Thursday, March 30, 2006

Doing My Homework #7: Special Orders

Yesterday I asked (in Orders Up) why people bother special ordering a book when they can easily get (almost) anything they want from Amazon.com and other online distributors. The answers I received (and y’all can still leave your response) highlighted exactly why the special ordering process is necessary for any store. All of you mentioned that special orders allow you to find books that you might not otherwise buy and gives you a chance to peruse the book before buying it. Since many stores will order without the promise of a sale, this is an excellent opportunity to check out the books that you might hesitate to buy immediately.

On the “Are you pondering what I’m pondering, Pinky?” thread Suisan asked, “If a customer special orders a book, is the store more likely to stock it?”

It depends on the book. In the past special orders have had a two-fold benefit: the customer gets the book that they’ve been looking for and I, the bookseller, get a chance to see titles that I may not have otherwise known about or remembered to order in. Just the other day I had a male customer order Alterknits. It was a book that looked like it would have wide appeal to my customer base, so I ordered in four more when making his special order. This doesn’t always happen at point of order (sometimes I have to get the product in and flip through it first), and it doesn’t happen with every book. If I had to estimate it would probably be about every one in five orders and only that many due to the people who are ordering books that we should have, but just haven’t gotten restocked on. These people act as a reminder for me to manually reorder the book for the store through the computer.

Of course there is a downside to special ordering. I’ve had people abuse the system, ordering a large quantity of some book to show an artificial boost in the books numbers or in the mistaken belief that the store will be stuck with the book if they don’t pick up their order. Both of these instances happened during the last presidential election, where people were going into bookstores and ordering large quantities of certain titles and giving false contact information. It was a waste of shipping costs, delivery, and bookseller hours to receive these books only to turn around and send them back when the order turned out to be a false one, not to mention it was very, very childish. I don’t know how it is for other stores, but if someone doesn’t pick up their order from us, and if we don’t think the product will appeal to our customer base, we send the book back to the distributor. It will only make it from behind the counter and on to the shelf if we think that the person will be at some later date (and just couldn’t make it in during their two-week pick up period), or if we think it will appeal to some other customer. Even then it is very doubtful that we’d keep 25 copies of something.

This touches on the importance of restocking systems in bookstores, something that Book Nerd touches on in her column “To Compute Or Not To Compute,” and a topic I’ll touch on in a later column. Is it important to have a system to restock sold books? Is it important to have a system that automatically reorders sold books for you? Could this system be a detriment in some cases?

7 comments:

lady t said...

My dealings with special orders have been similar-in the store I worked in,our policy was to get a deposit of at least 50% of the cover price before ordering-and one of the biggest hassles was reminding people to pick up their books.

Some of the books we could sell or return if no one came for them after a certain point but books ordered directly from the publishers were usually nonreturnable(with extra charges for S&H that we became stuck with). Also,many people would place orders/pre-orders for hot titles and then forget that they had done so.

I read Written Nerd's post on computerized stock and in my experience,it can be a blessing and a curse. You can still come across quite a few errors in both current stock and reordering due to flaws in what ever system your computer runs on. It's best to try and combine the two but also to upgrade your computers after a certain point. Using old equipment is more costly in the long run.

derstaffo@lughnassadhbooks.com said...

I’ve had people abuse the system, ordering a large quantity of some book to show an artificial boost in the books numbers or in the mistaken belief that the store will be stuck with the book if they don’t pick up their order.

Pesonally I've found in remote selling, that these are scams. The buyer, I believe, actually hopes you'll send the books to them. They then try to skip out on the bill.

Kim said...

"Is it important to have a system to restock sold books? Is it important to have a system that automatically reorders sold books for you? Could this system be a detriment in some cases?"

Having played in the consumer product goods sandbox, on the whole auto reordering is a convenience for the seller. However, it will always have an element of manual tweaking to it. Sales decline after launch but can bump up due to events like...I don't know...a movie release or book tour or inclusion in Oprah's book club.
Part science, part art.

Eileen said...

Man.. I keep discovering how low people will go. They order books as a scam? WTF? Have they no human dignity?

christine fletcher said...

I had no idea people would do this, either. Sheesh.

Does the "80-20" rule apply to book selling? I'm not in retail, so I may have this wrong -- but I remember the rule being that 20% of inventory accounts for 80% of sales, and vice versa. If this (or something similar) does apply, then it would make sense to have some system in place to ensure that the store doesn't run out of the most profitable 20%.

Then again, I really have no idea what I'm talking about. :) Which is why I love this blog -- I'm learning a tremendous amount!

derstaffo@lughnassadhbooks.com said...

No, no dignaty in some people. It does give one a bad feeling. I ended up getting rid of cod's and special orders after getting stuck a few times on each.

I was able to overcome the special ordering problem though. I now use it as an added value feature for customers who do repeat business with me.

Christine -- There is another rule, that an old salesman's been trying to drum into my head, that goes along with the inventory rule. It's the rule of 15 used by cold calling and door to door salesmen.

15% of every 100 people will ask for more information on your product or service, 15% of them will ask to stay in contact, 15% of them will actually make a purchase of your product or service.

I'm doing a year long study to see if this translates to the Internet as well.

Suisan said...

Hey, thanks for the answer, Chick.

I've always wondered how special ordering affects the total inventory of the store, and now I know. :)

I like special ordering because sometimes I DO get into an interesting conversation with the clerks about a specific book,or maybe they'll recommend something like it as I pick it up. And I order from Amazon. Depends on the mood, I guess.