Johnny Bullet
Comic Book Store Hell
By Hervé St-Louis

February 14, 2009 - 17:10

For years, I’ve read and sometimes even written articles about the bad customer service found in many comic book stores. The problem seems to be so widespread, that the Simpsons have been making fun of comic book store owners since the show started in 1989 twenty years ago. But there comes a point where enough is enough for this customer.

Some stores try very hard to provide great customer service. They understand that that their business is based on the amount of disposable income of their clients. They also understand that their clients, often repeat customers, don’t just care about the product. They also care about the experience that goes with it. I read about a trisomic kid who way back when new comic books arrived on Fridays, went crazy eagerly waiting that special day of the week. As much as one may want to mock that child, going to the comic book store was an event, and experience. Notice how Apple Computers have modelled their stores as destinations. You just don’t go buy an iPhone, you go to the store for the experience and the nice crew.

All that’s related to comic books is about sales. It’s how you connect with your client. How you treat him, how you respond to his needs and concern. If you can’t do that, whether you are a publisher, a distributor or a retailer, you don’t deserve to be in business. Frankly, the average comic book customer plumps quite a lot of money in this industry but often gets less than he paid for. And it’s considered normal and desirable by many people on the other side of the counter.

Case in point, I went to buy some action figures a few weeks ago. I went in the store; brought them to the counter. Ask the clerk to put them aside for me. I would pick them up later. When I came to pick up the action figures, he had already sold them to someone else. Whoa. I’ve been going to this store for years now. Much of the review material that I reviewed at The Bin was purchased there. This means I’ve plunked a few thousand dollars in this store over the years. Yet, he cannot be bothered to send me an email of phone me to ask me when I was expecting to pick up the action figures, before he sold them.

The answers I got. “We’ll get more” and “it’s not my fault.” Then whose fault is it. There are lots of dubious business practices that the comic book industry is involved with that in my view is equivalent to playing with fire. For example, Marvel Comics suddenly raised their price on several comic book series from $2.99 to $3.99. That’s quite an increase. Has the customer gained anything? Nothing. Does the customer need a comic book printed on the most expensive card stock available. I doubt it.

Some Canadian stores, following the new decline of the Canadian dollar against the American dollar have begun advertising that all their prices were now in US dollars and adjusted to the daily stock exchange rate. The problem with some stores is that they’ve suddenly priced all their old stock in US dollars. That’s stuff that was purchased and amortized years and months ago. A lot of big ticket items, such as statues and book collections that have been sitting on shelves for years have suddenly increased a good 30% in price, by simply changing the currency used in the store. You would think that in a recession, stores would try to give deals to customers to entice them to buy stuff, not increase their price on stuff that’s already paid for.

There is one truth about retailing and selling stuff targeted at people’s disposable income. It takes far more efforts to get a new regular customer than it takes to lose one. In the comic book industry, that’s so true, it’s should not even be mentioned.

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