Independent booksellers have taken a lot of body blows in the last two decades—from the coming of superstores such as Indigo, through the real behemoth on the block, Amazon, to ebooks—to the extent that some indie stores in the U.S. have donation jars beside their cash registers. But nothing has gutted the indies, emotionally as well as financially, as the practice known as “showrooming.” Prospective buyers come into bookshops, wander the stacks, peruse the artful displays and even—unkindest cut of all—seek the advice of staff. Then they leave, those who bother to do so first, and order the books they want online, where prices can be up to 50 per cent cheaper. “That is so hard for us to take,” says Eleanor LeFave, owner of Mabel’s Fables children’s bookstore in Toronto, “especially the abuse of our staff’s time and expertise.”
This has been happening to all sorts of small retailers for years, and it’s getting worse. Unfortunately, as long as there are massive online stores out there, it’s going to be difficult to stop it. No small shop can compete with say, Amazon on price, or even convenience now that free 2-day shipping is common practice.
However, they can compete on something else: the guy at your local shop knows his stuff, and more importantly, he knows you. He knows what you like, what you don’t, and he can recommend things based on your personal preferences much more accurately than Amazon ever will. That’s why it hurts these small shops so bad when you go around, ask questions, make up your mind… and then buy the stuff online. It’s just mean.
The example that hits closest to home are local bicycle shops. It’s great that you get to know the staff, talk to them about bicycles and share some good times. They’re usually extremely nice and friendly people, always ready to help out with anything you need. I would never buy a new bicycle online, because it’s not just a good deal I’m after. It’s not just an economic transaction, but the birth of a potentially great relationship. Which is awesome.
Via The Loop.