Some More Thoughts on Barnes & Noble

Since my last post, I have been thinking some more about my experiences at B&N. One thing that I didn’t talk about was the fact that I had to sell Barnes & Noble “Member” cards. (These were sometimes referred to as “customer advantage” cards, or, more accurately, as discount cards.) The deal was this: the customer would pay $25 for the card (which had to be renewed annually). In return, he or she would get 10% off most items (including cds, dvds, and cafe purchases), 20% off adult hardcovers, and 40% off hardcover bestsellers. So, a person would have to spend as much as $250 in a single year before he or she would begin to come out ahead. Now, there are many people who do spend more than $250 a year on books. However, there are many more people who don’t spend that much (or anywhere near it).

Whenever I was working at the cash register, I was obligated to try to sell, or at the very least mention, the card to every single customer. I felt a bit conflicted about this, since I knew it wasn’t a good deal for most people. Usually I would only do a hard sell if a person was buying a lot of books, or if the person asked about the card. However, management always seemed to be fretting that we weren’t doing enough to sell the cards. We were always having meetings, in which they would discuss the importance of selling the “memberships”. They would outline various strategies for getting customers to buy them. It all got to be a bit wearisome after a while.

The explanation they gave for the card is that it promotes “customer loyalty.” That’s putting it politely. I gradually realized that the card actually entails a subtle psychological persuasion. If somebody forks out $25 for a card, he or she will then feel obligated to spend enough money in order for the real savings to kick in. Otherwise, the person will feel like a chump. P.T. Barnum would have been proud of this.

The psychological persuasion cuts two ways. Every worker wants to believe that he or she is doing a good job, regardless of how that person feels about the nature of his or her work. I really did feel compelled to show management that I could sell the card. I felt proud that I always managed to sell more cards than were required by the company’s mandated quota. I even felt envious of the employees who sold more cards than I did. I know I wasn’t the only one who felt this way. There was a woman I worked with who would get visibly upset if she failed to sell any cards during a shift.

Another thing that bothered me: the cafe workers are paid the same wage as the booksellers, even though their work is more demanding. They aren’t even allowed to have tip jars. (The cafe workers at Borders are allowed to have tip jars.)

Full-time workers get health insurance only after they have worked a certain number of hours. This one woman I worked with injured her leg a few weeks before she would qualify for health insurance. (She had been working there for quite a while.) I remember her limping around the store in obvious physical pain.

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One Response to “Some More Thoughts on Barnes & Noble”

  1. Renegade Eye Says:

    Some people can sell ice to Eskimoes.

    Generally speaking B and N, is considered in large society as a good place to work, particularly, if you like books.

    Good post.

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