Barred and ignoble: A trip to Barnes & Noble I hope to never repeat

"For all the money marketers spend on the customer experience, the human 'touchpoint' is squandered if no one is listening."

Buying books in person is already a quaint experience, considering that online sales overtook the retail experience back in 2013.

Yet, I ventured into Barnes & Noble anyway, feeling a little embarrassed for buying the Spark Notes’ version of "The Canterbury Tales." What kind of reader was that? My high-schooler wasn’t connecting with Middle English, and I envisioned us pouring over the paper copy together, annotating themes and comparing the Spark Notes to the scholarly text. Quality time!

It had been many months since I had been in the store, located in a Southern California suburb. Walking to the study guides section in the back, I observed fabric book bags that looked a little kitsch. The route to the empty check-out area was cluttered with free-standing displays for chocolate, gift cards and bookmarks. Already, I was thinking how the atmosphere felt a little gloomy and it would convince even more people to holiday-shop online. 

Obviously following a corporate script, the sales associate asked me if I’d like to sign up for the paid, Barnes & Noble membership program. I started to decline, but she continued to detail the discount, the time-frame, the amount saved this transaction. "Maybe later," I pleaded.  

Then, she asked me if I would give her my email, because Barnes & Noble "would like to send me occasional offers." I declined again. Who needs more spam in their life? 

Then, I was asked if I wanted to donate a book to a local, underfunded elementary school. How could I say no? My options were to purchase a book between $5 and $17. It felt like a big ask, considering it doubled my original sale. I suspected most shoppers would prefer just adding $1 or $2 to their transactions, like Petco does at checkout for homeless animals. 

I felt barraged by questions and requests. If I made the purchase online, every bit of data would have gone onto the big pile already accrued in my file. Still, I leaned in and in a quiet tone asked the sales associate to please tell the manager, too many questions at check-out. "It’s just one customer’s feedback, but there are too many requests for such a simple errand," I pleaded. 

I had to laugh at her response. As she handed me my receipt, the associate told me I could call the 800 number at the bottom if I had a comment to make. 

"Wait, you are asking me to do something again," I said. While we can block ads and skip customer surveys online, I felt trapped by this human experience at Barnes & Noble.

The global customer experience management market reached $5.9 billion in 2018, according to an Orbis report and is poised to keep growing at a 22.5 percent rate. For all the money marketers spend on the customer experience, the human "touchpoint" is squandered if no one is listening.   

Years ago, Barnes & Noble was a hangout. I’d hunt around for an armchair and browse through the magazines and books. Everything changes. I left vowing to shop and ship from Amazon for the holidays.

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