For the last two nights we've been slammed at the bookstore, which is a good thing. And last night was particularly fun in that, right off the bat I sold the Phoenix Chronicles quartet, and not much later, convinced a woman already buying Leila Meacham's Roses into adding Mary Alice Monroe's Sweetgrass to her purchase.
Later on, though, I was presented with a dilemma: A returning customer asked me to look at what she planned to buy and give her my advice. I went through her stack after she added Sebastian Junger's War at my suggestion, and in it I noticed Yann Martel's Beatrice and Virgil, which to my knowledge has not been well-received by critics.
I never say a word or so much as change facial expressions when customers buy right wing screed after right wing screed. I don't know if it's just our location in conservative Plano, Texas, but it never ceases to surprise me when I walk through our Current Affairs section to see all the far right books from authors including that 15-year-old "wunderkind" Jonathan Krohn, Michelle Malkin, and multiples by Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly. I'm going out on a limb here, but unless liberals start hammering out books by the dozen, they will never be able to counteract what's floating around out there.
But I digress...
The point I'd begun to make before rudely interrupting myself is that while I'm easily able to suggest additional books for customers to buy, I try to refrain from comment when it comes to books they're already planning to buy. I will admit that some months ago I convinced a guy not to buy that Diana Palmer bargain hardcover - he had no idea what it was, and I could tell that he didn't - but we're a bookstore, we're here to sell books in order to make money, and telling people not to buy books doesn't accomplish that.
There's a gray area, though, when it comes to providing what I think is good advice and strong customer service. If a customer comes up to me as cashier with a $30 hardcover when I know we also sell a $15 trade paperback, I'll ask them if they know they have a choice. Sometimes they do...they just prefer hardcovers...but when they don't and they're amenable, I arrange for them to buy the cheaper version. I don't know what a manager would say if witnessing me do this, but I figure that the customer will remember we saved them money and treated them well and will return because of it. Sometimes it even allows me to sell more, as with the woman not long ago who planned to buy three of the four Twilight books. She didn't realize that two of them were available as mass market releases as opposed to the trade paperbacks in her hands. I convinced her to switch those two out and add the fourth, hardcover-only book, and she walked out a happy customer. She'd spent oh-so-slightly more than originally planned, but left with the entire series in her hands rather than settling for part of it.
So the question for me was: Do I tell my returning customer that I've read only ho-hum or downright negative reviews of Beatrice and Virgil or do I tell her I haven't read it and can't advise her one way or the other? Because she'd asked for my opinion due to a level of trust we'd built in previous transactions, I decided to tell her what I'd heard. She did not buy Martel's book as a result. On the one hand, the store made more money on Junger's book than it would have on Martel's and I don't think she would have bought both, but on the other, I talked a customer out of a book she'd considered buying. In the end I'm not sure I made the right choice, but I think I did.
I asked my husband about it this morning, and this was his response: "Suppose you went to the butcher and bought an expensive cut of meat and told him you planned to boil it. What if he didn't say anything and you actually boiled it? Wouldn't you be angry that the butcher didn't stop you?" While I'm not quite sure that's the same thing, he and I are obviously on the same page...but then, he doesn't work retail.