I’ve hesitated in writing this post because I know it’s going to come across as harsh, and that’s not what I’m striving for. But the more I think about the reason for this post, the more I feel the need to get this off my chest.
Over the holidays and even as recently as last week, I’ve had numerous customers browsing through my bookstore, checking out all the books on our displays, then standing there, IN MY STORE, purchasing them from a big name online retailer on their phone. I’ve seen other bloggers say they’ve done the same thing. There’s even a post on our store’s Facebook page encouraging customers to sit in our cafe and use our free wifi to order the books they want online. As a full-time bookseller for the past 9 years, all I can say is…
*Grabs my soap box and my megaphone*
I get it. Things are cheaper online than in the store most of the time. With the miracle of modern shipping from that major online retailer, it can be at your door in about 2 days.
I’m not going to fault anyone for wanting to save money. I’m broke. I. Get. It. Every dollar I save is more groceries I can buy. But to essentially spit DIRECTLY in the face of brick and mortar stores? Nope. I won’t have that. Cause that leads to me buying no groceries at all.
But there’s a question within this that I get all the time. Why are online retailers so much cheaper than brick and mortar stores? Let me break it down.
Online retailers buy wholesale from publishers, meaning they can charge less for each item because they’ve gotten a discount as a whole. Then those books sit on massive shelves in giant warehouses until you click that little Add to Cart button. Then it gets put in a box, stacked on a pallet, and sent out with the shipping company. A couple days later, it ends up on your doorstep.
Major bookstores, like the one I work for, also buy wholesale from publishers. They also sit on massive shelves in giant warehouses. They also get put into boxes with lots of other books. They get stacked on pallets and sent out with the shipping company just like your book did. Except instead of ending up on your doorstep, they end up in my store’s back room. And unlike your box of books, that’s not where their journey ends.
They then have to be unpacked, sorted, placed on carts, and shelved in their proper locations. Newer, more popular books are moved to displays for you to come in and peruse and hopefully take home with you. In the unfortunate event that a book doesn’t get purchased after a certain amount of time, it is pulled from the shelf, sorted into yet another box, and sent back to the warehouse, where it takes its place back on its original shelf again. It’s a lot of work. A single book may have been touched by more than a dozen different people in its lifespan from the warehouse to my store and back again. And my store is just one of hundreds across the country that go through the same process every. single. day.
Those books don’t sort and shelve themselves either. They don’t set themselves up on displays. We don’t have little elves that make everything look pretty while we sit around and read books all day. We have a staff of nearly 40 people who set up and break down those displays each and every week. We spend hours every morning putting out the hundreds (sometimes thousands) of new books we got the day before. We organize and pull books from sections to make room for the constant stream of new titles. We bust our asses so you can come in and find the book you’ve been dying to read, as well as the one you would have never picked up until you saw it on the shelf.
But all of that stuff doesn’t really matter. Robots could do that. What we have in store is our expansive knowledge and passion for books. Try typing “Blue book I saw on Dr. Oz” into Amazon and see what happens. Oh that’s right. Nothing. Ask me that and I’ll likely exclaim, “Oh yeah that one! It’s right over here!” as I walk you to the display and put it in your hand. Most days I’m part Sherlock, part Vanna White. Ask me what book to give at a baby shower. Ask me what you should buy for your 8 year old who hates to read. Ask me for a recommendation of a really good YA book. Cause I’m all over that. And if I don’t know the perfect book to hand you, chances are there’s someone in my store that does.
We’re an eclectic bunch. From the girl studying history in college who’s read the Hamilton biography twice for fun, to the girl who is so passionate about manga that she’ll tell you to your face that your favorite series is crap and you should read this other one instead. Or the manager who can talk to you for hours about business books, then walk with you to help pick out the right Bible. The ladies who will give you the next great thriller to read or the guy who will recommend at least 6 different urban fantasy and romance series as well as a book on computer coding. We know our stuff. And just try fangirling about Harry Potter at a Holiday Ball with Amazon. Oh wait! That’s right! They didn’t host one.
And there’s that whole physical building with lights and water and heat/AC thing too. Let’s not forget that. That’s not cheap. Oh yeah. And wifi.
So I get it. Retail prices are a bit more expensive. Because it has to be. There’s a whole hell of a lot more that you’re paying for in a physical store. Like me and my brain. And trust me. I’m %&*^ing worth it.
Moral of the story– If you’ve ever walked into a bookstore and felt like you were in heaven, do yourself a favor. Buy a damn book there. Support your brick and mortar store, whether it’s a major chain or a local independent shop. Because if you take someone else’s advice and use us as merely a wifi hotspot to do your online shopping, we’re not going to be there anymore.