I remembered my post! -- Borders Rewards and Grumpy Manager Man

Last weekend we went to a new (to us) Borders store.

We have a Borders Rewards card. This means we get coupons over e-mail.

I don't normally PRINT said coupons out. Call it an environmental statement, call it me being cheap, blame it on the fact that the printer is currently sitting on the fireplace mantel 100 feet from the nearest Ethernet drop, but I don't want to print two pages out to get my 20% off on one book.

That's been ok, though, because my old (to us) Borders store would look up the coupons on their computer. Then they would use them. Easy, fast, simple.

I didn't realize until this week, though, exactly how good of customer service that was.

I got (I'm sorry, no other word) bitched at by the manager of the "new" Borders. Why? It's "a very serious violation of chain policy to look up the coupons for customers. Customers must bring the coupons with them! Which store did this?"


Let's take a minute to analyze this policy.

Borders can either a) make people bring in coupons or b) look them up for them.

The repercussions of choice (a). Shoppers will either a) go home, get the coupon, and come back (now suitably crabby) b) buy the item without a coupon or c) go home to get the coupon and decide not to come back.

Books, CDs, and DVDs are not time-critical purchases. Unlike a box of tampons, a jug of milk, or a new car battery, the buyer rarely ever has to have the item right then. The risk, with the ease of the use of the Internet, the deep discounts for books online, and the ability to get Free Super Saver Shipping or its clone online, of someone who comes into a store to use a coupon going home and never coming back seems to be a risk Borders would not want to increase.

So, Borders must feel that, having lured someone in with a coupon, that these shoppers are impulse buyers and will just forgo the coupon and buy anyway.

How many coupon users do you know who will buy something full price when they went to go shopping with a coupon?

Additionally, choice (a) puts the staff in the Borders of the position of having to be unsympathetic to customers, ("Oh, no, it blew away in the wind!" "I just had it here...."), having irate customers, ("That computer over there can look it up, why can't you? Are you that stupid!?"), having to validate abused coupons ("My latte spilled on it! Can I still use it?") and customers who create the dreaded scene.

Choice (a) runs the risk of Borders loosing some of its best customers -- the ones willing to come in every month for a sale price, and the ones willing to give up personal demographics in trade -- for what seems to be a very petty reason. Maybe their analysis shows that most forgetters will buy anyway, but it feels like they haven't thought this through.

Even on those customers who go ahead and buy at full retail, Borders runs the risk of loosing additional sales to the subset of these customers who, realizing they can't have that book at 40% off put it back on the shelf and don't buy it, but continue with their normal purchase. If the coupon item was a result of a co-marketing campaign with the publisher, this is a costly choice for Borders.

Choice (b). What does Choice (b) cost Borders?

Well, choice (b) costs Borders the time of a clerk looking up the coupon. In my experience, this took approximately :15 - :30 seconds on a transaction. The irate customer scenarios above would take far more time and would create an uncomfortable atmosphere for other nearby shoppers.

Choice (b) also costs Borders the difference in profit on those customers who would not return home, but would buy anyway.

Choice (b) gains Borders happy customers, impressed with the efficiency of Borders.

It seems to me that choice (a) also implies that Borders doesn't really believe in the Rewards system. They don't really want you to enjoy that coupon. Sure, Borders is a profit seeking institution--- but people don't like shopping places they think are greedy. They like shopping places where people are helpful, and where they think the store is on their side ("Hey, we can get you that book that no one stocks!").

I'm not even going to go into how poor of an idea it is for a manager to lecture a customer that they shouldn't expect a level of service they've received elsewhere.

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