I went to Barnes & Noble to order Rosaliene Bacchus’ novel, Under the Tamarind Tree, (rosalienebacchus.blog) but it was a humiliating and infuriating experience. I made a special trip to B&N to order that book. On walking in, I congratulated myself on my “pull through economics” philosophy. As opposed to “trickle down economics,” “pull through” means using brick-and-mortar stores to assist awareness and distribution of desirable products.
I had $23 in cash plus change and wanted coffee so figured I could just barely afford the book at $16.95. I was shocked to see a $4.99 shipping charge on the bill. The clerk who processed the order said Barnes & Noble has recently instituted a shipping charge even on books that come to the store. I began to wonder what is the advantage of a brick-and-mortar store if I have to pay shipping anyway? So I went to the café to pay for the book and to get coffee. But sales tax—which hadn’t been listed on the receipt—put me over the top. There was a long line before and behind me. I was ready to defer the book purchase until I had more money, but up speaks a curly-headed young guy from two people back in the line to ask how much I was short. “Three dollars,” says the cashier. He hands her the money, thereby rescuing B&N’s sale. I knew he thought he was doing me a favor, and I appreciated it, but I felt trapped in a situation I would have handled quite differently on my own. I gave the guy my $1.25 in quarters, and he got the $0.54 change, so his total investment came to about $1.25. I thanked him and learned he is beginning to write a novel himself, a futuristic fantasy novel dealing with monotheism vs. polytheism.
Later, I realized I could have written a check, but I was too flummoxed to think of that. There was no urgency to buy the book. I could have held on to the receipt and paid next week. I was actually thinking of by-passing B&N entirely and looking on Amazon for it, so annoyed I was with the shipping charge. But there’s more to it than this, because I resent buying anything these days. Books are falling off my bookshelves. I’ve also virtually stopped reading novels and want to read this only because Rosaliene wrote it and Sha’Tara (ixiocali.com) raved over it
I stewed about this, and about this home delivery trend, off and on, all day. I noted how stressful the hidden costs were. A $16.95 book should not cost $23.48 at the cash register. As I sat the next morning finishing the B&N coffee (in my reusable cup), I contemplated the emotional valence of this superficially insignificant experience.
Philosophically, I support brick-and-mortar. The trend in commerce is to promote home delivery, ultimately isolating people even more. At Kroger the other day, I spoke with an employee who was gathering groceries for home-delivery shoppers. I asked if he tried to find the best vegetables and he said yes. He is not allowed to choose items on sale, though.
I appreciate being able to see and touch what I’m buying, to squeeze my own tomatoes, and to have the social experience of meeting people on casual terms in public or commercial places. Barnes & Noble is one of the very few places with easy parking that I can go to sit with coffee, air-conditioning, good light, and a plethora of interesting and stimulating reading material, and frankly, people like the guy who helped pay for my book and coffee.
The next day, I went to B&N and apologized to one of the café employees for the commotion I caused, but I also presented my case for resuming free shipping to the store. I said that nice guy behind me in line saved B&N a sale. I had a large audience, yet again, not intentionally. I said she should tell her bosses the shipping charge is bad for business, that enhanced traffic into the store offsets the cost of shipping to the store. When people come in to pick up their orders, they might buy other things, like coffee, at least, whereas home delivery prevents the browser from finding other things to buy. In fact, I said, I might just write corporate B&N myself.
Jenique told me she believed they were sending the book to my house. I went into a long (sort of, being aware of customers waiting) tirade about how I hate home delivery because FedEx and UPS drive all over my lawn, and why do we have stores if they don’t store things?
As an advocate of print media, I want books to flourish. This trend to electronics may be here to stay, but I doubt it will fully supplant hard copy publishing, just as digital currency cannot replace tangible means of exchange, except in the ethereal realms of macroeconomic imagination.
Anyway, I decided I do feel some loyalty to B&N, because the staff is friendly, and coffee prices haven’t yet gone up. I’d checked Amazon for Under the Tamarind Tree and found no advantage in buying it on-line, so the book is becoming famous locally for its contribution to my latest “pull through economics” soapbox.
Apparently Walmart is initiating drone delivery in Virginia, fueling my fears regarding the implications of commercial drones. Must my birds now compete with drones for airspace? How much noise will drones make in delivering pizza to neighbors? They reputedly can go up to 70 mph. Worse, will the USPS start using drones to deliver junk mail to my front lawn?
I hope I die before that future arrives. I may need to get a a gun. I can go on a shooting spree, with drones and excessive traffic turn signals for targets.
It became part of my rant to Barbara and Ed as we walked back through the mall after the coffee klatch. Ed said Walmart is not only delivering groceries, but it will send robots into your house and put the food in your refrigerator. Barbara expressed doubt that I will be able to avoid the drone trend but did agree there are fewer and fewer places where people can meet and interact informally. Brick-and-mortar stores like B&N do serve a valuable but unappreciated social function.
So said I to Ned, a B&N customer service employee. I spoke with on the way out. I wanted to make sure the book was coming to the store, even though Jenique said she would take care of it. Yes, he said. He explained that the book is being published on demand by a self-publishing operation that requires pre-payment of book and delivery charges, and that B&N makes no money on the deal. I explained my “pull through economics” philosophy, how important it is to sustain brick-and-mortar stores, how loyal I am to B&N–even though it is a corporate monster– largely because of the friendly and helpful employees. I left him all smiles.
Footnote: The book was well worth the trouble. It was so gripping that I read it in two sittings: a heart-warming story about life and culture in British Guiana in the 1950s and 1960s, as it was undergoing the transition to become Guyana, independent of British rule.