Guest Blog: Paul Charabin “Etiquette From Both Sides Of The Desk”

Recently I had the privilege of guesting on the Nerdebrates Podcast (Hosted by Paul Charabin of We Have Issues & Steven Osterland of Full Frontal Nerdity) alongside Jay from Happy Harbor Comics. The topic that day was “Etiquette From Both Sides Of The Desk”and  you can find the audio from that day by clicking here.

(Just a word of warning that me & microphones are like vampires & mirrors… they just can’t register that I’m there).

It’s also full of stories about how Jay got started. The first hand account of how warehouses used to be is a fun listen. Particularly how it was during the “Death of Superman” storyline in the 90s). Take a listen and I hope you enjoy!

-Paul was also generous enough to write-up a post with a bit more of his feelings on the  topic and incorporates much of what we talked about that day.

“Etiquette From Both Sides Of The Desk”-Paul Charabin

In the Internet age of instant gratification and anonymous customers transactions I feel that both consumers and retailers have become separated from the etiquette of a retail transaction.  I am about to sound like a curmudgeonly old man but I do feel that the profound change that the Internet has had on the comic industry has not been entirely positive.  Don’t get me wrong the selection, the prices, and the access to comics has been amazing.  It makes the bygone days of sending a SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) and a cheque from your mom and then waiting weeks (months?) and HOPING for the best seem like a distant nightmare.

These days, a traditional brick and mortar comic store is under constant barrage from a multitude of fronts.  It has never been a better time to be a collector because comic book enthusiasts can get their fix from downloadable digital comics, they can buy new and used from eBay or Amazon, there are a multitude of auction sites, there are a number of collector-to-collector Facebook groups, and even your local grocery store or gas station is selling collectables as nerd culture continues to infiltrate main stream culture.

All of this easy access to collectables has created a lot of competition for retailers.  It feels as though it has also created some bad habits or practices on both sides of the comic book desk.  The following are some of my observations and suggestions from the perspective of both a retailer and a customer.  As I said these are my opinions so please feel free to share your own opinions or suggestions at the end of this discussion.

What a Customer Should Expect from their Store

  1. A clean environment was not always the norm in the past; in fact it was sometimes as rare as an Amazing Fantasy #15.  However customers have grown tired of having to wash their hands after digging through back issues or feeling as though they are negotiating a maze while walking around a store.  A clean, well-lit environment that is easily shop-able can make a huge difference to someone’s experience.
  2. Organized stock is of great assistance when trying to locate a particular issue.  There is a lost art of digging through comic boxes to find a missing issue versus just typing it in to the Internet machine. However, it can be difficult to convince new collectors how fun this treasure hunting is when they wonder which alphabet a store has used to organize their comics.
  3. If you are a file customer you should expect your comics to be in your file.  Customers understand that the odd time stores are shorted or sent damaged comics but if it continuously happens AND you are not notified when an issue is missing it may cause you to question how much you are appreciated as a customer.
  4. A store does not own their customers; if you want to shop elsewhere it is your prerogative as a consumer.  I remember the angst I felt when I had to venture away from my “home” store to look for some missing back issues, it felt almost illicit in a way.  Many customers fear that look on a storeowner’s face when they say, “I picked it up somewhere else” but it lets storeowners know that they still need to work for your business.

What a Store Should Expect from their Customers

  1. Pick up your files.  Regularly.  Stores typically pay for their comics when they receive them.  If you take 2 – 3 months to pick them up, or worse yet cancel your file after 2 or 3 months of accumulated comics, a store has already paid for those items and is not able to return them.  Please be respectful of the “gentleman’s / lady’s agreement” that you share with your store.  Also, if you are planning on cancelling your file please try to pick it up for one more month as your store has ordered your comics in advance of you cancelling.
  2. File customers will most likely receive preferential treatment.  A file customer supports a store every week with “guaranteed” (see point 1) business.  If you are not a regular file customer at a particular store but you show up and try to buy multiple copies of every “hot” issue that week please don’t be shocked when the store only wants to sell you one.  Their goal is to make sure that the people who look after them are also looked after. 
  3. Your local comic store is not your wholesaler.  Your LCS is aware that there are sites such as Amazon or eBay on the Internet so please don’t ask for “a deal” just so you can turn a profit online.  If they give you a deal it is because they think you have a genuine interest in this item as a collector, but if you are just intending to re-sell it online then why would they not do that themselves.  When acquiring a new collection I have seen stores put many of the key items straight to auction sites and not in their store in order to avoid these situations.  Conversely, when a store sells an item to a customer that is where the transaction ends; the store no longer owns that item and has no jurisdiction over what is done with it.  I know of stores that have berated customers after they have re-sold a key issue a year after purchasing it.  If a retailer did not want to sell it at a certain price then they shouldn’t have.  You can see how this delicate issue can create some animosity between a retailer and a customer.

These are presented as merely the “basic” expectations of etiquette between both retailers and customers.  Please share some of your suggestions in an effort to help both retailers and customers create the best possible retail experience.