Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Borders Bookstores Continuing the Beatings Until Sales Improve

Let me start off by coming clean. I am NOT one of those people who spends their day shouting from the rooftops about the evils of big business and large chains. I actually like having large, well-kept strip mall nearby full of, what I believe some people call, “shoe box stores.” I eat at mid-level food establishments like Chili’s, Applebee’s, and the like. I get a Venti, Coffiee Frappuccino ™ with vanilla syrup at Starbucks a few times a week. For my book shopping needs I go to Borders and Barnes & Noble.

I take the criticism and cries of “economic imperialism” with a large grain of salt. I understand that people are in business to make money.

However… that being said…

I am reading all sorts of crap about Borders. The company, in an effort to rescue itself from declining profits, is apparently attempting to piss everybody off and have them shop elsewhere. Employees have started venting about cuts and elimination of perks. You can read their comments in reply to various posts over on Used Book Blog. The comments were from a post questioning if rival, Barnes & Noble, was planning on buying them out and are summed up in the next post title “Borders Books Employees Are Angry.”

After looking into all this I found the story about the Border’s “Make Book” program where they have decided to mimic the tradition of independent bookshops that “Hand Sell” books by local or favored authors. A few titles get prominent placement and recommendations from the store employees. Granted these aren’t local authors but rather titles picked by Border’s national sales office, but that is okay. Deserving titles that are under appreciated get a little boost. Except that we are hearing reports from Border’s employees of the pressure they are being put under to sell these books. Tales of being forced to hound customers, even if they clearly aren’t interested and if the quotas aren’t met employees can lose their job. The May 5th, 2009 story about this on Yahoo news seems to have expired even though it isn’t even 3 months old.

There are stories about Borders getting rid of managers and supervisors, quick return of unsold product to vendors to get back credit at the expense of empty bookshelves, repairs not being completed, elimination of the employee of the month program, and firing of long time employees.

In response to all this negative news and information that is OBVIOUSLY being leaked out by employees, Borders has leapt into action by pressuring employees to sign non-blogging contracts. Seems like quite the admission of guilt. Wouldn’t it be a better idea to motivate your employees into being proud of where they work and have them saying nice things about you on the internets? This really seems like a, “The beatings will continue until moral improves” measure.

As a game designer, I know that rewarding players for positive behavior works much better than punishing them for doing things I don't want them to do. Granted, that doesn't work in the extreme; if a player is hacking and cheating in my MMO, I am going to ban him from the game. If your employee is embezzling funds, fire him. However, I think that rewarding the employee or store that sells the most copies of the title you are pushing that month would work better than dire threats and the like. Follow me on this:
Nobody wants to work someplace where they are constantly being threatened with being fired.

Nobody who doesn't like where they are working is going to do that great a job.

Nobody enjoys shopping someplace where the staff isn't doing a good job.

Thinking about it, whenever I talk to somebody I know that works at Starbucks, they have nothing but nice things to say about working there. When my nephew was 2 and my brother would take him to Starbucks they doted on him. They even put up pictures of him next to the register. There is a newspaper article clipped to the bulletin board of the Starbucks about how the employee’s there made a Starbucks apron for the little dog of one of their customers. Cheesy I know, but it is the employee’s generating positive press for your company.

Dear Borders, give it a shot. In the meantime I'll be over at Barnes & Noble.

No comments: