Thursday, July 15, 2010

Borders do not know their books

Former journalist Irene Hoe loves books. What better place to get them but Borders. Unfortunately for Borders, not any more.

A disillusioned Irene wrote a "stinker" to the book-seller today (July 15) to tell the management what she thinks of its service. In an email to its Customer Service people headlined "Tell me, Borders, do you really want our business?", she said:

"I used to love Borders, especially at the start when you had enthusiastic people who knew their books. Sadly, I've come to the conclusion that Borders no longer loves its customers and that its staff are just primed to get you to the cash register, collect your money and go on to "NEXT!"

"Some months ago, I went to Borders fully intending to buy several books, including seven copies of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, which were intended as gifts. So I asked a passing employee "Where can I find Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen?"

" "What kind of book is it?" she wanted to know. And, "Do you know the author's name?"

"OK, so Jane Austen has been dead for a long while. But the response of your employee quite stunned me.

"So I left.

"I now know that short of queuing up at the counter to have someone check out a title or name on the store computer, there is no great chance that your people will know anything useful about books, particularly the great classics.

"But no, you protest, this is unfair. You will say, I know, that I cannot judge the whole store by one employee. Sadly, this is not so. This incident was merely the culmination of a series of disappointments, some of them comic, over the last six years.

"How different it was in 1999, when I visited your store to buy new editions of books to have them autographed by the sci-fi author Arthur C Clarke in Sri Lanka.

"In the store, I mentioned his name to a passing employee and asked where I could find his books. She led to the right shelves. I specifically said that I was interested in the newest editions and collections of his stories. She not only picked out books for me but also looked inside the covers for the edition dates. And then she carried to the cash counter the dozen or so books I had chosen.

"I also wanted to buy some music by Brahms, whom the writer had once described as a favourite composer. She wasn't so familiar with music but she led me to the classical music section and showed me where I could find the CDs.
"That, alas, is history.

"Last month, when I was paying for my purchases, I took slightly longer than usual to look for my credit card. So your cashier simply waved over another customer in the queue and served her. So while that customer was paying and having her purchases bagged, I then had to wait. I pointedly asked your cashier why she had done that.

" "I thought you would take a long time," she said, addressing the counter and steadfastly refusing to make eye contact.

" "So when I was ready with my card, why didn't you serve me?" I asked. "I was almost finished with her," was her response. The "sorry" she served up as an afterthought was simply that.

"So, dear Borders, if you are losing once-faithful customers, I have just saved you the bother of carrying out a survey to find out why.

"Irene Hoe "

When Irene sent me this email, I told her I was not surprised. Reason? Very few schools -- and parents -- encourage their children to read, especially classics like
Pride and Prejudice.

But that is still no excuse for a big-name book-seller like Borders!

LINDY ONG wrote: "Borders has never been a good bookstore for me. The staff usually have no idea of their books. The only good service I have received have been from the exceptions among their staff (people who actually understand service and books - I even commended one to their management - sadly, they never stay long).

"But sometimes their own store/computer system make it difficult for new staff to find books. Once, they could not find a book by a writer whose surname was "Kelley" because the name had been keyed in as "Kelle". Computer column had no space? Bad input?

"Once, I was looking for an Eyewitness Guide for Chile. A girl at the information counter said, after looking through her computer system that there were no Eyewitness travel guide books by Dorling Kindersly at all. Exasperated, I persuaded her to come with me to the shelves to see the mentioned range of books and by luck, I even found Chile. Her response? "Oh, not in the computer." Very sad."
ANNE HOLLOWAY wrote: "My dear Irene, surely as a true blue Singaporean you have observed the decline of service in Singapore and discern the contrast in the level of product knowledge with, say, America.

"Here, a job is a job --- ideally a stepping stone to one that pays a bit more. Knowing about books and reading them is not the motivation to work at Borders. Having said that, Borders' management do not seem to have provided any training and guidance.

"What I have found now I am back is that it takes an inordinate amount of time for the cashiers (when there are enough of them) to complete a sale and take your payment -- and it is not as if they are exchanging life histories with the customer in front of you!

"Tangs and Best Denki could probably sell a lot more if they opened up more cash points and had them manned. But these stores are not alone. NTUC could do a lot better by upgrading their checkouts especially at busy times.

"If only one did not have to get some produce weighed before checking out! Their better cashiers undertake to do this with good grace if you have forgotten and this takes a bit more time - which need not have been wasted (if only our supermarkets had more modern systems).

"Anyway I believe that checkouts and cash desks in countries like the USA have evolved so that staff (mainly part-timers) are able to work them with minimal training and supervision.

"They've tried self-checkouts but most people still prefer going through a cashier. There's another reason -- a cashier once remarked that shoplifting was given a new meaning by some less-than-honest customers!"
LEN McCULLEY wrote: "Borders have descended to the dumps. There is an air of resignation about their staff and they seem de-motivated. Perhaps there is trouble in their business. I found their large and enjoyable store in London’s Oxford Street has shut down on my last visit in June.

"On the other hand, Foyles (remember musty old Foyles?) has rejuvenated themselves and are a huge pleasure to visit in London.

"I visit Harris instead of Borders in Singapore but they are not top drawer yet."
ANONYMOUS wrote: "I don't see anything wrong. You cannot expect every employee to know every book in Borders. There are just too many books. It is good that he asked and not bring the customer on a merry-go-round. Is it wrong to ask for clarification?

"While I do not agree with the cashier's decision to serve another customer when you are searching for your credit card, I will be very irritated if the person in front of me is taking too long to search for his/her credit cards. BE CONSIDERATE! Don't hog the queue!
SUI NOI wrote: "They don't only don't know their books, they are also insufferably high and mighty when you try and make enquiries. I support Irene!"

WTAN wrote: "I had a Borders gift card which unfortunately expired by a few days. I wanted to see if the staff was able to help. The counter girl asked me to wait and approached another male staff. The male staff requested to try and see if the system was able to read my gift card. Wada! It still recorded it as "useable". Furthermore, he advised that perhaps I would like to make payment at the counter which he used to check my gift-card. I thought that was real thoughtful of him! Bouquet definitely!

By the way, analysing the case, that means the expiry date on Borders' gift card is ... erhem... not accurate/updated? =) "


  1. In June 2008, Borders USA sold its stores in Australia, New Zealand and Singapore to the Australian company REDgroup Retail (formerly known as A&R Whitcoulls Group Holdings). A different management has been running it since.

  2. Thanks, contrarian, for the info.