The other day, I was surprised as I was going through the drive through at a local fast food restaurant. The person taking my order was happy and cheerful, and the service was prompt and accurate. It's a sad sign for the food service industry when I take note of cheerful service as something exceptional. After considering some of the terrible service I've gotten recently at some other local establishments, this lead me to consider other aspects of our consumer-oriented economy. When book shopping, there is often a large price difference between buying a book in a local chain store, such as Chapters, and online stores, such as Amazon or even chapters.ca.
Often, the selection of books I'm interested in purchasing is also extremely lacking in store. While the store employees assure me they can order the books in, or that I can even use the in-store computer kiosk to order them myself, the fact remains that the price is still significantly higher than what I can get online.
What the in-store experience does provide is personal recommendations from staff. This requires however, that the staff is knowledgeable about the genres of books (fiction or non-fiction) that you're interested in, and will give you suggestions within that genre, not just what they've read and liked. Sadly, I've not found this to be the case at my particular stores. While staff is perfectly capable of recommending the latest novel by a well-known author, they're less likely to be aware of the particular niche that I'm interested in, or in recommending newer, less known authors.
Another area in which the in-store experience excels is impulse buying. I can see something new, hold it in my hands, and walk out with it immediately. This is often a very good way of learning about new authors. Browsing the spines, evaluating cover artwork, reading cover blurbs, and skimming through several pages can be a great way to find someone new to read.
Something which I've started to do is to look up a book review using my smartphone. Has it been favourably reviewed? Has the author written anything else? However, these are searches that are much easier to accomplish from the comfort of my own home.
I realize that there are considerable costs which much be covered in the operation of a brick and mortar bookstore, which makes cost competitiveness with the online stores difficult, if not impossible. The area in which these stores can truly excel, compared to the online stores is in customer service, something that isn't easily achieved, except in smaller, independent bookstores. Stores like Bakka-Pheonix Books in Toronto, or Words Worth Books in Kitchener give great, personable customer service. Compared to big chain stores, they're better equipped to greet customers on their way into the store, and tend to be more involved with the success of the store as a whole. They want you to come back as a person, not just as a number with a wallet.