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Sean William Scott


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Friday, October 08, 2004

Another Conversation I'm Tired of Having With Customers 

"Hey, I spend a lot of money here, and since I'm an adult male and not a child or woman, I'd think you'd want to encourage me to shop here, so how about giving me a discount on my purchases?"

Discounts are something of a tricky issue. On the one hand, you do want to encourage your regular customers, especially the ones who spend a lot of money, to continue spending a lot of money at your store. On the other hand, most customer's definition of "lots of money" is $5 or $10 a month. And while discounts do tend to encourage repeat business, they run the risk of making the customer loyal to the discount, not the store. And so the second another store comes along with a better discount you lose that customer.

I'm generally not in favor of discounts. The profit margins in a niche market aren't that good to begin with, and in practical terms the more you discount the more you have to sell to make up for the money you're losing on those books you're selling below the MSRP. And in most areas you simply can't guarantee that you're going to be able to sell that many copies of Hawkeye or Richard Dragon in order to make up for that loss.

We do offer a modest discount at our store, but only for the customers with pull-lists (and pull-lists are a tricky proposistion all on their own I may talk about at some point) and who pay a small deposit so that if someone decides to, you know, ask us to pull multiple copies of about a hundred different titles and then not show up to pick them up, ever, we're not out of too much money for all those unsold books. This only becomes a problem when someone decides that they want to negotiate the discount they can get with me. "You only offer a discount of X%? Well, the store I used to go to offered a Y% discount. If you don't give me a Y% discount, I'll just go back to shopping there!" Because as we all know, the way to win people over and make a good first impression is to make ultimatums.

The most frequent times I'm asked for discounts, however, are on back issues and supplies. People buying back issues seem especially eager for discounts and haggling on the prices. I can't imagine where they picked up this habit. It's been my experience that most of the stores that offer discounts on back issues tend to over-price their back issues in the first place. I mean, sure, saying that your store offers a 25% discount on all back issues sounds good, until you realize that all the comics are marked up at least 40% over the guide price. And that's even if (and it's a big if and getting bigger all the time) the comics were properly graded in the first place. At our store, we're very strict about grading, and so we actually tend to have lots and lots of affordable back issues, because what other stores will call a VF+ in an insane rush of optimism, we'll call a F and wonder "what the hell were these guys thinking, calling this a very fine book." And that saves you a couple of bucks right there. And the price hagglers, honestly, I just can't imagine the mindset. I suppose they're too used to going to dealers and stores that sell comics mostly as a hobby or because they're looking for books for themselves, and so simply don't take the time to educate themselves about pricing and grading, and just want a "good deal." We actually try to run our store like a business. And so when people try to haggle on price with me, I have to ask myself, do these people go to the grocery store and try to get lettuce for forty-nine cents a head instead of fifty-nine cents because they're buying more than one? We're using a currency based financial system in this country, not a commodity based one, haggling is neither necessary nor appropriate. We've priced the back issues at the price we want to sell them at. End of story.

Supplies I can almost see people wanting a discount on. I mean, if you want to buy a thousand comic bags, instead of the usual hundred (or one), it would be appropriate for me to cut you some slack on the price. Especially if you approach the topic politely and without the expectation that I'm automatically going to be willing or able to discount them for you. But no, what I usually get is "You charge X cents for your bags! That's outrageous! The store I used to go to only charged Y cents less!" The thing is, we very carefully only use the best supplies we can find. I've seen the kind of supplies some other stores sell. Here's a hint, a good comic bag should not be yellow, sagging, greasy, or otherwise well on its way to turning back into petroleum.

Or, to put this all in context, if you want good service, you got to pay for good service.

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