Tom Spurgeon had this to say about my two recent posts about That Local Retailer:
This is for the pair of you that keep e-mailing to ask if I think this material about a retailer that suggests people don’t buy certain comics is an example of backseat driving someone’s business: I suspect it is. I understand why folks might think that kind of thing worth commentary as an example of comics’ twisted values. I’m sure someone has posted “Never tell your customers not to buy something!” somewhere, and I bet someone has brought up some horror stories about being made fun of at the cash register. At the same I also think it’s pretty common in retail on a lot of levels. I’ve even had the owner of a restaurant tell me he didn’t particularly like the white fish he had in the house at the moment and I should stick to the crab cakes. It was an owner of a restaurant where my father and I ate — you guessed it — every Wednesday night. I have no idea how this retailer conducts business from day to day so I can’t testify as to how his telling people not to buy something fits within the overall tone of his establishment. To be honest, I’d rather have the retailer that told the truth about some comic he didn’t like as opposed to all the retailers I’ve had that failed to tell the truth about the availability of books I wanted.
I find it odd that Tom, of all people, fails to see the difference between “good individual customer service” and “poor overall marketing practices.” Someone telling a regular customer “You know, that’s just probably not what you want to buy” is distinctly different from sending out an email to a few hundred people that says “Don’t buy this – we think it sucks.”
Tom’s example of restaurant owner telling two regular customers he wasn’t crazy about something on the menu that night is an example of the former: the owner knew Tom and his dad, knew their tastes, and knew he’d see them next week. This comics retailer was doing the equivalent of emailing his customers and saying “Wow, don’t come in and eat the white fish.” No mention of the crab cakes or anything else on the menu.
And he’s sending that out there to people who may have only visited once and left their email. An email newsletter sent out to your customer base as a whole should serve one purpose: getting people into your store. I’ve never been to this retailer’s shop, but I am on their list after attending a small convention they had set up at. I’d happily ignored these emails until curiosity struck and they they sent out two emails that said “Don’t buy this comic that’s coming out” prior to the first one I posted, with the second featuring no other comics, just a long, poorly-spelled and unedited screed against the current Marvel editorial team and Amazing Spider-Man.
That doesn’t really make me want to shop there, and I buy way, way too many comic books. In a business where no small amount of readable, enjoyable material comes out every week, it’s not hard to find something you can recommend to your readers.
Other people have brought up the fact that their retailers do the same thing, and mentioned some shops that have a considerable presence in the blogosphere. (Which, let’s face it, is the equivalent of having a considerable presence at the Poughkeepsie Flea Market.)
I wouldn’t shop at their stores, either. Call me weird – I don’t want or appreciate preemptive negativity in my retail interactions. Yes, that probably comes across as jargon, but this is what I do for money: I think about how businesses present themselves on the web (and in print, of late.) If a customer is reading and enjoying Amazing Spider-Man, there’s a chance than an email like the second one discussed would sour their opinion of the shop in question.
Now, I’m not saying I don’t want their opinion on something, but I am saying I don’t want them telling me that they don’t like something without knowing my tastes and buying habits. There are some retailers who I solicit advice from pretty often, particularly when it comes to niches they obviously enjoy and know a lot about.
A lot of people have said “Well, that means he cares about me.” No, he cares about his little clubhouse of nerds and making sure you know what they think about how things should be run at Marvel or DC. The small group of nerds who feel some sort of validation by their retailer “telling it like it is” is vastly outweighed by regular people who just want to buy some funnybooks and maybe pick up something new they’d like.
Yes, the irony is apparent to me too, even if I think the term “backseat driving” is a bit much.