With almost six years' experience of working in a bookshop, and being a fan of exploring book shops whenever I find them, I feel it's about time to take a look at customers. They come in all shapes and sizes, and more often than not fall into one of the following categories:
The I-Know-What-I'm-Looking-For Customer
My personal favourite: the customer that knows exactly what they're looking for and where to find it. Sometimes they need a little push in the right direction, but when a customer doesn't fuss over what they need and they know you have it in stock, it's a generally pleasant experience all-round.
The I-Think-It's-About-This Customer
A typical scenario, I have come to realise, is for customers to come into the shop knowing one thing about a book: what it might be about. Might. Like a war, or a place, or a person. Maybe. Sometimes, if they remember where they heard about the book, it's possible to track it down. If not, they verge on being...
The I-Know-Nothing-But-Help-Me-Anyway Customer
The worst situation I've ever had with customers is when they don't know what they're looking for. A friend-of-a-friend recommended it to them. When they were drunk. They don't know the name of the book, they don't know the name of the author, they don't even know what it's about, but they think the cover is yellow. (That's an actual, literal scenario I've had, minus the friend-of-a-friend and the inebriation.)
The I-This-Book-Online-But-Don't-Realise-X Customer
I've had three scenarios pop up here. In the first, the customer doesn't realise that the book they're looking for is out of print and has been for many decades. It's impossible to get, anywhere. The one that really bothers booksellers is when the book the person is looking for isn't actually available because (can you guess it?) it's an ebook. I've lost count of the amount of times people have come looking for a book that's only available as an ebook because it's been self-published. Which is where we get sub-customer #3: the book they're looking for has a print edition, but it's with CreateSpace. I don't have any direct problems with CreateSpace, but it's annoying to see its name pop up when a customer is looking for the book. The title is only available if, and only if, the author of the book has paid for the distribution of the book worldwide to wholesalers, and if the bookshop has access to one of these wholesalers. Even then it's difficult to get ahold of one from Ireland.
The I-Think-This-Book-Exists Customer
I've had people come in looking for a book, simply because they want to read about a topic. The problem is, people think the book has to exist because they thought of it. That's not fun for the bookseller who has to look for the book. Just like...
The I-Think-Someone-Should-Write-This-Book-But-I'm-Going-To-Ask-Anyway-Just-In-Case Customer
I think the name says it all. The book doesn't exist. The customer knows this. They are aware of Google. But they ask anyway, in the hopes that somehow a bookshop will pull out the book anyway.
The I'll-Just-Get-It-Online Customer
Again, we've got two. We've got those who explicitly say they're going to buy it for an e-reader. That's not fun for booksellers. But then, neither are those who say they're going to buy it on a bookselling website. Both are knocking us out of business in some manner.
The I-Think-This-Should-Be-Cheaper Customer
Yes, this happens. People come in, grab a book, bring it to the till, then argue over the price because they saw it cheaper somewhere else. Even if we don't have a price promise.
The I-Have-A-Voucher-For-X-Even-Though-You're-Y Customer
"What's the difference?" I've been asked. This being in relation to my shop, and another shop somewhere else in the country. Because this customer has a voucher, and they want to use it. The obvious answer is the correct one: "We're not the same company." Unfortunately, that's not always good enough. "Can't I just use it anyway?" Do I really have to go on? (This also applies to: rewards cards, returns, exchanges and problems in branches where our chain doesn't exist.)
The I-Want-To-Get-A-Book-For-Someone-But-I-Don't-Know-What-To-Get Customer
Truthfully, these aren't always bad. Sometimes, it's a case of a grandparent looking to get a book for their grandchild, and they just don't know what kids read these days. (Many kids don't read...so that doesn't help.) It's perfectly acceptable to ask for help. The problem arises when (1) the customer doesn't know what someone has read, or even likes to do, ever; (2) the customer refuses to accept the help they've asked for; or (3) the customer will let you give them advice for half an hour at Christmas during the busiest hour of the day, won't let you get away, and then buys nothing. That last one might be a stretch of the imagination.
The I-Don't-Care-That-You're-Trying-Close-I-Want-To-Browse-And-Maybe-Buy-A-Book-Even-Though-It's-Two-Minutes-Until-Closing-Time-On-A-Sunday-And-You-Want-To-Get-Home-To-Your-Family-Or-Food Customer
"Kill it with fire!" might be getting a bit worked up over it, but this is too much of a regular occurence to just let it slide. After a day at work, no one should be expected to hang about for someone who decides their time is worth more than yours. Shops have closing times, booksellers have other lives to attend to, and just because you have to get someone a birthday present three weeks later than you meant to doesn't mean you have a right to keep a shop open for another five or ten minutes. It may only seem like a short while to the customer, but people have buses to catch, people to meet, and other plans for after working hours. (Can you tell this one annoys me more than any of the others? Really, compared to this sort of carry-on, other customers aren't that bad. At least they show up when we're open!)
And finally... The I've-Been-Working-Here-Part-time-For-Too-Long Bookseller
I like my job, I do. I'm glad to have it. But six years has been a long time to still work less than ten hours on a regular week, knowing that that's how it's going to continue for the foreseeable future. While I was a student - and I'm so close to the end that I barely consider myself that, anymore - it was helpful to have hours only on the weekend, but looking forward it's not really going to be of much benefit, financially speaking. I'll have all the time in the world and no way of getting to actually see the world.
Yes, I'll be writing a lot, but I don't think it'll be too long before I get sick of the shop altogether. A lack of responsibility, a lack of direction, and a lack of working hours to make it feel like a real job are really making the future here look bleak. I'd rather that not happen. I'll compensate by making big decisions for myself outside of work, but eventually my time here will run out. And what a weird life that'll be.