Sunday, January 09, 2011

Would You Buy an eBook Reader Off This Man?


When we saw the promotional billboard outside Waterstones store in Bath we thought we should see what the consumer experience would be.

We looked through ground floor but couldn’t see any ebook readers, so we looked at the store directory that had no reference to ebooks or ereaders. We went upstairs, we went outside to look if it said where they were, we went to the basement and again nothing. So we went to the ground floor and asked a staff member and was told, ‘They are over the other side to the left of the checkouts.’

The member of staff obviously was too busy to come with us on the short journey across the store but we proceeded by ourselves and found the stand. The area was some six foot wide with a top section with some POS display, a shelf with some five ereaders and a lower section full of accessories and boxed readers.

There were a number of customers hovering around, some curious and others waiting to be served on the checkouts, but there were no staff and the readers looked somewhat lost but were firmly secured to the shelf. Some people left and others came, but no staff appeared to want to proactively sell ereaders. We played with a couple of the devices but even these appeared not to want to perform. We were only feet away from the checkouts whose operators now having no customers to serve didn’t want to leave their counter to help. So we went to the staff member some feet away who was busy filling shelves and asked if someone could help and to his credit he said he could.

We won’t go through the questions asked and the answers given but there was no attempt to demonstrate the devices and the salesperson made some basic mistakes on simple questions and clearly knew something but not a lot. He did know that Amazon Kindle was different and the Sony reader was exclusive to Waterstones, but that was about it. The experience was not compelling and given our own knowledge was both misleading and a turn off.

To make sure our judgement was fair my wife tried again a bit later and this time she knew where the find them!.

A different salesperson offered help and said that the in-store experience was going to change with new online access. He pointed out that the store had an expert. but the expert appeared to be being more productively employed working on the tills. One of the devices batteries were flat, not a good representation of battery life. One device was out of stock so they had been told to even switch it off even though the billboard outside stated two we out of stock. The POS was not consistent and not all devices were even priced! On ebook pricing he said that there no VAT on books, but there is on ebooks and that because there is no transport or printing. ebooks would be cheaper and came up with a weird price point of £6.50!

Frankly, Waterstones staff may be passionate about books but don’t appear to be very passionate about ebooks and also out of their depth in being able to pro actively sell even five, sorry four, ereaders.

13 comments:

Paul Gannon said...

The service sounds as bad as the writing of this piece.

Anonymous said...

Um...how can I put this? They're not OTT about E-readers because IF PEOPLE BUY THEM THEY SELL FEWER BOOKS AND LOSE THEIR JOBS.


Rocket science, it isn't, etc

Anonymous said...

Um...how can I put this? They're not OTT about E-readers because IF PEOPLE BUY THEM THEY SELL FEWER BOOKS AND LOSE THEIR JOBS.


Rocket science, it isn't, etc

Anonymous said...

Hardly surprising. If ebooks ever became the dominant format (and I seriously doubt they ever will), high street bookshops like Waterstones will do the way of the dinosaur.

Anonymous said...

Exactly. I appreciate the need for digitalisation but am hoping ebooks never replace real books. They make me cringe.

Anonymous said...

Sony eReaders aren't exclusive to Waterstone's - I got mine from WHSmith - I didn't ask/get offered any help from the staff, but at least I could find them!

Linda Acaster said...

This is *absolutely* why I unwrapped a Kindle at Christmas.

When I went into Waterstones (Hull) last year, the first time a device was bolted *thru its casing* to a wooden block (the way you see phones in a supermarket display). No literature, no assistance. The second time there was a big display, all behind a lockable glass fitment, (think jeweller's), no info, no assistance.

In the meantime I had downloaded both the Kindle and Sony ereader applications for PC, and it was becoming very apparent that the Kindle was far superior to the Sony. Was the device itself? Who knows? Not me.

Then Amazon announced the Kindle would be shipping direct via the UK. No contest. And as an e-reader it is fantastic. Bye Sony, Bye Waterstones.

Anonymous said...

Would you buy a book off this man?
Generally Waterstones staff training lacking in terms of system use, ordering, publications, genres, authors and specific book content. Devoted booksellers have left and students and temp staff on minimum wage now stack shelves on an enthusiastic short-term basis. There is no career path as such any more.

As for Waterstones approach to eReaders. Selling readers which do nothing to encourage sales specific to Waterstones is a mugs game. Akin to them switching their online supply to Amazon in the late 90s. They should deal with B&N for the Nook with bundled software that drives traffic to their online ebook store.

Frankly, the future looks very unbright for the Big W.

Martyn Daniels said...

Paul the purpose of this exercise was not to write a literary masterpiece but to give some raw consumer feedback and give booksellers a wake up call and show them that they have to rethink how they sell promote and do digital.

We could have highlighted the misleading information the staff gave, the basics they they didn't even know but decided it was not fair on the staff who were doing their best.

The piece would not have been written had Waterstones not been silly enough to place a store promo board outside the store asking consumers to step inside to experience the offer and then fail to cover even the simplest of retail basics.

Having worked for a number of years at one of the largest retailers the one thing you do if you have a promotion is make sure you match it instore and focus on it - not ignore it as if it is a head office directive one no body actually believes in.

This is a serious issue for bookstores and how they react to it will determine if they remain book sellers or become physical only booksellers

Martyn Daniels said...

the question of the 'exclusive' was frankly very surprising. I did not ask but was given this openly and right up front. I knew it was wrong but did not question it as i believe the staff member honestly believed it.

There were many misleading and inaccurate statements on file formats , transferring files and basic ebook stuff. My guy knew about PDFs but when asked about other formats did not know about ePub!

There are no doubt very good instore staff and stores that have got it right and that is why we did it twice and why it was two different staff members and why Waterstones have more that just a training issue.

Anonymous said...

I work in a book store myself, in Kent, and can recount at least a hundred tails of "Ive worked in retail for many years" or "I work in costumer services" its always used to justify someone about to be smug, superior or arrogant.

Waterstone as you may or may not be aware are owned by HMV, which are in alot of trouble atm. They have cut back on full time, older and experienced staff as you would expect. I myself have had to do this in the last 6months. So you are left with cheap staff (normally students) and the inability to have all your staff in for training due to lack of staffing hours.

You say you looked all round the store, upstairs and down, and fail to find them, then when you finally ask a member of staff there within a couple of feet of the till point "only feet away from the checkouts" how did you fail to notice this?

As for "the expert appeared to be being more productively employed working on the tills". First and formost they are a sales assistant, secondly an expert, that you would know from years in retail. Whilst many staff in many stores are trained in a speciality (mines teen fiction) that does not mean that they will not be needed for lunch cover, sickness etc elsewhere in store, particularly at the tills.

If you felt so strongly as to write this up here I assume you went to the same lenghts to take down the staff names or even ask to speak to the manager covering that day to raise your concerns, though I think proberly not. If you did then the issue is being worked on no doubt at there end and there was really no need to grip about one store are imply that its the company at fault. The responsibility remains with the store manager.

I also fail to see the point of your second 'secret shopper' style second visit. "To make sure our judgement was fair", I would suggest you'd already made your judgement on store and staff and as you state "The experience was not compelling and given our own knowledge, was both misleading and a turn off."

Though I think its good of you to say "We could have highlighted the misleading information the staff gave, the basics they they didn't even know but decided it was not fair on the staff who were doing their best.". Ow wait a minute, you did actually make a point of those several times.

In conclussion I hope you enjoy no longer supporting book stores and hastening the death of books by having your ebook and by being one of those people that we dread having in our stores because of the sheer attitude the exude. We can not and will not spoon feed you the retail experience, it is up to you, the consumer, to reseacher your purchase. Sales assistants are just there to sell and, IF its within the ability, to help. I will continue to read my paper backs which will not loose battery life at the worst moment or develop a fault that even God could not explain, and for the sake of whichever store you bought yours from I hope your works wonderfully for the rest of your days.

Martyn Daniels said...

as previously stated, the visit was prompted by the promotion and all effort was made to not ask detailed questions but to ask simple ones that most people buying a ereader would ask.

No we didn't take names or report to the manager as the point was to experience what a consumer would experience.

The question of finding the devices is simple - go to Bath and enter the doors on the right by the stairs and the opposite side to the checkouts which are obsured by tables of books and other displays. Show me the POS sings or even where there is mention of ereaders on the store directory, which is next to the stairs.

The issue is not about the Bath store, that day, or the staff, but about how the store engages with potential buyers of ereaders and converts them. They may be experts, students, managers its about basic retail skills and training.

The simple fact is that I support retail engaging in readers and have a track record on my views about retailers which goes back some 4 years to the BNW report but believe Waterstones have got wrong today.

vicky said...

Ebooks are books that are available electronically on a web-site on the internet.
They are electronic versions of any printed book that can be viewed on any PC (Personal Computer)
or mobile device, connected to the internet.
Any type of topics can be covered on them, be it entertainment or knowledge.

Ebook