In Australia this week one of the big media/news stories has been the campaign by a collective of retailers to have the government intervene in their failing sector. Their case boils down to the fact that we Aussies are buying too much from overseas merchants via the internet and Aussie retailers are all going broke/having to cut staff. They are demanding that the government collect the 10% GST (similar to VAT or sales tax) on low-value items (i.e. under $1000) which Australian retailers have to charge on all items sold here. The retailers believe that if this happens we’ll all buy locally again.
Because this is a book blog I’m not going to rant at those retailers in the collective who sell gadgets, clothes and other consumables (though I could) but I am going to say a few words to REDgroup which owns Borders and Angus & Robertson (two of our biggest book chains) and which is one of the members of the aforementioned collective. These words are equally applicable to all the other Aussie book retailers who are upset with my shopping habits.
You aren’t failing because we can get our goods minus the 10% GST you are forced to charge for the same items when sold locally. You are failing because you have the business sense of house bricks.
You know how I know you have the business sense of house bricks? Because you think forcing me to pay an extra 10% for the books I order online will make me come back to you. The last book I ordered from Book Depository cost me $14.87. Even with an extra 10% it would still have been $20.60 cheaper than it was in the local Borders on the day I ordered it (yes I checked).
You know how else I know you have the business sense of house bricks? Because you have never tried to sell ME a book.
If you were Dymocks or Angus & Robertson for example you would, via my respective loyalty cards, know that 95% of the purchases I make in your respective stores are of crime fiction and 75% of those are Australian crime fiction. And Borders you would surely have gotten a hint that I am a crime fiction buff from the fact I have bought 20 eBooks from you in the past 3 months and every one of them has been crime fiction. But when you send me emails (and between you there are a lot of emails) you never target me. I get the same emails that everyone else gets where you try to flog cricketing biographies, sweeping romantic epics and an alarming number of books written by people who didn’t win reality TV shows (is there a lot of interest in losers all of a sudden?). If occasionally there is a crime fiction title among the selection you have for sale it is a coincidence and there’s every chance I’ll miss it.
Instead of trying to sell me stuff that I have never given you the slightest indication I would be interested in why don’t you offer me things I have shown you I love and am tripping over myself to spend money on?
Why don’t you ping me a quick email every time a new crime fiction title is added to your catalogue/shelves? Not just the James Patterson ones but all of them?
When a new book by an author whose previous 4 books I have bought from you (which you know because the record is right there in your loyalty card database) is about to hit your shelves/catalogue why don’t you let me know and offer to hold one for me?
Why when Adrian Hyland’s Gunshot Road was due for release last year didn’t you know the date it would be in store and offer to hold me my very own copy? I knew the month of publication but when I asked you if you would be getting it in (about 6 weeks before the start of that month) you gave me one of those blank stares that only teenagers who have been made to get up before noon on the weekend can give so I pre-ordered it from the UK. I would happily have bought it from you rather than wait for it to be shipped no matter what the cost (I was kinda desperate to read that one) only you couldn’t even tell me if you were getting it in at all let alone the date.
Why don’t you tell me what the other people who bought the same books as me also bought (on the grounds we might share interests)?
You know those little cards you have in your store saying “staff pick” that I see stuck onto books when I browse the crime fiction section of your store? Why don’t you send me a monthly email telling me all the staff crime fiction picks in case I haven’t wandered into the store lately? Perhaps some of your staff might even like to write a little review of their picks to pique my curiosity further.
The reason we have deserted you in droves isn’t because you charge a fortune for things we can get elsewhere (though you do and we can). It’s because you have the business sense of house bricks. You have always had the business sense of house bricks only we couldn’t do much about it until the internet came along (because there are only so many books and pairs of sandshoes that one’s family can reasonably be asked to cram into a suitcase when visiting from the US). And now that we have options instead of looking for ways to compete (offering superior service, running genre-themed book clubs in store, reminding me that you have a shop open 7 days a week that is 100 metres from my office door so instead of having to wait for pesky packages from snow-bound England I could have that book I want NOW, putting together specially priced packs of books whenever an award shortlist is announced…) you have simply charged your dwindling number of remaining customers a fortune for things they could get elsewhere (if only they knew) and gone whining to the government.
I hope your current campaign fails primarily because I can’t imagine that the government collecting all those pesky amounts of money is going to be efficient for anyone but even if you succeed at the campaign you’ll fail in the long run. You have the business sense of house bricks.