Bookselling: Making it Personal
By Renée Magriel Roberts
It is Tuesday morning and we have just finished printing up today's orders. Like most days, it is a mix of foreign and domestic orders. We have one book going out to a customer in Switzerland, two individual books and a set of books going to the U.K.; the rest domestic orders from our rare, used and new book collections. An order that was awaiting payment is moved from the pending/hold pile to the outgoing pile. Several special orders that came in this morning are matched with their order forms. We pick everything from the warehouse and line up all the books with their packing slips, postage and shipping labels.
Most days, I am happy to pack efficiently and accurately, and to do it well. We check all the used books for listing accuracy, and all the new books for any sign of damage. Every book is swathed in a soft, heavy recycled paper. We add the packing slip and invoice, as well as a postcard. This postcard, of my grandmother reading a book (and after whom the store is named) has a handwritten note. This is sometimes just a thank-you which I sign; other times, if I know the customer (or have something else to say), a more personalized greeting.
The entire packet is then bubble-wrapped, boxed in the right kind of packaging, or bagged, and dispatched via any number of services: the U.S. post office; FedEx; UPS; or Pitney Bowes. I've attempted to write down the algorithms for selection of service and appropriate packaging, but largely, they are still in my head, a pile of if-then statements resulting in the best service for each customer, while saving money, if possible, for us.
Most days, accomplishing these tasks would be enough. The effort is huge because we do everything ourselves. We believe that performing these tasks well sends a non-verbal message to every customer: we care about your purchase, and we care about your satisfaction. You have connected with us; we want this connection to be positive.
We decided, long ago, to keep our business growth within our reach. We want to continuously improve our stock, our services, and our customer base. But, we do not want to become so large that we need additional employees or space.
At another level, however, there are other connections occurring. I was reminded of it this week when I received a series of emails and phone calls from different customers. Besides including a handwritten card, we always post our names, email and telephone number on our sites (no hiding under a pseudonym!). We try to make it easy for people to reach us; we're real people and we want real communication.
It was at the end of the day when a man called inquiring about a book by Thoreau. I knew we had it. It was an inexpensive book with a sweet art nouveau design to the boards.
There was an urgency to his voice. He asked if we could send it out express mail the same day. We had already gone to the post office in the morning and my husband was out collecting our granddaughter from day camp. I thought briefly about sending it out with next day's mail, but there was something unsaid that made me think otherwise.
So, when Mark came back I ran out with the package, told him not to bother turning off the car, and sent him off to the post office before it closed.