Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Doing My Homework #2: Gift Book Craziness

I’m getting ready to go to the gym, but before I commit to this ultimate insanity (and oh, how it is so very insane), I thought I would try to squeeze in answering another question. This one is brought to us by JMC (and seconded by anonymous), who asks:

Please e-splain the concept of buying books as gifts. Unless the intended recipient has expressed a desire for a specific book, that seems kind of dangerous (in the sense of risking giving an unappreciated gift) to me. For instance, I love my sister and b-i-l, both bibliophiles, but I would never buy them a particular book unless given an author and title. They have such catholic tastes, that a gift card is much the better gift. That way they can buy exactly what they want, or spend it at random. What they choose at random is going to be more to their tastes than what I select at random.

Ah yes, the ol’ buying books as gifts ploy because books are the “safe” gift. Pfft. Safe for some maybe, or at least the giver, but they don’t have to contend with the eight million returns after Christmas that I get from people who received a book they would never consider reading in their lifetime. The art of choosing the right book for the right person is damn hard, and requires you to have long, long discussions with said person about their reading habits. Sure you can get them a cookbook or fact book—both safe, buy it for your grandma/pa gifts—or you can really put some thought into.

For most people this year, putting some thought into it meant buying Marley & Me. Sure dog stories are all well and fuzzy, but let’s pause for a second and consider how all—yes, all—dog stories end. I’m not sure that I would give that book to someone looking for a “happy” ending is all I’m sayin’.

Gift cards are a perfectly safe and respectable alternative to buying someone something they don’t like. Depending on what bookstore you buy the card from, a person can get anything from coffee to a DVD with it—look, Ma, no books!—which makes it great for even those people who don’t read (heathens).

The only people that gift cards hurt are the bookstore themselves. Not because they must return the money on the gift card (they can’t and won’t so don’t try), but because the money doesn’t “count” until the gift card is used. Let me give you an example. Let’s say I sell a gift card to some woman for fifty dollars.

Fifty dollars for my store, right?

No. That money goes into limbo and is marked as an EGC (electronic gift card) sale.

Now say this woman sends the card to her son in Phoenix and he uses it there at some store. That store is going to get the money. That store is going to show the sale. The only thing that my store did was take the cash. Last Christmas I did several thousand dollars worth of EGC sales a day, far more than most small stores my size, but I’m not seeing them return because most people sent them out of state or go to a bigger store. Our size and locations mark us as a convenience location instead of a destination, and as such we don’t see the returning EGC like other stores do.

Which sucks, let me tell you.

So while I love, adore, and become overwhelmingly ecstatic when I receive gift cards, and I’m always quick to point them out to a customer as an option (I would rather have them buy an EGC and guarantee the company money then have them walk out of the store empty-handed), I would really like it if they would buy a book so I could get the money for my store. Maybe because I’m around books all day, the idea of buying a book for one of my friends isn’t all that shocking. I know what they read. I know what they don’t have. These are the things I take a look at if I’m thinking someone obviously needs to add to their library. Unfortunately I don’t think most people do this.

Basically, if you don’t have an exact list of what the person wants book-wise, or at least a strong working knowledge of their likes and dislikes, I’d go the gift card route. They can always be prettied up with a cute bookmark or some additional reading gift (book light, wine glasses to help relax, candles, bubble bath, Moleskine notebooks for the writer, and so on) if you want to put in a little extra thought.

5 comments:

jmc said...

Thanks for the explanation of how gift cards work, in terms of accounting. I didn't realize that the sale didn't get booked to the store selling the card, I just assumed that which ever store got the cash got the credit for the sale.

Other than the sis and bil, the only person that I would buy a book gift card for is my mom...but she doesn't really want the card, she wants me to pick out books for her. [Yes, I'm a bookpimp and I got my mother hooked.] But I'll keep the economics of the gift card in mind next time I'm tempted to take the easy route when shopping for a gift.

Bookseller Chick said...

I didn't understand the economics of it for a long time. I mean, if I just sold a hundred dollar gift card then obviously I just made the store 100 dollars, right? It took a couple of training seminars to pound into my head that no, I was not right.

Stupid seminars.

When in doubt, I say go with the gift card. If you want to spend the time and really think about the person you are buying for then ask for a bookseller's help and I'm sure that you'll find something that will work, etc. But if you're under the time crunch then EGCs are the way to go.

And I'm a bookpimp for my mom too. It's to the point now that (since I know her entire collection) she calls me from whatever bookstore she's out to make sure that she hasn't already bought something.

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