In all honesty, I thought Dr. Who was on his last legs about fifteen years ago. Imagine how chagrined I am by his current popularity, which can be witnessed regularly each time one of his books gets rung up at the sales counter.
I sometimes think it might be handy to have the Doctor on our staff. His ability to cross all boundaries of time and space would be helpful anytime we get a request for an item that isn’t on our shelves and the customer says, “I need it right now.”
In that situation Dr. Who could simply transport himself to the appropriate distributor, grab the book we need, and re-appear at the store before anyone even noticed he was gone. It’s a compelling scenario but, after careful consideration, I think we’re better off leaving it in the realm of speculative literature. For me, the pace of life and commerce at Annie Bloom’s maintains the correct balance of efficiency and enjoyment.
If we take a special order and the book is in stock at the nearest warehouse it usually gets to us within 24 to 48 hours. Titles that are scarce or only available from a publisher may take 10 days or longer.
A lot of consumers and business experts would probably call these timelines plodding and unproductive in our current era of on-demand products and services.
In response, I would say that neighborhood bookstores offer their patrons a relaxing refuge from the ongoing societal rush toward immediate responses to all questions and instant fulfillment of every request. The chronology of a typical day at Annie Bloom’s is measured by the experience of each visitor and not arbitrary ticks of a clock.
In my personal lexicon “browse” and “hurry” are mutually exclusive terms. The sight of a customer walking the aisles at a measured pace, occasionally pulling out a volume and leafing through the pages, is visual proof that intellectual curiosity shouldn’t be rushed. Introspection and insight don’t happen at warp factor seven.
That famous Huey Lewis song lyric is true—“Ain’t no livin’ in a perfect world.” You can’t get everything you want whenever you want it. That would be true even if a certain science fiction physician really did work here. It occurred to me that eventually someone would call up and say, “The book I want is out of print, but Dr. Who can just travel back in time and get a me a copy from the past, right?” Well, no, because we’d still have to pay for the item, and getting the invoice processed in a different historical period would create a huge accounting headache.
It’s frustrating to lose a sale when someone needs a book “right now” and we don’t have it, but I’ve never had a phone caller yell, “That’s unacceptable! You clowns won’t hear from me again!” Nor has anyone making a special order ever gone ballistic about the waiting periods.
I believe we’re in sync with our audience when it comes to the speed of book selling. If someone asked me to name the key ingredients for maintaining healthy customer satisfaction I’d say take your time on every detail and always say “Thank you” at the end of each transaction. It’s more important and definitely more pleasant to operate at a reasonable pace with steady, reliable service. I’m no doctor, but I’m confident that’s the right prescription.
Jeffrey Shaffer is a bookseller and booklover at Annie Bloom’s Books in the historic Multnomah Village district of southwest Portland. His relationship with Annie Bloom’s began in the 1990′s when the store’s booksellers enthusiastically sold his two humor collections I’m Right Here, Fish-Cake and It Came With the House. He continues to blog about politics and popular culture for Huffington Post and also contributes to the “Modern Parent” blog at the Christian Science Monitor.