Black and white

There must have been a fair few of us from the gentler arm of retailing that is bookselling who recoiled in horror at the recent press pictures of the chaos caused in supermarkets by their Black Friday deals.  Up and down the country, shoppers—who didn’t appear to want for much—literally fought each other for bargains under the stressed-looking supervision of store employees.

This unedifying spectacle did make me think about the ethics and benefits of independents wading into this foray of frenzied spending and, after some thought, I found myself concluding that one’s view on it largely depends on how you regard your “conversation” with your customer.  

For the large supermarkets, the conversation between themselves and their customers is mostly a brutally short one:  “We offer the lowest price on this item, come shop with us, even if it means being served by a sullen, uninterested teen at the checkout. You have saved yourself some money. What’s not to like?”

For independents, the conversation we share with ours is more complex and centres on gradually getting to know your customers’ interests and quirks. The dialogue is two-way, and ongoing in a way that satisfies both of us. There is the implicit understanding of the difference between cost and value. They get to see books we know they will appreciate and we get the satisfaction and financial reward of selling our book choices to the right person.

The first objection I could find to holding a booksellers’ Black Friday was that my loyal regulars, who may have been busy last Friday, would miss out on a short, sharp discount offer. I would then be rewarding only those who were interested in a chance bargain. This seemed wrong to me, so I opened up on Friday with no thoughts of offering massive discounts to the opportunists.  

Happily, the first customer through the door seemed to be reading my thoughts and asked: “Is Black Friday happening here then?”

I noted his jocular tone, and so after a short pause, replied: “No Sir, today as always, we are reassuringly slightly more expensive than Amazon, but still darned good value.”

“Quite right too,” he replied, put on his reading glasses, and began browsing.


Dinah Anderson is owner of Bookshrop, Whitchurch