Orders Without Borders

This book is harder to order than you might think!

While I feel that the death of brick and mortar stores has often been declared prematurely, a recent experience my father had with Borders Books (which also owns the ailing Waldenbooks chain) has made me reevaluate that belief. In order to compete with online outlets like Amazon (which in this company’s case once included partnering with them), companies like Borders need to keep up with technology. This was clearly not the case when he went into one of their Massachusetts stores to order a book that I wanted for Christmas.

For some reason, the recently released Marvel Comics in the 1960s: An Issue-By-Issue Field Guide to a Pop Culture Phenomenon by Pierre Comtois is not an easy title to find. My Dad first went to Barnes & Noble, but they did not have it listed in their system. So he journeyed to Borders, and they did not have it listed either. But when my father did his own search there, he did find it. He thinks that the employees at both stores may have spelled out “Nineteen Sixties” rather than type in “1960s,” hence not finding the book in their systems. No big deal, although a lazy mistake.

The book was only available through Borders.com and not for store delivery, so my father tried ordering it online at the store itself because he wanted to get it done as soon as he could. A weird quirk in the system emerged — when my father entered “Ave.” in his address, the Borders computer said the USPS did not recognize that as valid, and in a second column presented their alternative, “Ave”. Yet it still offered the option of using what he originally typed in. (So it was valid but invalid?) To keep things simple, he used their option. Then, as bad luck would have it, my father discovered that the security code on the back of his fairly new credit card had already worn off, so he couldn’t read one of the numbers and therefore could not order my book online because he needed that three digit code to finish the transaction. He told a manager, who offered a clever suggestion: selling him a gift certificate worth $30 that he could use online (the total with tax was $29.70). It sounded like a good plan, so they did the transaction.

My father went back to try ordering the book again and use the gift certificate he had just obtained. When he fully typed “Avenue” into his address this time, the system again said that was not valid and that he should use “Ave”. Fine, he did that and moved on. Then a message popped up declaring that while his gift certificate number was valid, it would not be used for this order. The store manager was stumped by this; he had never seen that before. It took a couple of more tries at ordering the book, but the gift certificate was finally accepted on the website. Then it took three attempts to print out a receipt.

One of the many Borders
locations across the country.
(Image courtesy of h-hmetals.com.)

After 45 long minutes, my patient father (amused by the whole ordeal) had finally ordered my book. Had he been someone in a rush, he would have left. The manager felt bad and bought him a cup of coffee at the cafe. He admitted that the company’s computer system was outdated, and one of the cafe employees divulged that his PC there may have even been running Windows 95! Perhaps the lesson here is to never order through Borders.com in one of the stores, but impulse sales are a good retail tactic, so this option should not be headache-inducing. It makes me wonder what problems the staff has using the system on their end.

It should be noted that the Borders store staff was friendly and helpful throughout the entire process. But their technology clearly failed them. If a large chain like Borders can’t get their act together by staying up-to-date with the technology that’s also threatening to pull them under, then they haven’t learned their lesson. I don’t wish them any ill will — I’ve shopped there many times — but it astounds me when major companies do not keep up with the times. And with Borders UK seeking bankruptcy protection, not to mention potential hardships with the parent company in this country, they need to get up to speed. This certainly isn’t the only reason for their problems, but it doesn’t help them either.

One of the strengths of traditional, brick and mortar retail stores is the live, personalized service you get, an experience that cannot be replicated online. Having an outdated computer system lessens that experience, no matter how friendly or helpful the employees try to be. If such retailers don’t learn to embrace current technology completely — and that means in the stores as well as online — they are simply helping to dismantle their own business.

One Response

  1. Neil E Graham

    Hey Bryan,

    As always an entertaining read. So 2 days ago my girlfriend & I stopped into the (reasonably) new Borders in Burlington, Mass armed with our $40 giftcards we got for Christmas. My plan was to pick up a few Blu-Rays of some titles I still have not acquired. I poke around on the 1st floor for a bit and eventually find the locked glass case of Blu-Ray films. All movies are arranged spine out, and I am unable to see pricing information on any of them. As a longtime record/movie shopper I like to hold and look at items to assess things like special features/running times etc. – You know the drill. Well, since all the movies are under lock & key this is not possible, so I go looking for an employee to open the case so I might browse properly – This forty bucks is burning a hole in my pocket! As I cannot find anyone on the floor after wandering for 10-12 minutes, I finally have to wait in the checkout line to ask for assistance. This takes another 15 minutes, when I ask if someone can please open the case so I can spend some money. I am asked to go over and wait by the movies until she can head over and unlock them. Realizing that with at least another 7-8 folks in line this may take a while, but I am in a holiday mood and decide to hang around. So..after another 15 minutes, the girl comes over with her key and asks what movie I want. Hmmm..well I really don’t know yet, as I was hoping to browse. I tell her there at least 6 or 7 titles I might be interested in, but I want to look through them all. At this, the girl literally asks me if I can pick 2 or 3 and then come back to get her to open the case again since they are so busy! I mean, I certainly don’t look like Mr. Rogers, but I am hardly a thief. I told her I would likely be spending in the area of $100 (which was true since they had a good priced copy of Willy Wonka in addition to a few others) and I would like the freedom to look through the movies without being rushed. At this point I am at close to a full hour wasted and have not even touched a Blu-Ray yet. She continues to insist that she cannot leave the case unattended as the queue of people trying to leave the store has reached double digits. When I point this out, she “suugests” maybe it would be easier for me if I browsed their items online, then returned to the store when I was more certain about which items I wanted to purchase. Forgive me, but I thought the purpose of a brick and mortar was to allow this kind of shopping!?…They were Blu-Ray movies, not Belden’s jewelry for Christ sake.

    Anyone want to buy an unused Border’s gift card? Because I sure as hell have desire to use it anymore. Chance are (after all the BS) I will redeem it online and end up paying shipping out of my own pocket.

    On the other hand, I get my Mom a Barnes & Noble gift card every year, and I also browse their Burlington store for long chunks of time and the experience is always simple and (most imnportantly) relaxing.

    Finally, I am truly sorry about the poor quality of this review/rant but I did it all in one draft without proofing because I am a lazy old fart.


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