From The Literary Hub:
We had screwed up the customer’s special order. Or charged her twice for the same book. Or maybe we had forgotten to ask if she was part of our customer loyalty program before the sale and had needed to redo the transaction. It was our fault, we screwed up, all booksellers have been there. Anyone who has ever worked retail, or in any service industry job, has been there. The protocol is near-reflex, at this point: you apologize, thank the customer so much for their patience, maybe give them ten to twenty percent off their purchase, and wish them a great rest of their day. Once, at the end of such an interaction, which had taken a serious turn for the worse my former boss (also my Dad, who probably doesn’t recall this, and will be embarrassed to be reminded that he ever said such a thing) joked to the customer: “Why even shop local?”
This joke is the opposite of that other punch-line you hear in independent bookstores—“You don’t get this kind of customer service online”—but they are based on the same premise. People go to their local bookstores for that “personal” touch. While other folks (let’s keep them abstract and cold for now) sell you online services which require no human interaction whatsoever, such as zero-click burrito ordering, booksellers across the world open their doors, play their eclectic music, and try to help you find a good book. But, as the very product we sell teaches us, humans are awful and not to be trusted. That’s why I love independent bookstores: our strongest talent is also our biggest weakness.
. . . .
An algorithm does not take the joke too far; a search engine won’t judge your taste. Of course we should continue to call out the online behemoths about the biases of their algorithms, the treatment of their employees, or how they can screw up your order and put you on hold for an hour. But these transgressions aren’t scalable, to use the lingo of corporate America—the stressful and awful rule of retail is that a person will tell twice as many people about a bad experience as a good one. Each customer interaction holds exponentially more weight for us than it does for Amazon.
. . . .
The fear of torches might be a little much, for now, but it points to a reality that I think every bookseller knows and will admit: our position is a precarious one. Our existence depends on the theory that people will continue to come back and hear our (usually wrong, and always subjective) thoughts on books, art, and sometimes even life.
Link to the rest at The Literary Hub