Bookstores Could Use Better Organization

Published: 01/12/04

Before I get started, let me just answer that question on your mind: I have worked in two bookstores.

As I was wandering around a sizeable bookstore tonight, not finding what I was looking for or anything really related to it, I analyzed my thought process trying to figure out why I couldn’t find it. This bookstore, unlike one previously mentioned on my blog, is organized in a rather typical bookstore fashion: books of similar subjects are grouped together. It’s not organized by publisher or anything quirky like that.

I was trying to find a certain first-person account of World War II. As I wandered through the history section, I noticed that shelves were labeled with specific geographic areas (Africa, Antarctica, etc.) or particular historical periods (Colonial Period, Civil War, etc.). The history section faded into philosophy on one end and computer books on the other. First of all, I wasn’t sure where I would find books on World War II. Is there a shelf for World Wars? Is there a military history section? Is it divided by topic, so books about Americans in World War II would be in the United States history section and books about Japan and WWII would be in the Japan section? Are there no books on European history? Judaica and a separate section for the Holocaust is elsewhere, but there were no WWII books near those sections that didn’t directly relate to those two topics.

Then, I realized that a chart showing all the topics used by the bookstore would be very useful, like the posters showing a breakdown of the Dewey Decimal Classification System. I would know if there was a separate section for military history or if I should keep looking in the history aisle. A list could also inspire me to look in places I hadn’t thought to look, like biography.

My experience also reinforced my thoughts that a kiosk much like a library’s card catalog that customers could use would be incredibly helpful. Many people are familiar with searching a library’s catalog. And with many bookstores, like this one, having an Internet site with a search engine on it, why not have something very similar for customers in the store? Sales people probably have access to some kind of inventory control system to locate materials for customers. Why not make something like that openly available?

I know, I know: you’re wondering why I didn’t ask someone for assistance. 1) I usually don’t ask for assistance in stores. I just don’t. (I don’t stop to ask for directions, either.) 2) My managers had a very strong customer service orientation, which I still have floating in the back of my head. I think that if someone really wants to make a sale, s/he’ll approach me first. Had someone approached me, I probably would have asked about the book. 3) I didn’t see any sales people on the floor. 4) I was in a hurry.

Addendum 1/20: In a test of my theory about whether I’d actually allow someone to assist me if s/he approached me first, as I walked into an office supply store today looking for a product I could only describe and not name and had no idea where I would find it, there was a friendly salesperson just waiting for a customer. Before I made eye contact, he greeted me and asked if he could help me find anything. I said <drumroll> “Yes” </drumroll>. He showed me the shelf of products and helped me select what I needed. Very efficient. I probaby spent fewer than ten minutes in the store and left happy. Don’t get me started about how office supply stores are organized.

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