A shop owner in the Yorkshire Dales has been branded “the bookseller from hell” after his local parish council took in more than 20 complaints about his alleged rudeness. Steve Bloom charges customers 50p to browse in his store, and has apparently been rude to those who object.
The fascinating thing about this story is the way it highlights some of the key issues facing most businesses today:
- How do we respond to the onslaught of new business models: in this case, bookseller Mr Bloom is reacting to the “showrooming” trend whereby shoppers browse in store, but buy (cheaper, or more conveniently) online?
- How highly do we value the independent retail sector? In this case, is £0.50 per customer too high a price to pay?
- Is a Customer Experience delivered by an apparently rude retailer automatically a bad experience, or could it be that the “Basil Fawlty Bookseller” has accidentally stumbled upon a USP, a “Purple Cow” that could give his business a competitive edge?
Mr Bloom has admitted he is “not really a people person”, and had been wrong to insult his customers, many of whom have apparently objected to paying the 50p ‘browsing tax’ (refunded if you make a purchase). Whilst I’m reminded of the Chinese proverb “A man who does not smile, should not open a shop”*, I heard a fascinating debate on BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine Show – the local councillor branding Mr Bloom the “shopkeeper from Hell” whilst a ‘social commentator’ pointed out that he was doing what it took to survive in business, displaying the kind of bluntness that is traditionally associated with Yorkshire.
The good news for Mr Bloom is that there is strong evidence to suggest that online browsing via mobile (as well as via desktop) will actually drive more footfall, not less, to physical stores. That is perhaps at least part of the reason Amazon has started opening physical bookstores.
My advice to Mr Bloom, then, would be as follows:
- Don’t curb your natural personality and passion – just channel it so that you aren’t rude to customers (unless you can be sure they will appreciate it!)
- Replace your handwritten sign, advising customers of the 50p charge, with a more considered, short statement, inviting them to contribute to keeping your bookshop independent. Perhaps you could even commit to donating, say, 10% to a local charity?
- Make sure you have a good website, optimised for mobile, that sells the experience of visiting your store and differentiates you, based on your expertise. As far as I can tell, you don’t have one at all at the moment.
I hope this post has made you think: it’s a complex and uncertain world out there, however if you stick to your core values and are creative in developing and promoting your brand, there is hope!
* Footnote: the “Chinese proverb” quoted above, was actually told to me by an eminent bookseller, approximately 15 years ago. In 2001, he chaired a national, respected chain. In 2002, the business went into administration: Amazon had robbed it of 5% of its sales, and thereby its profit margin.
Stephen Spencer is a keynote speaker, business coach and consultant, helping organisations create better Customer Experiences to unlock team and profit potential. He has over 25 years’ experience as a leader, trainer and experience developer with some of the UK’s most prestigious Retail, Tourism and Hospitality brands. Sign up for Stephen’s POSITIVE Customer Experience newsletter here.