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Adventures in retail-land: Drawing the question out - King Rat
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Adventures in retail-land: Drawing the question out

Most of the customers I deal ask for a particular title, or a particular author. Sometimes they are looking for a subject or particular topic. I love helping them. I love finding them something.

But some customers make it difficult. I don't mean the kinds of customers who ask for that one book by that one guy and they are sure the cover was green. I have no problem with that at all. My memory is shit so I often have no better reference in my own head. So asking like that sometimes triggers something sometimes for them. And if it doesn't, no big deal.

Lately I've been getting customers that ask for something besides what they want. For instance, the customer who wanted a history of Venezuela. Sad to say, we didn't have anything like that. Then she asked if we had a history of the oil business. We didn't have anything of that in stock either. Then she got to what she was really after: do you have anything about Hugo Chavez and his relationship with oil companies? Bingo! Several books.

Or today I chatted with a girl who asked for the art section. As I led her there, I asked if she was looking for something in particular. It's a standard question I ask, because if I can narrow it down a bit, I can find something on the shelves and put it in the customer's hand. And customers are much more likely to buy then. Standard drill. She is looking for photographs of trees for inspiration for art. We have several photography books that have pictures of trees. And we also have a gardening pictorial section as well. Lots of trees there. No, that's not quite what she wants. Do we have anything more along the lines of sketches of trees? Not surprisingly, we had some in our drawing and sketching section. That's not quite right either. She asks if we have any books on tattoos. I ask her if she's trying to design a tree tattoo. Bingo! Unfortunately, our tattoo books get stolen, so we can't find anything.

It reminds me of developing software. The customers never asked for what they wanted. They'd ask for something they thought would solve their problem, but would never tell us the problem. More like Can you put a menu item here? Sure. I can do that. Really, the problem was that they couldn't remember the command so they wanted to have the menu item for it. But often times, we could solve their problem in such a way that they wouldn't even need to execute the command (e.g., a save command; we could auto-save for them).

I'd ask what problem are you trying to solve but that would get some weird look from folks who just want to find the latest Nora Roberts book.

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