December 5, 2008

Barnes & Noble’s Customer Service... Barnes & Not So Noble?

The letter below was sent to Barnes and Noble from an unhappy customer. The letter was CCed to EH as a letter to the editor. It is reprinted below:

I am tired of not being able to make a purchase at a Barnes and Noble store without receiving a sales pitch for a membership. The employee behind the register asks if I have a membership, then if I would like one, and then refuses to drop the subject. When I answer “no” to both questions, I am subjected to a reiteration of the benefits, often delivered in a tone and manner that seem to say “what’s wrong with you?” I have had to adamantly refuse the membership offer as many as four times during a single transaction. And don’t forget the little note on the receipt that says how much a member would have saved. Now, in addition to the membership pitch, I am being asked for my E-mail address so that BN can send me coupons that I truly do not care to receive. The cumulative result is that trying to buy a book at BN has become an irritating experience for those of us who don’t want to be members or hand over our e-mail addresses. Having worked in retail management in the past, I know that the experience can be irritating for the employee as well as the customer.

For example, this afternoon I went through the usual song and dance at a BN store. Ignoring the employee’s parting shot, “A member would have saved 20% on this type of book,” I bought my book and headed for the door. If I wanted to save money, I could have saved almost 50% by buying the book from Instead of paying $18.40 online, I deliberately chose to pay $34 for the sake of buying the book in person and supporting a local brick and mortar store. In exchange, I found myself being treated not as a customer, but rather as a target.

The experience then proceeded to get worse. On the way out, I noticed a couple of magazines that I wanted to read, so I went back and bought those from a different employee and had to go through whole routine again. But this time when he asked for my e-mail address and I said "No, I don't accept unsolicited e-mails" he promptly snapped "They wouldn't be unsolicited if you gave it to me", which was impertinent and rude.

Let's call him Willy. If Willy and I had been close friends, such a conversation might have been acceptable, but this is not the way I want to be spoken to while I am trying to buy something in a store. I asked Willie if he had to sign up a certain number people a day, and he said he wouldn't tell me because I wouldn't give him my e-mail address. Which I also thought was rather impertinent. (After all, if BN employees will persist in asking me personal questions, such as my e-mail address, they should be prepared to answer a few of their own.) Again, this is not a way in which I am accustomed to being spoken to by anyone.

Enough is enough! I know that BN stores and hence employees are under pressure to sign up new members and score points with mystery shoppers, but I am tired of being on the receiving end of inane sales pitches. Moreover, I am tired of their abrasive and sometimes belligerent manners when I repeatedly refuse. BN’s policy of sacrificing respectful behavior for the new member roll-call is unacceptable to me and to many in my acquaintance. On those grounds, I am returning the book that I bought at BN today. I will re-purchase that book from a different bookseller, I will make this story public, and my days of shopping at BN stores and are at an end. “No thank you” means “no thank you.”


  1. I have worked for B&N for over a year, and believe me when I say employees are just as frustrated as the customers when it comes to the membership spiel. Most of the time both sides are so disquieted by the pitch, that both tend to be snippy during the transaction.

    To answer your question, employees are not required to obtain a certain amount of memberships, nor do we make commission off of them. Furthermore, B&N has quarterly shops that keep managers high strung. The MOST important aspect of receiving a 100% on the dreaded shop, is hitting all major points of the membership program. Unfortunately, we as employees have no idea as to whom the secret shopper is; therefore, we MUST shove that tiresome spiel down every customers throat. It's sad that Corporate cares more about receiving the pristine 100% on the review than customer service.

    As to Willie, I'm sorry you experienced a vast amount of anguish all because of his arrogance. B&N is truly trying to send out discounts to the customer's benefit, and 99% of the time, I'm so tired of haranguing the customer about the membership that I skip it altogether.

    I am truly sorry you have had such horrible experiences, and I wish to tell you that there are some good B&N employees/stores out there that care about our customers.

    I wish the best for you at other retailers, and Happy Holidays.

    A high school student.

    1. i realize this is old but Holly is now incorrect. employees ARE required to meet a weekly membership goal AND obtain at least 10 emails per day.

    2. No, we are not. I work at b and n. there is a targeted bet percentage that is the goal, but not a requirement. And as for email capture, it is monitored by store, not by bookseller. The store wants 10 per day, not per employee.

    3. The requirements vary from store to store.
      Our managers at the Triangle Town Center B&N make us record (on a slip to be turned in at the end of every shift) how many memberships we sell, membership renewals we sell, emails we capture, and gift cards we sell.
      It's also recorded on the computer system our percentage of membership sales and at our annual reviews, it gets taken into account when they decide whether or not they still want to keep us.

  2. Hello Holly! Thank you very much for posting a reply to my Barnes and Noble tirade! Having worked as a retail manager in the past, I agree with you that it is a pity that corporate offices care more about hitting every "point" on that membership script than about genuine customer service. Such requirements make things unpleasant for the customers as well as the employees, and is one of the reasons why I am no longer a manager, and am a much happier person for it. I gather from your comment that you work on the front lines in a BN store. If you ever get hounded for skipping the membership/savings routine, show your boss this blog post. :) Best wishes, Cicely (

  3. Membership is a rip off. I could wite a full page on this so called great discount program. The better program is Border's and it is free. You receive coupons every week ranging from 20 to 30% off on anything (books,Cd's,DVD's) It is your choice. B&N rarely gives you a coupon and when they do it is for a measley 15%. You are not really getting much for a $25 membership fee.

  4. Although B&N no longer does these quarterly shops (at least not in my region, another thing to keep in mind is that assistant store managers and store managers receive different bonus levels based on how well their store does on the shop. I feel this is a terrible practice because it feeds the fires even harder and feeds to the pressure front end booksellers receive from managers. Next time you get frustrated remember you have ever right to be, and so does the bookseller who is giving you the spiel. Let the bookseller know you want to talk to the manager about it, just let them know you know it is not their fault they have to harass you about it. I could go on for hours about all the terrible practice that retail businesses, including Barnes and Noble use to not only get more money out of the consumer, but get away with abusing employees in order to squeeze another penny out at the end of the day. Just remember that upper management is savvy to these practices and willingly pushes them on employees and customers. You ALWAYS have the right to complain to a manager and if you are anything but 100% satisfied, you should. I don't see anyone being 100% satisfied with how B&N is treating them, and because there are little or no small business bookstores left, we are left with either putting up with them or buying exclusively from online retailers. Help make a change and be sure to complain.

  5. Booksellers do not make a commission on selling Memberships. But We are required to sell a certain percentage of the total of transactions we ring up. Keep in mind that we have no choice. And if we don't make that quota we are threaten with the lose of hours (money from our pay check).

  6. Our thanks to everyone who is chiming in on this issue! Complaints like this one abound. We sincerely hope that B&N and other retailers will eventually notice how much angst they are creating among (ex)customers and employees alike.

  7. To the person (anonymous from March 22nd) who said that Borders member program is better...that's not true. The Barnes & Noble member program is better. With the Borders program, you have to spend a certain amount of money to get their coupons and discounts. With B&N, you get discounts every day and coupons every week.

    As far as this customer service letter goes, I agree with it. I work for B&N, and I get sick of having to try and get people to sign up for member cards. We have to do it, so please do not get angry with us! We don't get any commissions for selling memberships either.

    Lately, we have been threatened with lack of hours if we don't sell memberships. I think that's horrible because the managers do not actively work the registers yet they get to keep all their hours and they get all the joys of having a high membership conversion rate.

    I went shopping recently at one place that I love (yes, I'm naming them BATH & BODY WORKS) and I was asked for my phone number, zip code and email address....all just so I could buy a bottle of lotion. That infuriates me! When I told the cashier that they already had that info on me, she said "Well, it's good to keep it updated." I repeated that they already had my info (with force) and she dropped it. I understand that this is how some companies do their marketing, but it's annoying that in a lot of places, you can't buy something without giving your whole life history.

  8. Well how interesting. I find it interesting that someone expects us to beleive that B&N will take away pay for hours worked if a quota isn't met - That would open B&N for a HUGE law suit that would probably wipe them out.

    In any case, I am now a FORMER Barnes & Nobel customer after my experience this week. Saturday I ordered a DVD from B&N with expedited shipping. The stated process was that my order should ship on Monday Dec. 7, 2009. I received confirmation via email of that information. Tuesday evening 12/8/2009 I recieved an email that my order was delayed. This morning I called to get an update. The automated system still stated 'your order will ship on December 7, 2009.' My efforts to talk to a human were challenged by a phone system never actually offers to connect you to a live person. So I pressed 0 because I know that many phone systems connect you to an operator when you do this. Bingo - a live person - That person put me on hold and checked into my order. She said the order should ship tomorrow (December 10,2009). This was at about 11:00AM this morning. After that experience I wrote an email to customer service to complain about the delay, the hidden connection option for speaking to a real person, and their stupid insistance of listing their customer service phone number as 1-800-THE BOOK instead of just giving me the number with out the cutsie name.

    SOoooo tonight I get an email that my order has now been cancelled. Hmm does something smell funny here. Oh by the way this morning the same item I ordered was listed at a price about $5.00 higher than on Sunday. After getting the email I then checked and the DVD is no longer listed on their site.

    In other words, the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing. Sad, stupid and just plain bad business.

    By the way I've already order the same DVD on Amazon for the $1.00 less than the B&N price.

    No wonder businesses are going under, the concept of customer service is lost, completely lost. In it's place the dreaded forced add-on sales.

  9. Thank you, G. Scott, for sharing your take here on Earthly Happenings. Sadly, your experience sounds like par for the course, metaphorically speaking. Where have the concepts of customer service and respect for customers gone?

  10. "To the person (anonymous from March 22nd) who said that Borders member program is better...that's not true. The Barnes & Noble member program is better. With the Borders program, you have to spend a certain amount of money to get their coupons and discounts."


    Actually, there are two ways people get discounts at Borders. First off, you don't have to spend a certain amount of money to get the weekly coupons which range from 25% to 40% off items of MY choice. Also, some new releases are 40% off for members and 30% off for everyone else. When I spend $150 (which adds up quite quickly!) I get a $5.00 coupon to use in the store. To speed that process up, they sometimes have triple points weekends which is pretty cool. There is also a new cafe program where using the card to get drinks gets me a free drink for every five that I purchase. ALL THIS FOR FREE!! not the 25 bucks B&N wants to charge me which is why I never bought a card although I sometimes shop there. Admittedly, I do shop at Borders more often because of the coupons and point system (much like the reason I used to have a Suncoast Card 'cept that one wasn't free) and in general (and in NC) the customer service is better and friendlier at our Borders than at our local B&N. Just saying : )

  11. I thoroughly understand the frustration of both sides of the membership debate. As of recently, I was employeed at B&N as a Head Cashier. In January 2009 I was told that I needed to reach and maintain a 2% membership to transaction average or I could be terminated. My progress was then reviewed at least once a month. Each time I was reminded of my pending termination.
    I loved my job so I tried different tactics, but most people would decline. Moral aversion to having to pay in order to save, Borders offering their discounts for free, and not shopping at B&N enough to make it worth their while were the most popular excuses for rejection. Also, transactions such as employee discounts, teacher discounts, institutional sales, returns and exchanges, etc. are all held against us in the transaction conversion. With most transactions at my store, the customer would have saved less than $2.00, this makes the membership difficult to sell, not impossible, just difficult. So, if a customer comes up with a bigger sale and henceforth a potentially higher member savings we don't tend to take no for an answer until we have gone through every nook and cranny of the benefits. Trust me, we don't do it because want to. We know it irritates you. I have had people state that they try not to come to B&N anymore because of it. We are given no choice to back down. If we don't sell them we could be fired. Not only the Head Cashiers are feeling the pressure. Other booksellers also have to maintain a percentage, albeit a smaller one of around 1.3%. Several have shared stories of being brought into the office and being pressured in hopes that would just quit. Most stay, membership pressure notwithstanding, because they love their job and love sharing their knowledge of books. Although I excelled at the other parts of my job, I was never able to reach the goal of 2% and just last week I was given the option to quit or get fired. I don't like the stigma attached to being fired but, with the economy as it is and good jobs hard to find, to receive unemployment I went with being fired. I miss my job. I wish it didn't have to come to this. B&N cares more about the bottom line than it does about its employees and customers.

  12. Dear Anonymous (March 3, 2010),

    Everyone here at Earthly Happenings is sincerely sorry that you lost your job with Barnes & Noble.

    We thank you for sharing your story, and hope that you can find a new job soon with a company that understands how valuable good employees are.

    Best luck and best wishes!

  13. I feel sorry for the employees. I make my purchases with a gift certificate and had countered with: "Let me understand -- I am getting these items more or less for free, and you are telling me I can save by spending money. Yet I'm saving 100% without a membership." I could understand making the spiel to someone with cash or credit card, but saying it to someone with a gift certificate, isn't that insulting the intelligence?
    When I do have cash I visit an independent bookseller, and when I have a credit card I'll go to No spiels.

  14. "When I spend $150 (which adds up quite quickly!) I get a $5.00 coupon to use in the store. "

    With a Barnes and Noble membership you would save at least $15 or 10% on that $150 dollars immediately. No coupon in the mail to encourage another purchase. If any of the items you purchased were hardcovers, you would have saved 20% or 30$, more than the cost of your discount card.

    "There is also a new cafe program where using the card to get drinks gets me a free drink for every five that I purchase. ALL THIS FOR FREE!! "

    With the BN membership, you save 10% off on your drinks, too. So let's say you got a 3$ save .30 every time. Multiply that by 5 and you get $1.50. How much does that free small drink at the cafe cost you?

    You are saving more with the BN membership, even if you have to pay $25 upfront. Plus does your Borders card save you money on Amazon's already discounted prices? Because BN's discount card saves you off the cheaper internet price.

    Borders gets people to think it's a great deal by throwing the word "free" around, remember folks, you get what you pay for.

    There's a reason Borders had to close hundreds of their stores and almost all of their waldenbooks this past year, and why BN is still opening new stores. Mathematics.

  15. I've been at BN for awhile now and I've worked in every part and have settled in as a receiver and just so G Scott knows...the delay in your order has nothing to do with BN, it's UPS, we'll give you the order number and you can talk to them. As for all this hatred for member a cashier you have no choice, but to recite all of that information every time or you do get yelled at. I personally think that it's one of the most annoying and stupid things that we are required to do, but it's worth dealing with a shit customer who can't just deal with someone doing their job, than to get a lecture by someone you're smarter than on how to sell a member card. It's ridiculous. So on behalf of all BN cashiers everywhere, please just put on a smile when we ask you about a member card because we hate saying it more than you hate hearing it...IM OUT!

  16. Reading through the comments thus far, it sounds like Barnes and Noble has succeeded in angering some of its customers and its employees by pushing the sale of memberships. Could stores full of angry people be bad for business? The author of the original letter of complaint has sworn off shopping at all B&N stores, and probably isn't alone. Many readers who work at B&N are unhappy (or have quit or been fired), and are also not alone. Is this a sustainable business model?

  17. "With a Barnes and Noble membership you would save at least $15 or 10% on that $150 dollars immediately. No coupon in the mail to encourage another purchase. If any of the items you purchased were hardcovers, you would have saved 20% or 30$, more than the cost of your discount card."

    With a Barnes & Noble membership you have to pay $25 up front to get a 10% discount. In order to start saving money, you'll have to spend at least $250 before that discount card starts paying for itself. AND on top of that, your membership is only good for one year. Borders offers weekly coupons that range from 20 to 40% off the item of your choice and you don't have to pay anything to get it. So, for someone who doesn't shop enough to spend $250 in one year,how exactly, is the B&N membership a better deal?

  18. They deleted my negative fb comment a few minutes after I posted it, but they can't delete everything! B&N please pay attention! You have some AMAZING products and employees. Why Why Why Why mess it up with horrid customer service and policies? Most people - like me - are only going to go to the trouble of posting these types of complaints if they are truly appalled. With all the complaints posted, you know it's gotta be bad.

    They might consider reading "Delivering Happiness" - by the founder of Zappos

  19. This is old, but I was an BN employee. Absolutely adored my job, my coworkers, and my customers. I'm awesome with people, and with kids. I was thanked countless times for my customers’ gratitude in my behavior, respect, and friendliness. I went the extra mile for my store and the coworkers I saw as friends. I was triple trained in café, register, and kids dept. We had a manager from hell who forced us to act like persuasion machines to sell a membership, capture email, or add a customer to our stupid clubs. If we didn't, we were torn to bits. There were at least 20 people that quit in the past year. This is not an issue of bad customer service on the booksellers part - we love our job, love books, and love working with customers with the same passion as we have. I ended up leaving due to the pressure of my awful general manager. An assistant manager had asked me to stay with a tear in her eye - I had no other choice. I bawled my girlie eyes out for a few days. Those people were my family, and to have to leave (as so many before me) because of a manager (who I see demeaning, discriminating, and belittling everyone who works under her) really hurt. You could almost call it corporate bullying. I now never buy my things from Barnes & Noble, my forever bond with that store was broken because of these methods. It's been almost 4 years since this article was written. Hopefully BN will wake up before they dig their grave further.

  20. 4 years later and they haven't changed a bit! I had to deal with a psycho register guy TWICE who wouldn't let up on the Membership pitch. Called the night manager. She didn't care. Called the next day and she answered, saying she had told the day manager. Yes, I'd like to speak to him anyway. As I assumed...he had no clue. Nice going night manager! Day manager was unremorseful. Even asking ME what I thought HE should do about it? How about grab your guy at the register and stick him up your...but I digress. Their customer service training is horrid, their sales tactics are questionable. We will never shop at BN again! Why do people go online? To avoid douche bags at the register. Good move BN! Good move.

  21. I am really getting nervous, and might just return my just purchased Nook tablet to prevent repeated aggravation in case something goes wrong!!!! I have owned a Kindle reader since the beginning and just love it and Amazon ! What Amazon can't fix on the Kindle, they replace promptly! NEVER a problem with Amazon customer service! After reading all of the above, even though I am enjoying my new Nook at present, maybe I should return it while I can without trouble!!!!!! Any ideas? Advice?

  22. Actually I currently work for Barnes & Noble and we ARE required to sell a certain amount of memberships in our store. Each person who works the floor has a daily goal. If we don't meet our goals there is a threat of being "written up". We get paid very little, work very hard and sell books. We don't make a commision on the books OR the membership. Yet we will be punished if we don't sell enough. We are treated like dirt on a daily basis by management and many customers but are expected to behave in an inhuman way and not show it. Believe me most of us are trying to find new jobs that's why they have such a high turnover rate. However this economy doesn't make it easy.

  23. I work for the company for 10 years and I was just told today that because I do not capture enough the emails they don't feel like I want to be a part of the team they told me they did not want to be in the bottom of the district on their goals and that my behavior by not supporting your emails would lead to me being fired if it persisted and that my negative behavior over my own personal experience with being over emailed by the company has been disregarded and I've been told I'm too emotional over being forced do something that I think is rude. we are not required to do certain things in the company but they do push us on a daily basis and if we do not meet their goals they find some reason to get rid of us so don't be fooled

  24. I'm a B&N employee and totally share all of these concerns. We are mercilessly hassled by our managers to harass customers into memberships and whatever inane promotions we are trying to hawk on customers. It is worse with the holiday season now here. There is no room to be real & human with customers with all of the sales pitches we're forced to perform each time they go through our line.

    I don't blame customers that get angry at me when I ask them question after question, but at the same time my job is literally at stake if I do not ask. I am being paid next to nothing and make no commission. When I do perform well sales-wise I get almost no encouragement. It is almost never good enough.

    I love my job. I love selling books, talking to my customers, my coworkers, learning about all of the new and exciting books being published every week, but I'm at my wit's end and not sure if I can handle the stress for minimum wage anymore.


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