More Bookstore Employees Should Try Handselling Books to Their Customers


As an ebook enthusiast, I still do occasionally buy print. No comments from the peanut gallery. One of the main reasons why I love visiting Murder by the Book is because their most fabulous staff is always ready and willing to answer my questions and provide me with recommendations when needed. Especially when I’m just browsing and have no clue what I want to read.

That service isn’t duplicated if I were to go to a brick and mortar bookstore like B&N. It’s a chain where impersonal relationships with the customer is expected. Anyway, I wouldn’t expect that level of service as mentioned previously from a chain but really, since they have less foot traffic in their stores maybe they need to focus more on handselling books to their customers.

I asked two people about the idea of “handselling” books in chain bookstores and one of them wasn’t all that keen on the idea and didn’t want to be bothered while browsing in bookstores. Me on the other hand, I think I am more receptive to recommendations after I’ve been browsing for about 20 or 30 minutes.

It is that “handselling” that got me to read Nora Roberts J.D. Robb books. The bookseller just grabbed Naked In Death off the shelf (with the the original cover) and told me that she’d never enjoyed futuristics before and that “this book was really good.” I bought it and eventually became a fan of the series.

Am I the only one who is receptive to this kind of handselling? With bookstores profits down, why don’t they try a more traditional approach to selling books like, yes, handselling books to their customers!

I don’t know about you but sometimes when I’m in a bookstore, I have no idea of what I want and am receptive to trying new authors. Sure, we’re in a recession and people are not so quick to part with their discretionary funds but I don’t see where handselling opportunities can hurt.

Anyway, this is not a new idea re “handselling.” And again, I do realize that some people don’t want to be bothered by sales people or have them hovering around them while they are browsing. I do think chain bookstores can be a bit more personable and conscientious of their customers who are just browsing and looking for something good to read and can’t find it (and that would be me).

Photo Credit by Stephen Cummings


About Keishon

Voracious reader of just about everything.
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10 Responses to More Bookstore Employees Should Try Handselling Books to Their Customers

  1. SarahT says:

    I am very receptive to handselling, depending on how it is done and who is doing it. There’s a little bookstore in Dublin called ‘Murder Ink’, which I visited frequently when I lived there. The guy who ran the store was brilliant at recommending mysteries to me based on what I’d previously bought and enjoyed. I was happy to buy new-to-me authors on the basis of his recommendations, and I was rarely disappointed. This level of personal attention to a customer’s preferences is probably not possible at a chain.

    In larger bookstores, I always check out special displays of staff picks as they often include books which I hadn’t heard of. If I know a particular person tends to like the same books as me, I’m inclined to take a chance on a book on that basis.

    I find the recommendations on Amazon very poor. They usually recommend stuff I’ve already read, or books I have no interest in reading.

  2. Jane says:

    I think that is kind of interesting – the concept of wanting to be left alone to browse. I can see that but I can also appreciate the assistance of someone knowledgeable about the genre directing me to new reads and new authors.

  3. Wendy says:

    Here’s what I think the main issue is on my why hand-selling has dropped:

    Corporate bookstores aren’t hiring “book people.” They don’t know what is coming out when (“No, really – the laydown date is today. Could you please get off your lazy ass and check in the back?”), and they either don’t read or read very little. Certainly not all corporate bookstores are this terrible, and I have run up against employees that will hand sell – but in my experience they are few and far between.

    That leaves us with independents. Now these folks generally love books and will hand-sell like crazy. That said? They tend to sneer at romance, hence I would rather be boiled in hot oil than give them any of my money (thankyouverymuch). I’m sure there must be romance friendly independents out there – but outside of some used bookstores that also sell some new on the side – it’s been my dumb luck that I haven’t found them.

    Oh, and generally speaking I’m one of those that wants to be left alone. But I’m a librarian, read a shit-load of book reviews for my job, and usually have my shopping list in hand. I don’t really throw off “hand-sell to me” vibes.

  4. I love talking about books so I love it when someone gives me suggestions. When a bookseller is knowledgeable about a genre it’s a bonus. Booksellers who have opinions and suggestions is what makes bookstores great.

  5. Jessica says:

    What Wendy said. And here’s more:

    I think there are two very different things at issue here. Handselling is about the seller — it’s a technique for moving more books. It has nothing to do with me, the customer. Info about my desires in this context is used to meet their needs.

    As a customer, however, when I need help, I would like it to be available. I want to be able to locate an employee with reasonable ease, and I would like that employee to know what s/he is talking about. If I say, “I really like Charlaine Harris, can you recommend a similar author?” I want a good answer. Good luck with that at my local Borders.

    If I don’t ask for recs, but get them anyway? That’s about their desire to sell me a book, any book, perhaps by guessing what I might like, but only with a view to selling me something. No thanks!

    And may I just add, you are on blogging fire lately! I may as well just hang out here all day.

  6. Li says:

    Interesting topic and comments!

    I’m sort of in the “leave me alone to browse”, but like SarahT, I always check out staff picks. I wouldn’t mind a suggestion when I’m at the counter (or a “here’s what has just come in”-type thing when I walk in, if they know me), but it has to be pitched correctly and not leave me feeling awkward or forced to buy something.

    Amazon recs – I used to buy a lot based on their recs, and found some gems, but nowadays I just go by review blogs.

  7. Avid Reader says:

    Thanks everybody!

    Wendy, there’s a Katy Budget Books in Katy, Texas that would make you rethink your stance about independents. They are excellent and are mainly about romance books (maybe that’s why).

    Jessica – you are right – it’s about having knowledgeable people handselling books and not just book clerks shoving books at you. I want people who when I say I like Ken Bruen, they respond with, well you should try ____ or this writer, etc. That’s all I was really getting at really with this post. Maybe corporate people need to assign people to a particular area like romance or mystery – someone who knows the genre but like Wendy stated, they don’t seem to hire “book people.”

    ETA: forgot to hit spell check.

  8. Nicole says:

    I handsell at work, though I work at a chain UBS. It’s most often along these lines: “Do you need any help? If you have any questions, or just need help remembering an author, just ask.” Usually, that then leads into them asking questions if they so desire and I do have customers who come in to look for me to get more recs.

    I also need to write a “If you like…” list for certain things, like urban fantasy since so many of my coworkers don’t know, yet get asked all the time.

  9. CindyS says:

    Parroting what others have said, When I ask a bookclerk to see if _______ book is in and I get a look of confusion I am not impressed. Chapters (big box up here) has computers for consumers to look up everything they need.

    But I know what you mean. I get that treatment more in UBS than in the big stores. Although I must say, when the Canadian Bloggers got together there were 5 of us in the stacks and books were flying back and forth. It was a blast and I bought many authors I haven’t tried.

    I have also kicked up conversations with others in the same area of the bookstore ‘have you read this author?’ and had some great responses.


  10. michelle says:

    I’m with Li on all three…would rather be left alone…I could spend hours in a bookstore and sometimes handselling comes across to me as pick a book and get out would ya. I’m lucky though I have a brick and mortar borders bookstore nearby but they do employ avid readers who always know were to find something when I ask and somehow the store still manages to have that small town bookstore feel even though its in a mall. I always check out the if you liked this shelf and they always have staff picks complete with a local gentleman who knows all the best hiking spots and outdoor reference books. Mostly though I’ve been reading peoples blogs for book reviews…can’t tell you how many gems I’ve discovered that way and probably would have never picked some of the books up if it wasn’t for someone’s great review.

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