Thanks for browsing, that’ll be $2 please

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Piggybank for charging $2 for browsing in storeThere’s been an interesting conversation happening in one of my Linked In groups:  A bookstore owner is testing charging people $2 for browsing (if you purchase something, you receive a 20% discount).

Personally, I experienced a version of this concept on the Big Island of Hawaii last fall where a bookstore owner requested a donation of $2 and gave $1 to a local animal shelter for cats.

The reason, as explained to me by the bookstore owner, is that many people come into her store and look through books, picking them up, flipping through and deciding if they want to purchase.  Then, oftentimes right in the store, they dial up an online bookseller and purchase.

The bookstore has:

  • staffing
  • overhead (rent, lights, etc.) and
  • inventory costs

to cover.  And all that “flipping and looking” often damages books that need returning.

The question, of course, is whether this practice helps (through exposure and the fact that we’re talking about it) or hurts business. 

Many of the commenters in our Linked In group indicate that they wouldn’t shop there, at least after the first time.  And while I’m discussing it here with you, I’m not mentioning the store names, so they’re not getting the exposure that could potentially be part of their strategy.

From an Extreme Customer Care™ standpoint, well. . .charging someone to walk into your store really isn’t Extreme Customer Care™.

And yet, when you transfer it to online-based businesses, you see it all the time.  Business owners who won’t “let” you see their websites without sharing your contact information.  No browsing allowed.  No ability to see if you’re a good match or if the business even does what you think it does.  Dealing in information rather than money.

Does it make sense to transfer this “exchange for browsing” to the brick and mortar world?

In my opinion, no.  That said, I do applaud the business owners for trying something different and would recommend that, instead, they focus on creating an experience:

  • one unlike their competitors so they stand out
  • one where they “mix and match” and
  • one where they become known for something.

Two examples of business owners who are “Experience-focused” — both are found in Lakeville, Mass:

  1. Somethin’s Brewin Book Café:  Across from the library and practically across from a drive-thru Dunkin Donuts, Somethin’s Brewin Book Café has a loyal following.  Fabulous service where the staff know your name and remember your preferences, the food is amazing (sandwiches, soups, desserts — all of it), the conversations which quickly create new friends out of total strangers, the monthly music nights, the focus on local businesses and the ability to be a Spotlight Business of the Week — oh yes. . .and they have coffee drinks to make Starbucks green with envy, teas, smoothies and books to read as you sit in a high back chair or on the couch.  Of course the free wi-fi also has me regularly popping in to get some work done away from the office.
  2. Lakeville Card and Gifts:  A Hallmark store unlike any I’ve ever seen.  There are cards and candles of course, but that is just the beginning: flowers, purses, scarves, dresses, flip flops, natural skin products, boutique-style jewelry like Alex and Ani and so much more.  The owner is always there with a friendly smile and a willingness to help choose the perfect item.  When I need a gift, this is my first stop.

In addition to knowing what their customers are looking for, both owners have adopted a savvy use of social media, particularly Facebook:

  • Somethin’s Brewin Book Café brings the community together through engaging posts and shares the food/drink of the day and
  • Lakeville Card and Gifts takes pictures of herself/customers in store merchandise and then takes orders (and ships) directly from her Facebook page.

Can you feel the difference in experiences between businesses like those who charge for browsing and those who not only encourage browsing, but actually create an environment which keeps you coming back and sharing your experience with your friends and family?

Please share some of your experiences (good, great and “needs some attention”) in the comments section below.  We’d love to hear them!