Thursday, September 13, 2007

Want to be put off buying books?

Here's how you do it in two easy steps:

1. Enter your local branch of Crossword.
2. Engage with any of the cretins on call - the sales staff. Their daftness, rudeness, lack of awareness, will make you want to turn and flee. Or it will make you want to do them such physical harm that the cops will have to lock you in.

At Crossword they've never ever given discounts (unless it's during an annual sale). Because, after all, you are paying for the experience, the aahm-bey-ahnce. What with the air con and the coffee-shop attached, suddenly, it seemed nice to be able to do frilly stuff while browsing for books. And what's a 10 to 20% discount as compared to that?

Where Crossword - like most chain stores - suffered a bit was in their choice of staff. They hired pretty kids - chirpy and bright as buttons, but they weren't you know, book lovers. Chalo, so not everyone lives to read, ok, and you put up with a degree of ignorance. In fact, till about 6 to 8 months back, the Crossword Ghatkopar staff was decent, vaguely knew where the books were, and were at least enthusiastic enough to try and find you stuff. And more importantly, they weren't rude creeps.

But recently, I think there's been some policy-and-management change, which has been reflected immediately in the quality of the people they hire. At least this is the case at the Crossword in Shopper's Stop, Ghatkopar. Boy, I never thought I'd miss the button kids, but compared to the new bunch of yobos they've got, those kids were great! We had a shockingly unpleasant and painful experience there two days back. Don't want to go into the gory details here, but suffice it to say that the staff were nothing short of crass, ill-mannered louts.

The dip has happened ever since the Shopper's Stop guys bought up the place. At least in Ghatkopar, the staff are: 1. lazy, and they don't believe in looking for a book beyond checking their database - and as everyone knows, databases are not always a perfect reflection of what's on the shelves (I say this because I've had this experience in a Crossword); 2. ill-mannered louts who don't have basic skills like communication and - I'm so sorry to even say this - decent manners; 3. just not aware of or or interested in books.

I don't blame them for this. But what were their employers thinking when they hired them to man bookshops? Having hired them, how about training and / or orienting them a bit? Or say, giving them a crash-course in basic courtesy? And one in understanding books - not the literary criticism stuff, mind you, but where they are stacked and how they are to be referenced on the shelves?

You go to a small book store like Fort Book Distributor or Strand or even our Chembur-station Jayesh Book Store, and you suddenly re-realize that hey, you don't need coffee to buy a book. Because you get decent service, a discount and generally, a pleasant feeling of being attended to. Mind you, the salespeople here aren't MAs in Eng Litt either. They are aware of what they have in their shelves, and want to make sure - or at least try - that you get what you are looking for.

I called the Crossword shop-in-charge later that day and complained. She was pained and appalled at her staff - I think. And offered to come over and apologize. See, this is where people lose perspective. Can you imagine the busy, highly dignified manager at the Strand desk offering to do something so daft as come over and apologise to a customer? No, because they do their jobs all right, and don't behave like jerks in general. Cussed they might be, creeps they are not.

I wish chain store managers had an awareness of what a bookshop needs to be to its customers. It needs to be no-fuss, it needs to be a wee bit generous, it needs to have staff who at least know where the goods are. That's it. Nothing more.

(Ooh, on a prophetic note, I had a dream, just two nights before this incident, that for some reason, a Japanese guy was willing to open up a bookstore with us in Chembur! Cost no issue, he said. I woke up to change n's soaked PJs thinking busily to myself: ok, we'll buy the paper bags which they make from recycled newspaper at Sevadan, and not keep any plastic, and have an old-books bargain counter. And what shall we call it... etc. I switched on the light in the loo and told myself to calm down, it was a dream. Blah. My subconscious is getting too literal. )


Raghu said...

Go To Landmark. The staff there is equally blah but at least they have a decent collection of books. Or buy online.....

Raghu said...

Go to Landmark. Equally daft and clueless staff but at least the collection is worth it. Virat of Lotus House of Books where are you ?

Space Bar said...

hey...i came, i read, i left. was hoping hansa would call you (or me) but she called me too late. and didn't come for my reading.

so that's another trip without meeting you. bah!

minubhai said...

when it comes to bookshop staff smaller the shop the better the staff i think. but i must do a plug for granth... i've been to their branch on juhu tara road and the one on s.v.road, goregaon and in both places the staff knew its stuff. i was given impeccable service in locating the book in Q, helped with all the Qs i had.
raghu : i saw virat moonlighting outside strand a couple of weeks ago ;-)

chica said...

Crossword really doesn't have anything but management books or current bestsellers. It's really difficult to discover off the track books there. Any stores that would have a good children's book collection?

anita & amit said...

sorry chica, but in my book, stores don't have the best kiddie books - the street and raddi guys do! yes, a lot of bookstores keep the latest kiddie books, but have you seen the prices? i mean, even 'spot the dog' could set you back by 300/- and much as i love eric carle, i can't see myself paying 280/- for one single story in paperback. so what we prefer doing is scouring the streets and looking up small shops like fort book distributors near the gpo in mumbai. to see more about the sort of stuff we've found there, look at two of our old posts called 'booklust' and 'back!' i'm assuming you're from mumbai, of course ;)

mandar talvekar said...

Some many months back I happened to visit the Crossword store in Nirmal Lifestyles, Mulund. I wanted to pick up the novel: No Onions Nor Garlic. I usually don't bother asking the staff, preferring to browse through all the shelves and take my time over the books. But that day I was in a hurry and asked one of the airheads about the book and was promptly directed to the gardening section.

anita & amit said...

hahahahah! i can't get over this! still, i guess you're lucky they didn't march you straight off to the cook books - esp. the Jain ones ;)

Anonymous said...

A friend once visited the Crossword store in Chembur (Anita, Amit, It's not Ghatkopar!) and asked where they kept the coffee table books and was directed to the cookery section. So, there you have it!
Then, at the same place, I once asked for the Chicago Manual of Style and was told to refer to the fashion shelves! Ho hum...

i am that said...

hi anita and amit, was quite interesting to read your experiences.

raghu, virat is now with crossword, kemps corner.

guys, you talk about good people not there to attend customers at book shops....but are you even aware...a book lover would never work as a retail sales person...not that its a petty job...but it is just not as paying as a call centre or a job in a finance related company would.

i my self work for a book did my dad and my grand father...i do it just for the love of books and love for the peers earn twice as much then i do. but i am happy doing what i do.

i have seen a lot of bookstores...but the best i have seen is the FOYLES BOOKS STORE in London.