5/29/2007

Brick & Mortar Blows

This past weekend, we were out at the local mall (though my wife would content it should be embarrassed to call itself that) to have the 6-month portraits taken of our son. We wandered around to kill time until we could pick up the prints. along the way we stopped at Borders....

For many week now, Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit has been pushing the book 'The Dangerous Book for Boys', so I figured I would find a copy and check out the hype.

Now I was always a big Borders fan from way back. When I was single and stationed in Hawaii in the early '90s, a big one opened not too far away, and I was hooked. This Borders here though is no great shakes. It is laid out poorly and seems to me to be somewhat disorganized. My visit this time would only reinforce that feeling.

The first thing I did when I arrived was find one of the computerized kiosks, where one can search the inventory. I will give Borders one thing, they have always done this right...until now. After typing in the title, I received 1 return, which I in turn clicked on. This is where I got the following message: "This item may be in stock". May? May?!? I thought the whole point of computerized inventory would be that you had total assurance of what you had in your store. This was no help.

So I decided to look and find it for myself. The computerized listing said it could be found in "Reference : General Reference". Unfortunately I could not any "General Reference" shelf, and the worker nearby did not know either, but knew that "this whole area" was the reference area.

Forget it....Back to Amazon (ie Click & Order vice Brick & Mortar)

UPDATE: I have a friend who loves to tinker with stuff, and has two young sons, and figured that 'The Dangerous Book for Boys' would be perfect for all three of them. So I sent him an email with the suggestion, and got this reply: "That is SO funny - I was in Binghamton, NY this weekend visiting family and my mom gave this book to my cousin for his birthday. He spent the whole weekend doing the magic tricks in the book..." I guess it really is catching on!

13 comments:

E.M. Davis said...

The Local B&N has it up front.

Of course, they also carry An Inconvenient Truth in Teen Readers, Reference, and Recommended for Children.

B. Durbin said...

Since I've worked at a Borders, I actually know why the answer was "may be in stock." That whole computerized inventory is not and cannot be accurate. Firstly, books are not scanned into the system individually but by box, and warehouse workers do make mistakes. Secondly, even after the box is scanned in, the books do not instantaneously appear on the shelves. Thirdly, the search inventory is only updated once a day— meaning that any books bought that day can affect the number available. They really don't want the cash registers on a searchable network, because that leaves them vulnerable.

And that leaves aside the issue of theft, mis-stickering, or just plain "walking books" that end up out of their sections and can't be found. So the default is that if there are below three volumes in the inventory, the query will return a "possible."

Me, I never learned that system anyway. I just go the the staff lookup (four years on, and they still haven't changed the password) and look for hard numbers and shelf codes. Incidentally, my local Borders does NOT keep the same level of shelf discipline that ours did— I had been in charge of the computer section, and I re-alpha'd on a weekly basis. These guys do it quarterly if at all. Shoddy. Simply shoddy.

Joshua said...

I've had similarly bad luck trying to find John Robb's new book Brave New War at my local B&N.

Marc said...

The Waldenbooks where I work has it right behind the counter. Employees hate that customer search thing, for the reasons you've described.

Incidentally, it would be cheaper for me to get it off Amazon than to use my employee discount.

FreeThinker said...

I just read this great "Dangerous" book (before I give it to my ten year old pen pal). Two scraped thumbs up!

Sean Hackbarth said...

"This item may be in stock". May? May?!? I thought the whole point of computerized inventory would be that you had total assurance of what you had in your store."

After working for Barnes & Noble for many years I can say using the word "may" makes sense. You don't want to give the customer an expectation that can't be met. Too many people think what the computer says is the law. They screamed at me when I couldn't find the book. A computer can't tell a bookseller if a book is on hold for another customer, misshelved or being looked at by another customer.

Pat said...

"You don't want to give the customer an expectation that can't be met. Too many people think what the computer says is the law."

Then what, exactly, is the point of the computerized kiosks? They create an expectation that (according to you) cannot be met: namely, that the computer can tell me whether the book I'm looking for is in stock.

"They screamed at me when I couldn't find the book."

That's rude and unreasonable. I'm sorry you were subjected to that kind of treatment. But surely such customers are a minority. If B&N's response is to design its computer system so that it intentionally refuses to give customers any useful information, that means that B&N is punishing all its customers for the misbehavior of a few.

As some other commenters have pointed out, this is simply going to drive people to Amazon.

Pat said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pat said...

"The search inventory is only updated once a day— meaning that any books bought that day can affect the number available."

I'm sorry, but that's just incompetent system design. I've worked with point-of-sale systems, and I know for a fact that many of them do update inventory in real time as sales occur. If B&N chooses to use a system that doesn't do this, that is entirely their fault.

"They really don't want the cash registers on a searchable network, because that leaves them vulnerable."

Oh, please. Are you saying that it's not possible to make point-of-sale terminals secure? That's hogwash. B&N needs to hire some system design people who know what they're doing.

B. Durbin said...

I'm not saying that the design couldn't be much better— I'm saying that it isn't. That's a problem when you get to be big— you can't implement changes all at once.

Could be worse, though— my father used to tell me about how funding worked in the military. You had to request money three years out but you had a yearly budget, which meant monetary requests were, essentailly, guessing games... :)

Elizabeth said...

As a Librarian, I've always found Borders to be too disorganized for my taste. Their hierarchical subject system just doesn't do it for me. But I have to say, my "favorite" brick and mortar retailer, Barnes & Noble, has fallen in my eyes, as well. Went into The Grove store (in Los Angeles) the other night and asked the nice young man with the computer where I could find Ralph Waldo Emerson's titles. Sad to say, I received nothing but a blank look--he obviously didn't know who the heck RWE was. Five minutes later of trying to walk him through various searches on the B&N system, I finally lost my patience and said I'd find it myself. I did with a short walk across the aisle. Oy. Back to Amazon, Alibris, the library...

Lori said...

I asked for the Dangerous book at B&N last week; they had 70-some books on order; I signed up for one; they'll email me when it arrives and hold it for me - I'm happy! Not sure how the price compares with Amazon. Also I still need to check their discount program. I'm not sure I go there often enough to pay $25 for a discount card but they have a free program too.

Pete Who? said...

"That's a problem when you get to be big— you can't implement changes all at once."

As a 15-year software engineer, I find it's the other way around: when you're big, you have the resources to do exactly what you want exactly when you like. Love 'em or hate 'em, Walmart has proven the point.

My best guess is that Borders and B&N haven't implemented a better system because they don't see the business value. But as the bad experiences stack up (I've had my share at both stores), they're going to lose more business to the online stores.