Thoughts On Retail

Thoughts on working in a bookshop.

Working in retail allows you to meet some interesting characters. Working in a book shop allows you to sell interesting characters. While the selling of humans is frowned upon, the selling of books is not, which is fortunate for me, because if it was then I would be unemployed.

I am not a people person. I would actually say I often go out of my way to avoid conversing with others. Unfortunately this is not the sort of thing a prospective employer would want to hear in an interview, luckily enough for me I am a decent liar.

Waterstones is where I work. (Other bookshops are available, including a hugely successful online retailer Amazon, but we aren’t allowed to talk about that) Waterstones employs people passionate about books, and passionate about people. I may fulfil one out of two of those requirements, but during my interview, which required role playing, I managed to appear peppy, happy and full of life.

Generally retail requires a lot of talking, normally it is I doing the talking, and the customer either ignoring me or scowling. As Christmas grows nearer customers are beginning to get angry.

The other day I had the pleasure of explaining to a man, no sir, I’m sorry but you don’t get loyalty points when purchasing items on a gift card. He looked as if I told him I killed his dog and videotaped it. His reply, while not something I would feel comfortable repeating, was made angrily, while storming out of the store declaring the company ridiculous. Yes, that may be true, but it was not I who made up these rules, although people often forget to remember that. The phrase “don’t shoot the messenger” couldn’t be more appropriate.

We are told to check customer’s receipts and bags if the alarm goes off while they exit the store. But I rarely ever do. What if they have a weapon? I’m no hero. 

A man came in the other day and told me about a book he is writing, and hoping we would stock and start to sell. He informed me of his discovery and what inspired his new book: that actually cancer is not a disease that can be cured; it is simply a state of mind. Oh I replied, I think you had better speak to my manager.

Most of my customers are elderly, coming to the till, grasping a paper back copy of Agatha Christie in one of their shaky hands, a loyalty card in the other. When customers need to be shown a book upstairs, this often causes a small dilemma within me. I often fear suggesting the lift and insulting the customer about their age, but also fear committing a much greater social faux pau by causing their heart attack after the third flight of stairs.

As a book shop we do not discriminate, and sell everything from the Bible to books promoting Atheism. Somewhere in between those two Erotica falls, and a few weeks ago we had a customer making full use of the small selection of books we stocked, my manager had to ask him to leave. I was glad it was my day off.

At night I dream about stamp cards and serving a never ending que of angry people, Jeremy Clarksons face staring at me, judging me silently, from the cover of another one of his biographies. What is there left for that man to say? I do not know. The other day I saw that someone had put his latest book upside down and back to front on the shelf. I’d like to think it was a form of protest.

I love when people ask me to suggest a book. Often when a customer approaches me I await eagerly be to asked my opinion on the representation of women in modern literature, or what I think about that strange new book written by that Japanese fellow, Murakishi or something. But in reality their question is normally something along the lines of; do you know where Tiny Tempas new book is? Or; do you sell any vampire novels that aren’t Twilight but basically the exact same just even worse and a waste of the death of a tree? No, I want to say, no we don’t. But I hear my reply leaving my mouth as I quietly utter the words; yes, right this way.

The End

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