't be surprised if the registers and computer in this place are older than both of my siblings. There's nothing wrong with older computers...if they're still fast and effective. These registers grumble and bitch as they work to process credit cards and are generally about as friendly-seeming as the women who run them. And should you actually be able to get one of them to search for a book on the computer for you, be prepared to stand there for about 8 minutes while they fail to spell the title right, then screw up the author's name and wait for no searches to be returned; after having corrected them, be ready to wait another 3-5 minutes while the computer hums along like a geriatric bee before gleefully announcing that the book isn't in stock (before you go sniff around and find it in a section where it doesn't really belong anyway). Update your tech. It's pathetic. My cell phone works better than all of the computers in this place, and that does not give me much faith in the store.
- Special Orders. Don't tell me it's going to take 4-6 weeks for a special order to come in (and then never call when it does, forcing me to come in asking for it anyway). That's bullshit. I worked in a bookstore, as I have mentioned, and we guaranteed that a special order would be in within 5-7 business days. Not a month and a half. If any bookstore tries to tell you that they can't have it within a week (unless the book is really rare or old), they're lying and/or they're a really bad bookstore. A special order is a special order for a reason -it should not be coming in with your next regularly scheduled shipment...that's why it's "special." You're ordering it "specially" for this customer, who should not be made to wait that long for a book they could have within the same day at another store, or within a week...since that other store will actually order it for them.
- Promotions. I'm all for them. I think they're cool. I love special deals, coupons and frequent buyer programs. The one B. Dalton has sucks. It's like $40 to join it, meaning you have to spend about $150 in books before it even pays for itself. For someone like me who has limited cash most of the time anyway, $40 up front is not really that feasible. Granted, I probably spend $300 on books every year, but dropping $40 with no immediate, tangible benefit is never going to happen for me. I'm cheap. And for people who don't buy books as often as I do, this "frequent buyer program" looks more like a "huge ripoff program." Places like The Stately Raven know what's up -once you spend a certain amount of money on books, your next purchase is discounted pretty steeply. And it's free. FREE. You hear that, B. Dalton? It doesn't cost anything for the customer, except their loyalty -and with a place like the Raven, that just comes with the gig. People should not have to pay for promotions or discounts. That defeats the purpose. Also, would it kill you to have some author signings? It would involve moving stuff around so that said author could have a place to sit that's not on top of a bunch of shitty sale books, so yes, it probably would kill you...but in the long run, I don't think that would be a bad thing.
Whew! Lists! I am tired. If you made it this far, give yourself a pat on the back. And a cup of coffee or something.
Also, it's review Friday! Go check it out! Woo-hoo! Jane Eyre, aww-riiight. It's not an analysis, it's a review of it from The Things That Matter, but still. Jane Eyre. :D