‘Showrooming’ Solution: Sign for the Times

From Shelf Awareness:

The Golden Notebook, Woodstock, N.Y., has an answer for “showrooming,” the habit of some bookstore customers to learn about books at bookstores and then order them online on their phones, sometimes in front of booksellers who just made the recommendation.

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 At the Golden Notebook, a sign on the front door reads, “Please inquire at counter regarding in-store photography. Thank you!” As a result, wrote co-owner James Conrad, “we have no issue approaching a customer photographing and saying ‘excuse me, we do not allow in-store photography.’ We then attempt a teaching conversation about how we struggle against the internet and how hard we work to find the unique and sometimes extremely hard to find types of titles that reflect our unique community and customers. Usually people are extremely apologetic and sometimes they just say nothing because we basically told them we know exactly what they were doing.

“The sign also gives people the chance to just ask at the counter first and when they say they have a blog and want to promote us or live far away and can’t carry the hardcover home we say go ahead and photograph! (Just make sure to use an independent bookstore when you get home!)”

Conrad added: “Without the sign, you seem rude to mention it, but with it you can have a more polite moment to tell people the importance of small businesses and the struggles we face.”

Link to the rest at Shelf Awareness

While PG doesn’t take joy from the struggles of any small business, he thinks this is a little pathetic.

Do the proprietors of a bookstore in Woodstock, a noted upscale tourist destination known for its art, music, etc., think their customers don’t know about Amazon? Do they think their customers don’t know that the bookstore is trying to keep them from making purchases at Amazon?

Are the store owners trying to persuade visitors to purchase a product by making the visitors feel guilty?

Is a first-time visitor to the store who uses a cell phone camera in a way they are completely accustomed to doing almost everywhere else in the world going to be more or less inclined to visit the bookstore again if they view the management as being a bit unfriendly?

Is it possible a reasonably intelligent visitor might see the sign and think, “Oh, yes, I can buy anything in the store cheaper at Amazon?” How about a visitor who prefers ebooks to printed books for any of a number of reasons? Is he/she being told there’s nothing the store is interested in selling him/her?


34 thoughts on “‘Showrooming’ Solution: Sign for the Times”

  1. Pathetic, neo-Luddite attempt to roll back the clock to “BIN” (Before Internet). Let’s see how it plays out.

    IMHO, they can just say “sayonara” to customers. Bye bye!

  2. See, if I was deadset on pursuing this, I’d have commissioned someone to draw me a blubbering cartoon puppy looking sad, and have it say, “When you buy a book you saw here at Amazon, I has the sads! Please prevent puppy sads! Buy local!”

    And then people who don’t care will roll their eyes, and people who are on the fence will laugh because it’s silly, and they’ll be less likely to respond with kneejerk rebellion.

    I think if I wanted to be even more subversive, I’d get some happy puppy stickers printed, and the people who tell me, ‘Okay, you got me, I bought it here’ would get a sticker. And then they’d laugh and tell their friends, ‘hey, check out this silly thing that happened to me today’ and it would become something people sometimes talk about. ‘I want a puppy sticker. My kid will like that! Also, it’s silly.’ ‘Well, go to that bookstore.’


    You’ve got to work with human nature, not against it. :,

  3. Self-righteousness and victimization have become the two most popular drivers of our culture in many respects, not just in the book selling business, and in every one of those respects we have become smaller people because of it.

  4. “Are the store owners trying to persuade visitors to purchase a product by making the visitors feel guilty?”

    Of course they are. And why not? The store is providing a service when it brings that book to the visitor’s attention. This service costs the store money to provide. If the store doesn’t have a book the visitor wants to buy, that is on the store. But once the service has been successfully executed, the visitor who enjoys the benefit of this service without completing the transaction is simply freeloading. It is like walking into a diner and stuffing your pockets with sugar packets. There is no charge for those packets, but that doesn’t change that they are there to accompany an actual financial transaction.

    • I think a more apt analogy would be walking into a tablecloth restaurant and ordering Domino’s Delivery on your cell phone. You take up their table, and leave them with the mess.
      Even if they have plenty of seating, you’re still leaving them with the mess and the utility bills for “hosting” you.

      So. How many people here, when they go to the movies, make sure they wear the big coat, with the deep pockets, so they can skip the concession stand? That thing that keeps the movie theater open, since it sees hardly any of the profits from the actual FILM but still has to pay for lights, staff, and property taxes.

      • I don’t wear a big coat (my pant pockets are big enough) but I will often stick a fistful of candy and a small water bottle in my pockets.
        I go to the cinema to watch a good movie, not to support a giant multinational. They set the admission price, not me. That’s all I owe them.

        If they can’t make money, that’s their problem, not mine. Me, I like streaming and I’d rather spend my disposable income on a big TV I use daily instead of giving it to a multinational.

      • It’s been ages upon ages since I’ve gone to a movie theater, but from my childhood we’ve always had a purse or something for candy and pop. It was always cheaper to buy snacks before reaching the theater. If we splurged, it was mostly on nachos (not real nachos, just congealed cheese sauce poured over chips), or popcorn. But the last time I had movie popcorn I had the impression that the theater had heard how salty the Dead Sea was and said, “hold my beer.”

        I’ve heard of the theaters that serve actual food (and perhaps, real nachos to boot), but the catch is that I’ve rarely heard of a movie that makes me want to go to a theater. For a year I’ve had a gift card to a theater, and I keep forgetting I have it. I’m honestly not sure where I’ve stored it.

        If the food is where the profits are, then theaters have to up their game to get me spend on the food, i.e., real nachos. But first they have to up their game to get me into the theaters in the first place e.g., maybe screen other movies besides the latest reboot. Maybe screen a classic movie night, anime night, a Hitchcock binge-week, etc.

        But you’ll never convince anyone to spend $$ money on Sour Patch Watermelons and Twizzlers. The economics just doesn’t work for a day out with friends (if you’re a kid) or a night out (if you’re an adult).

    • It is like walking into a diner and stuffing your pockets with sugar packets.

      No. It’s like walking into a diner and taking pictures of the food, then going somewhere else to buy it.

    • The store is providing a service when it brings that book to the visitor’s attention.

      So, suppose there are two bookstores at the mall, and you go to one and see a book you might want to buy – but before you purchase, you go to the other and see it at a better price, and buy it there instead. What social contract has been violated? You’re saying that using the discovery service provided by the first store without making the purchase there, the book buyer is “freeloading” off from the first store.

      Except most people consider this sort of comparison shopping to be perfectly normal. If you see a shirt at Macys and continue browsing and see the same shirt at Target for less, you’ll buy it at Target, even though you saw it at Macys “first”.

      Consumers are quite logically and unashamedly extending this habit of comparison shopping to include the internet. Much as it may seem crass to some of us, they see nothing wrong with it and are quite offended by arguments that counter it. “Shop local” has some traction, and I personally support it whenever I can (*), but it’s not going to move the mile-long tanker ship that is consumer behavior anytime soon.

      (*) When it comes to books, nothing is more local that the phone in my pocket.

      • Not only that, but bookstore customers in particular are used to sampling the product. Is it theft to read the book in the store and not buy it? The point is to see if the book is worth buying. If not, you leave it there. If it is, you buy it.

          • If the theater sets it up that way? No. But as I recall, you have to pay to get into the screening room, so in that sense it’s the same as paying to ride the bus. But theaters have a vastly different model, as you don’t have to pay to enter the bookstore. You only pay if you decide to take the book out of the store with you. If you leave it there, I can’t seriously say it’s theft, no more than Best Buy would claim it’s theft if you examined the picture quality of their TVs (the only difference is that they make it difficult to do this properly) without buying the TV.

            Book buyers have the rare luxury to truly try-before-you-buy; it’s no different than the sample pages you read at Amazon. I vaguely recall record stores allowing sampling, too, but now it’s mostly books (and sometimes video games).

    • The store is providing a service when it brings that book to the visitor’s attention. This service costs the store money to provide.

      The store is offering its goods to the market, and inviting inspection. This has happened for thousands of years. Nobody incurs any obligation by inspecting the offered goods.

  5. Interesting assumption that people couldn’t possibly remember the title (or at least enough of the title that it would come up on an Amazon search) without a photo.

  6. Some of this is prompted by this recent article…


    With this opinion piece to match…


    and the story sounds pretty bad…

    At the weekend, Fountain Bookstore owner Kelly Justice watched “dozens” of her customers “showrooming”: using the shop to research purchases to be made online later. “I approached three people just a few minutes apart and asked them politely if they enjoyed finding the books here, if they would please buy them here. All three of them bought my recommendations right in front of my eyes on their phones and one of them actually laughed in my face,” she wrote in an email to me. “Earlier in the week, a woman came in with a group of co-workers and was zipping around the store searching things from our inventory on her phone and shouting ‘Amazon wins again!’ every time she found a lower price. I was speechless. At a certain point, you just get upset, you know?”

    BUT… if you check yelp you’ll see the owner is just paranoid. I loved this

    I’m not sure if it was the owner or just someone who works there, but a woman very rudely demanded what I was doing while writing down book titles (I had a stack of things I was interested in, but I didn’t want to buy 10 things at once). I told her I was writing down a Christmas list, and I planned on coming back and purchasing the rest of what I didn’t buy at a later time. She told me I had to leave because if I wasn’t going to buy everything then and there I wasn’t allowed to write down titles.

    So it’s likely that the “woman with a group of co-workers” had come in earlier and been confronted in a similar manner and decided to return and taunt the owner. Good for her (and her co-workers.) This person should not be trying to run a retail establishment.

    • I will say I’m seeing a lot more of these almost frantic send-ups of B&M bookstores, along with paranoid accusations of showrooming as we get closer to the end of the Christmas shopping season…

      This woman is on her second failed bookstore, and “showrooming” is a big part of her failure.


      Mrs. Rowsam, Henderson, had tried advertising and hosting events like children’s book readings and local author meet-and-greets, but couldn’t attract the foot traffic she needed to maintain her store. She has also blamed Amazon and Kindle devices, which she deemed her “nemeses,” for the lack of sales.

      “When a customer is standing right in front of me and ordering books from Amazon, it’s a slap in the face,” she said.

    • Thanks for the links. Interesting reading, especially the opinion article (thought not so interesting I would respond to the Guardians begging for money; guess I’m a freeloader too). I had two takeaways:

      (1) The author admits that when she’s talking about bookstores, she’s not talking about any particular one but about a sort of platonic ideal of Bookstore that bears very little resemblance to any actual store I’ve been in. Generally, I’ve found the “small, independent stores” don’t stock much of what I’d want, and the owners are either too introverted to chat with me or simply don’t share enough of my interests to make their recommendations worthwhile. If you want to make the case for bookstores, I think you ought to deal with them as they are in reality, not as they were in your 5-year-old imagination.

      (2) Someone else pointed out that the independent bookstores aren’t really interested in supporting independent authors, and the article bears that out. The author is contemptuous of “stocking rubbish books by everyone and their grandmother”, which I suspect in addition to Indies also includes trad published books that many people enjoy. The ideal bookstore apparently lovingly displays a handful of books designed for the Platonic ideal of Bookstore Customer, which I suspect may be as fictional as the Platonic ideal of Bookstore.

  7. I’m glad the salesperson is so sure they’re freeloading in the way they think.

    Here’s a slightly different take, actually three, and you can decide which one applies and if they should be quite so sure afterwards.

    Take #1 … so, how do people make decisions about purchases these days? They read reviews on the internet. So, many of us who have cellphones with cameras, take pictures not because we’re going to buy it later on Amazon but simply so we can look up models (for appliances), names (for books), or reviews (for just about everything — see Take 2 for more on that). We’re doing it to make a shopping list in effect. Because we see something, and might want to get it later but not right now, doesn’t mean we’re showrooming the way this store thinks. And quite frankly, I’d be out the door with my money. In an economy that is tanking for bricks and mortar, anything you do that drives a customer out the door is ridiculously stupid. Hell, I’d bend over backwards for a store that said “Here, look on this computer, you can see the price on Amazon (with shipping), or if it’s at the library, or wherever”. I use my camera instead of typing. Are they going to ban people writing down titles they might like? Idiots. I went through Costco the other day snapping at a bunch of things to suggest to my wife for our son for Xmas. Where was I going to buy them if we agreed to get them? Costco. Because that’s where I saw it.

    Take #2. You know what I love about IndieStores? How self-righteous they are about showrooming but have no hesitation about people reading reviews on Amazon and buying from them. I’ve been in stores where they have ACTUAL quotes from Amazon reviews for various books or the # of stars it got. But that’s okay? How is it okay for you to do all your research on Amazon but buy from the local store? And most indiestores have nothing but basic product info on their sites with almost zero reviews.

    Take #3. A bonus take…if bookstores are so “independent” and concerned about the culture, what are they doing for self-publishing, the biggest change in the industry in 30 years? Oh right, nothing, because they DON’T carry most of it and won’t because they can’t do returns.

    The truth is all three takes are part of the present reality. People didn’t seem to mind when you went to Kmart and saw the product but you bought it at Zellers because it was cheaper. And all of those salespeople? They do the same thing themselves.

    In the past, and still to some extent in the present, people separated research from the purchase decision. Before it was going to multiple stores, now they might go to a store AND do a bunch of stuff online. But the decision to purchase — the “sale” starts with that first conversation. You go back to the salesperson who was helpful. Not the idiot who told you no pictures of book covers. What Amazon did was solve friction for all four parts of the purchase — providing your initial research, reasonable price, taking your cash with a single click, and getting it to you quickly (next day in most cases).

    If the bookstore can’t compete on price, they have to compete on the other three. As a small example segue, there’s a store in a suburb that sells board games. Almost every single title in the store, except the indie ones, are more expensive than they are on Amazon. But I still buy from them. Why? Because I can go in the showroom, look around, get some ideas, talk to some people, go home and do some more research, come back and hand over my cash. They don’t care if I look at it on Amazon, because they aren’t competing on price. And they’re doing fine — they just opened a second store.

    Or they could join KMart and Barnes and Noble.


    • I engage in take # 1 frequently, especially if the titles I’m interested in aren’t genres I usually browse/read or if there are a lot of new releases dropping all at once. I take pictures so I don’t forget about the books, especially if there are more titles I’m interested in than I can afford to buy in a single transaction or even multiple transactions. I especially do this if I’m traveling and can’t carry a lot of books with me. If I were accused of using my phone inappropriately by an employee, I would probably leave whatever I was going to buy in the store and never come back.

      • Exactly. Even if the book is interesting, I want to read the reviews. Moreso if I’m on the fence. Amazon has definitely got me hooked on being able to get a sense of what the book is like before I buy.

    • “What Amazon did was solve friction for all four parts of the purchase — providing your initial research, reasonable price, taking your cash with a single click, and getting it to you quickly (next day in most cases).”

      And no snotty little jerk giving you attitude because they don’t think you should be looking at/buying.

      I don’t walk around with a smartphone out, but I have had sales drones following me around as if they think I’m going to steal something. One day I was trying to read the specs on a tech toy and one of them demanded to know if I was going to buy it online. I’m sixty with a nice beard with plenty of white in it so I played hard of hearing and ignored him. When he asked again I turned to him and said quite loudly “Are you saying I would do better to buy this online?” I wasn’t the only one to put whatever I had back and walk out of the store. Haven’t been back since.

      MYMV and you use the internet – where no one knows or cares who or what you might be.

  8. Bookstores are supposed to exist to serve the needs of customers. Customers do not exist to serve the needs of bookstore owners. Plenty of bookstores manage to survive and even prosper despite competition from chain stores, online, and ebooks.

    People who can’t figure it out might be better off trying a different location or, better yet, a different business.

  9. I don’t go out of my way to “showroom”, but I have absolutely no problem looking up any new book, author, or series that catches my eye to see what the reviews say about it before purchasing. I also regularly send my wife images of potential gifts to see if she thinks they’d make a good purchase for our friends and family for Christmas and birthdays.

    The moment I’m in a store and treated to this sort of aggressive shaming behavior is the moment I turn around and walk out the door for good. I don’t have any desire to cater to the paranoid worrying of a business owner who sees me as an either a happily ignorant mark or an informed enemy.

  10. I don’t have a problem with this, although I much prefer MCA Hogarth’s method.

    It may be obvious to you, but not to other people. My wife insists on using cashiers rather than self-scanners, and she makes it a point to talk to people about why she does so. She’d rather see humans on those jobs instead of machines. She’s encountered many people who don’t realize that using a self-scanner tells the company: “Fire people.”

    • She’s encountered many people who don’t realize that using a self-scanner tells the company: “Fire people.”

      I think she’s reversed the order: the company was already planning to scale back the humans, the machines are just the first step. I always thought of them as a shot across the bow for contract negotiations with unions. Where before a company had to shutter its doors if the unions were too obnoxious, now they can shutter the staff. I don’t prefer to layoff people; I just don’t see consumers’ actions being relevant in this instance. The scanners give the company too tantalizing an upper hand.

      That said, I do see the “talk to the human” preference being significant enough to ensure some people are kept on, just not as many as we’re used to. And before you know it, the tech will evolve so that stores will start giving out hand-scanners (or more likely, an app for your phone) you can use as you shop. Bonus if there’s an RFID feature that will let you home in on the item you specifically came there to get.

    • In my experience, using a self-scanner says “I’ve only got 4 items and I don’t feel like waiting in a long line.”

      • The local Walmart allows 20-some items through the self-scan zones with 8 stations plus a no-limits scan lane. The typically have two employees as traffic cops/customer assistant. Best autoscan setup I’ve seen yet.

        I see it as improved customer service since I can walk into a packed store, grab an item or two, and be out in five minutes flat. Just today I picked up a sunglasses clip-on for my glasses in five minutes.

        Alas, when I tried to put it on it turned out to be missing one of the restraining arms. (Bad on me for not noticing.) Took 15 minutes just to get to one of the three customer service employees and another five to get a replacement processed.

        Some things can be automated, the rest we just have to endure.

        • I don’t hesitate to take a full cart of goods through the Walmart self-scanners. It’s rare that I have to wait more than 30 seconds for a scanner. (Yeah, I measure this stuff.)

          Over the past year, I have seen a steady migration of people from the check out lanes to the self-scanners. Consumers are voting with their feet.

    • I worked as a cashier in a retail store once and didn’t like it. Eliminating those jobs makes people’s lives better. Cashiers will find other jobs and from my experience, almost anything will be better. Have some faith in the resiliency of people, our society, and economy. People will find something better to do.

      Myself, I usually skip scanners because I enjoy exchanging a word or two with a person as I leave the store, not because I want to relegate someone to carpal tunnel and a bad back.

      Pumping gas was no fun either. If you want to preserve jobs, think about preserving the good jobs like writing books.

  11. I don’t hesitate to take a full cart of goods through the Walmart self-scanners. It’s rare that I have to wait more than 30 seconds for a scanner. (Yeah, I measure this stuff.)

    Over the past year, I have seen a steady migration of people from the check out lanes to the self-scanners. Consumers are voting with their feet.

    I wonder if people realize how many pump jockeys lost their jobs when we went to self-service gas pumps? Elevator operators? Telephone operators? Bank tellers?

  12. I suspect that bookstores aren’t losing sales to Amazon when photoshoppers are involved. These are people who never intended to buy books from the bookstore, so whether they take photos or not is irrelevant.

    All that banning photos does is keep people from coming into the store, and a person who’s not in the store will never buy a book from the store. Whereas a photoshopper might actually decide to buy a book rather than wait for the Amazon delivery.

    The sign in my bookshop window would be “Immediate Delivery. Start reading today.”

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