Monday, August 22, 2011

7 Things to Bring to a Borders Liquidation Sale (and 5 Things to Leave at Home)

Borders Books by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Some history on Borders and me: I’ve worked as a part-time bookseller at Borders for close to three years. These weren't the glory years, to be sure, but as a passionate reader, being able to share my knowledge of books with customers has been a source of joy to me. There are a lot of reasons why Borders is closing, and all I have to say on the subject is that the Kindle alone didn't kill Borders; there were lots of railcars in that trainwreck. All the employees care about now is closing the store with dignity, knowing they did their best to keep the bookstore alive. 

After a month of Christmas-like crowds without the requisite goodwill, I decided to put together a primer on How to Shop the Borders Liquidation without Losing Your Mind.

A few items from the cafe sale: cups, shot glass, tamper. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Seven things to bring to the Borders liquidation sale:

1. Understanding the term “all sales are final.” This means that once you walk away from the cash register, there are no returns. If you get home and realize that you already have  the Nora Roberts/Lee Child/John Grisham title, just wrap it up and give it as a Christmas gift.

2. BYOB. Bring your own bags or boxes, especially if you’re buying big. We’re down to the medium-size bags which are great for small items, not so good for outsize bargain books and toys.

3. Bring proper form of payment. Cash, credit and debit cards are a yes. Checks are a no. The liquidation company will honor gift cards throughout the sale. Pro tip: while waiting in line to pay, locate gift cards and make sure they are for Borders and not another retailer. If paying with a credit or debit card, have i.d. in hand – cashiers are required to check i.d. on unsigned cards.

4. A calculator or the ability to compute percentages in your head. If you’re a parent, this is an optimal teaching moment. For newbies, now that we’re in the 40 to 60 percent range, ballpark at half price and count on slight displeasure or pleasant surprise. Bonus points for knowing local sales tax and guesstimating final tally with tax. Pro tip: The discount is applied to the list price. For non-bargain merchandise, that’s the price on the yellow sticker. For bargain merchandise, it’s the price listed on the red or blue label.

5. Lowered expectations for the merchandise. If you’re looking for “The Help” or the Jaycee Dugard story, you'll just have to look elsewhere. As far as locating books, keep in mind that the store is straightened every night, but within a few hours of opening, it is trashed again by bookstore gremlins. After four weeks of this, the books are no longer in alphabetical order, although most start out the day in proper section. This is old-school book retailing, without title look-up and the booksellers’ internal GPS. Pro tip: Touch the books as you look through them; there will be fewer opportunities in the future to do this before buying.

6. Respect for the employees. Remember that 11,000 Borders employees will lose their jobs when the sale is over. We have bills to pay just like everyone else and we do not relish the idea of looking for new jobs in this economy. The thing to know about booksellers is that, by and large, they are overeducated and underpaid. They chose to work in a business that they loved – sharing books, music and movies with others.

7. An empty bladder. Restrooms are closed, at least in our store. A curious quirk of Borders retail history is restroom horror stories. All I really need to say about this is: go before you leave the house.

Cafe cups and ornaments by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

And five things to leave at home:

1. Any list of books that you expect to hand to an employee with the expectation that the books can be located. As mentioned in #4, it’s old school book shopping now. Employees on the floor, including those at the registers, do not have access to title look-up. We can direct you to the section where the book would be shelved in the good ol’days. After that, you’re on your own.

2. Rewards cards. It’s no use digging for them. The basic Borders rewards program ended July 31 when the last Borders Bucks expired. The Borders Rewards Plus program officially ended a few weeks ago, but a version has been brought back for a few days this week. (Keep in mind that to use this offer, you must have either the printed-out coupon or the Borders Rewards Plus account number. And to the rude man who threw his Borders rewards card at me yesterday; I'm embarrassed for you and your family and sincerely hope that you have the opportunity to work a retail liquidation someday.

3. Classroom discount cards. This program ended when Borders was sold to its present owner. If you choose to be all grumbly about it, look at it this way: you are purchasing new books at half-price or better and pumping money into your local economy, which in turn helps local schools. You could purchase the same books new through Amazon at a higher price, or second-hand through online booksellers at a comparable price, but neither purchase would help your local economy.

Tamper and shot glass by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

4. The kidoodles. I enjoy children, but as a parent, I would really encourage parents to shop without them. Or tag team so that one parent can shop while another watches the children. I write this as much for the children’s sake as the parents. I’ve seen stressed-out parents frustrated with their children who do not know how to look for books after they can not locate their favorite authors. If you do shop with your children, at we still have harmonicas, squeaky ducks and talking books.
5. Questions about the closing of the store and when the next mark-downs will come. First of all, I hear "store closing" as "no more paycheck," so it's hard to get excited about that 90 percent day. And it’s not as one customer suggested to me, a game that the cashiers are playing with the customers; that it’s a secret that we will only share with our closest friends. We truly don’t know anything beyond what is reported in the media; that the company expects to be completely liquidated by the end of September. To be honest, I get a little nervous just taking my lunch break. (That’s a joke, friends, and after being asked that question 376 times yesterday, I’m rather proud that I can still make a joke.)

Text and images copyright 2011, Lucy Mercer.

What about you? Is Borders in your community? Are you shopping the sales?


Felicia said...

It's always sad when a bookstore goes under. Thank you for your reminder to treat employees nicely; this must be even more heartbreaking for them!

Lucy Mercer said...

Thanks, Felica, for reading! I haven't written too much about my day job, but I figured it was time. Just read my favorite response to the "when will you close?" question: "The Rapture or the Proletariat Revolution, whichever comes first."

Anonymous said...

Hey! I get the inside 376 joke! What do I win?