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Some quick retailing thoughts

Brian Hibbs

First:  I agree with nearly every word in these two posts about etiquette in your Local Comics Store (man, especially that bit about Amazon Visa — GR!) from Secret Headquarters in FLA

Second: Kendall Swafford has some good points in this article about sell-through (versus sell-in), but I’d like to observe that the chart placements tend to be self-correcting. That is to say that the orders you see on (say) the June-shipping charts *tend to* reflect what sold through in March or April. Or to put it another way: the Diamond charts are LAGGING INDICATORS of what the market is doing, not current indicators

-B

18 Responses to “ Some quick retailing thoughts ”

  1. [...] Headquarters in Tallahassee, Florida, has been posting some etiquette tips for customers (via Brian Hibbs). The topics in the first column are pretty obvious, although I have known people who needed to be [...]

  2. Thanks for the kind words, Brian. Some of your columns have been very inspirational to me.

  3. Note the irony in refusing checks because “join the 21st century” in the same paragraph that bemoans the existence of online retailers. I choose to drop $15-$40 a week at my local comic shop. If my retailer really feels bad about the micro-annoyance of credit card fees and the macro-injustice of Amazon, he can put up a sign refusing my card…and I can take my money elsewhere. I understand your cutting-my-own-throat frustration as a retailer, but as a customer I’m not going to ignore my options–where to buy, how much to pay, and how to pay for it. That’s asking too much from someone who is giving you his money. If we’re standing across the counter from one another with a $40 pile of books between us, and you’re essentially accusing me of undermining your business for trying to buy them with my legal tender, well, I’m sorry if my card sticks in your throat but it might be best to keep that to yourself. Or again, just refuse it and put the decision on me.

    I’m not arguing for being purely mercenary. I like my shop and want it to stay in business. Taking just one publisher as an example, I try to split my Fantagraphics purchases between my store (Popeye and Peanuts reprints) and Amazon’s discounts (which I use for Prince Valiant and the upcoming Mickey Mouse books.) But in a world where Amazon can offer a 33% or higher discount on new books, where the internet in general provides access to used books for pennies, and where I can be sure my book will arrive at my doorstep by a set date instead of waiting weeks or sometimes months for my retailer to get in a special order, a comic shop is *never* going to get all of my money. Their options are some or none. Making me feel awful about my credit card is only going to push me toward the latter.

  4. Well, OK, Cole, but I think you’re going a little far there — no one is trying to make you “feel awful” about using a card whatsoever. But I think it is helpful for consumers to know that the “rewards” on your rewards card aren’t being paid for by the company that issues that card, but by the people that are taking your card as payment. You can act, or not act, or not even care about that information, but there it is for you to understand.

    -B

  5. That is good to know and will make me think more about my purchases. Maybe I read too much into the growling.

  6. Yeah, looking again I see that I missed the specific point which is retailer frustration not at cards or online commerce in general, but at being obligated to pay the rewards points for something that will most likely be used to buy from Amazon something that you sell. (Though that doesn’t mean the purchaser *would* otherwise have bought it from you, or at all.)

    Could you refuse that particular card, in the same way that many retailers won’t handle purchases from AmEx or Discover? Or if you take one kind of Visa, are you obligated to take them all?

  7. All or nothing.

    -B

  8. My thing with credit cards and retailers is…ultimately, as a consumer, I don’t care. I just want to buy my wares and be on my way. That said, if the store wants to have rules like no credit card purchases or no credit card purchases under $25 or $10 or whatever, I think that’s fair, too. All I ask is for the rules to be posted somewhere visible before I get to the register and get hassled for trying to pay with a credit card.

    That being said, though, one of the big advantages to Amazon is I can buy whatever I want there without worrying about whether or not my purchase is too small for them to process my credit card. That’s not good or bad, that’s just the way it is and I think it’s a fair thing to consider when making a purchase.

    Actually, speaking of Amazon, because I just dropped $100 on Fables trades through Amazon last night…their discounts are *amazing*. I’ve often wondered what a comic store can hope to offer to compete. I stopped buying trades at comic stores because I can’t purchase them at full cover price when I know I can use my B&N card to get 10% off or, if I’m patient, order from Amazon and get 30% or more off. What can a comic shop do to compete in the face of that?

  9. Well, Chris, I think the reason you might want to consider caring is that those fees that come out of your retailer’s pocket reduce their ability to stock a more diverse selection of product and to offer you other goods or services that they might otherwise.

    That’s also less money to hire more local staff, who will use their wages in your local community to buy other locally-sourced goods and services… which once you get through all of the multiplicative ways that money can move, might end up costing you more money in the long run (or may not, depending on what and how you do for a living)

    To me, it’s like sales tax on the internet — sure, who doesn’t want to avoid sales tax? But that’s the money that fills the potholes on your street, or pay’s for your kid’s teachers.

    As a general rule, I think money is better served staying in your local community, than going off to multi-billion multinational corporations, though it’s fine if you don’t care about any of that.

    As far as “how do we compete?” Well, you *can’t* compete on price — you can only compete on the tactile nature of physical products, and service and friendliness and things like that. But price? Never. Amazon is very often content to make 50 cents on a $50 item — no physical retailer can do that and continue to stay open.

    -B

  10. Hey Brian…I meant like, as a consumer, when making a purchase, the things I think about are “Is this a good purchase?” or “I’m excited to buy this thing.” I’m not really thinking about things like transaction fees because, as a consumer, I’m unaffected by them. I’m not trying to be a jerk, but I guess that came out wrong.

    I understand the retailer concern, but once again, as a consumer, I simply ask for the rule the store is going by to be posted somewhere so I’m duly warned before having an awkward exchange at the register. If a store only wants cash, that’s perfectly fair, just let me know before I hit the register a few bucks short.

    And with competing with Amazon, yeah, I guess you can’t compete with a place that’s content with making such a small profit. But let me ask you this…how feasible would it be to offer a program like Barnes & Noble? Like, where a customer would sign up for a card at like $25/year and get 10% all purchases? Because truthfully, if a comic store did that, I’d shop there over B&N. (I mean, I know, it’s just me and anecdotal evidence and all that, but purely hypothetical….is that even feasible?)

  11. No, Chris, I knew exactly what you meant, and I FULLY understand. What I’m trying to suggest is that those decisions DO actually impact you, maybe in ways you don’t necessarily see or grasp.

    But, certainly, I’m not expecting to see people change convenient behavior from this, because payment choices are generally a matter of convenience more than anything else.

    Certainly a store could do a $25/10% kind of dealio — but, of course, for a customer that spends over $250/year, such a program would be a money loser, in and of itself. But, as you say, if it builds customer loyalty, then that may be a reasonable way to spend money.

    -B

  12. Chris Hero:
    “how feasible would it be to offer a program like Barnes & Noble? Like, where a customer would sign up for a card at like $25/year and get 10% all purchases? Because truthfully, if a comic store did that, I’d shop there over B&N. (I mean, I know, it’s just me and anecdotal evidence and all that, but purely hypothetical….is that even feasible?)”

    My store does that.
    I must say though, it helps me spend money there on singles, but the big chain store nearby does it as well and their trades are generally a bit cheaper already.
    I mean, I get all my single issue purchases at the LCS, but I would with or without the card.
    (There is another store in the area, but it really is The Androids Dungeon, so I try and avoid it as much as possible).

    On the other hand, in Australia, even when the dollar is at parity with the US, we still have to pay more to cover international shipping (at least that’s what they say!), so it may be easier for the store to eat the discounted prices.

  13. Comic Book Shop Etiquette #1

    I didn’t know this until YESTERDAY and I’d been buying comics from shops my entire buying life.

    Smitty walks in to local shop. Jaime says oh we got shorted Batman Inc #4.

    Smitty mutters to self about shop owner’s foolishness for not ordering “correctly” or what have you and offers half hearted “That stinks.”

    This is where the startling part comes in, again – to me -because I didn’t know.

    Jaime says, “Yep, bought and paid for. Money taken.”

    Smity: “So, you’re telling me that you gave them the money for a Grant Morrison book that is on about 60 / 80% of your pull list – everybody is showing up for it today – and you get to stand there and look like a fool because of it and you already PAID THEM?”

    Jaime: “Yep.”

    Brian, I’m sorry, but if this happened to me I would nuke the hell out of Diamond, DC, whoever. That’s money spent -laid out by a retailer in a tight market – for a DC book that people actually want and somebody screwed me out of those sales? Somebody made me spend the goodwill capital I’ve built up with my customers on THEIR mistakes? Nope. Not acceptable.

    Here’s where the etiquette part kicks in. Up till today I would have blamed it on the shop owner because in my mind, no WAY does a company do that to its retail partner! If this is all true do you have any recourse whatsoever?

    Does this happen often? Might I have just been lied to? Head spinning!

  14. If a store is on COD, then, yes, of course, that can happen — the invoice has been cut, and the check is made out before the books are actually in hand.

    Not all stores are on COD, however — I, for example, have very good credit terms with Diamond. In fact, generally (though not exclusively), if you’re on COD with Diamond, it is because the STORE has had problems paying their bills on time and/or owes Diamond money.

    For myself, Diamond typically “misses” 1-3 line items per week, though these are almost always reorders, or single-piece new titles… it’s been probably at least six months that they’ve missed anything of “significance” for us? Still, they have a higher OSD (“Overage, shortage, damage”) rate than I’m enthusiastic about.

    But, having said that, Diamond is, in my experience, very good about quickly fixing their problems — if wholesale is over $100, they’ll usually overnight replacements at their own cost. (which means they’ve lost money on that deal, since they’re working on such crummy margins for most of the Exclusive publishers)

    -B

  15. Hey Brian,

    Thank you for always answering all the questions so openly and completely. You’ve certainly softened my views of the DM from some bad experiences I’ve had.

  16. I think it’s worth noting that the issue of card fees applies to all businesses that accept cards. This includes Amazon, but the rest of their business model – e.g., no brick-and-mortar stores – is so relatively cheap that they can still afford to give big discounts. (Correct me if I’m wrong, Brian.) So similar factors apply to, say, your local restaurant, which means that prices will be higher at the place that pays card fees – meaning, in effect, that customers who pay cash are subsidizing those who use cards. There was a restaurant in Philly that actually had different prices for cash and card customers. Comics stores of course do not generally have the luxury of setting their own prices (though they do with variants), so they’re more vulnerable to this.

    Long story short: If you want to help _any_ local business – and help keep their prices down – use cash. (By the way, I’m far from perfect in this regard, though I do pretty much stick to cash for my LCS.)

  17. I’m fairly confident that Amazon’s size/capitalization puts them in a different bracket insofar as bank/CC fees goes than any individual retailer.

    I’d also believe that if you use a companies branded card (be it Amazon or Macy’s), they’re not paying the same fees that a different retailer might be paying. If I’m paying 3% to take Amazon’s card, *Amazon* might only be paying 1% to take that same credit card. I think that’s how it works, at least!

    And, yeah, any retailer with a printed MSRP on their product doesn’t have a whole lot of flexibility in RAISING prices to compensate.

    -B

  18. Nice

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