James Daunt has said Waterstones booksellers must work harder to meet customers’ needs between now and when temporary staff are hired for Christmas, as the chain adjusts to selling Kindle devices in the run-up to the busy festive period.
The Waterstones managing director told The Bookseller that it can take up to 20 minutes to help a customer with a Kindle purchase, but that the chain had hoped to “bridge this gap” without increasing staff levels before those hired specifically for Christmas arrive.
Waterstones said the new staff would be employed “soon in shops to relieve the pressure”. Some booksellers The Bookseller spoke to voiced concern at current staff levels and a policy whereby staff ratios are directly linked to sales. “My worry is this is a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy,” one manager said. However, another Waterstones manager said: “Trading is tough at the moment so sometimes people aren’t being replaced where we can help it, but where we need someone, of course we will replace them.”
Daunt said he was aware of the grumbling, but said that this was mostly coming from underperforming shops. “Our sales per employee vary considerably in the business, and there is no good reason for it.” Daunt confirmed that it was his policy to rely less on temporary staff and more on “experienced and knowledgeable booksellers”. He said that overall staff levels had fallen as the estate had reduced in size, though stressed that the level of permanent staff had remained broadly the same.
Daunt said he was optimistic ahead of Christmas, once again praising the “terrific” publishing list, which he said was ideally suited to Waterstones, particularly in non-fiction. “The good shops are doing a lot better, and the refitted shops are doing dramatically better. As more of the estate undergoes refurbishment, the impact on the wider business will grow.”
In a wide-ranging interview with The Bookseller this week, Daunt said the chain was still undergoing a process of thinning out its stock after “years of overbuying”.