By now, you’ve heard (through a news article containing the phrase “final chapter,” no doubt) that Borders Books is liquidating its remaining 399 stores. Liquidation started last Friday, and should end at all stores in September.
I worked at Borders for three and half years, first as a bookseller, and then as a key holder/manager, until my store closed in February. I find the entire thing sad, and while I felt liquidation was almost inevitable, I’m surprised at how quickly it has come about.
Reading some of the press about the sales, it became apparent that some people don’t get how liquidation sales work, like the guy who felt “duped” when the sales on the first day of a 2 month liquidation sale weren’t all that great. Or the people saying that Borders will “f*** up the liquidation sale just like they f***** up everything else” (fyi, the liquidation company runs the sale, not Borders).
I worked my store’s close-out till the end, and shopped two earlier Borders close-out sales. I have saved hundreds of dollars at these sales–I saved over $300 in one transaction alone (and the books had gone to $1, so I only spent $26). Based on my experience, these sales are worth your time. Here are some pointers for the best experience:
Store categories are priced individually.
It’s entirely possible that Romance is 40% off and Mystery/Thriller’s discount is only 20%. Categories should be written on the corresponding sale percentage sign.
Do calculations before you hit the register.
Even if the percentage off sounds impressive, the actual dollar amount saved may not be. Look at the sticker. Round up to the next dollar amount, divide that by 10, and multiply that by the first number in the percentage amount, minus one (to account for sales tax, which hovers around 7 to 10%). For example, if I have a $7.95 book that is 40% off, I’d round it up to $8, then divide that by 10, giving me $0.80. Then I’d multiply $0.80 by 3 to get $2.40, for a final price of $5.55. Not bad, but not so impressive sounding as “40% Off.”
This calculation also slightly underestimates your discount, meaning the only surprise you’ll get at the register will be a good one.
Don’t buy anything that isn’t 40% or more off.
Because 40% off, plus sales tax, is really more like 30% off. And almost anything can be found on Amazon or similar sites for that amount (or used! used books are amazing! and the library is free).
Also, even if the discount isn’t quite as good online, being able to buy something when you want to, rather than when a sale forces you to, can be worth the extra dimes.
There are exceptions. Mass market paperbacks, for example, almost never get discounted online. Ditto magazines and gifts & stationery. When I’m unsure about buying a book, I personally check Paperbackswap.com, and then Amazon and/or Walmart.com. If it still looks like a good deal compared to those sites, then I buy it.
Observe basic liquidation etiquette.
So nearly 11,000 people are about to be out of work. Be nice to them.
Put back the books you don’t want. Don’t try to squirrel away items for later (we made a game of finding these and then handselling them or giving them face-outs). Most stores have removed their computers, so there’s no way for workers to look things up for you. No holds and no returns, no exceptions. Be ready when you get to the register.
Smile. Don’t ask workers what they’re doing next, in case they don’t know. Try not to tell them how sorry you are or how sad it is (that the store’s closing, that they’re losing their jobs, etc). We know it’s well meant, but imagine people telling you they’re sorry for you 100+ times a day, for two months. It’s depressing.
Finally, do not complain about anything to the workers. Complain all you want to your friends, later. But not to the workers. These people are losing their jobs in a weak economy, are working a close-out sale (which anyone who’s worked one knows is very stressful) and do not owe you a better discount, the books you wanted, a bathroom, or anything else.
Don’t forget the fixtures.
During my store close-out, I bought three solid wood bookshelves (photo of one at right) for $72 total. I got an employee discount, but I think a non-employee would pay about $80 per case, which is still awesome for what you get. They also have smaller bookshelves, solid wood tables, book carts and hand trucks, plastic bins for sorting gifts & stationary, chairs (though I would not buy the big black chairs*), magazine racks, cafe equipment, and assorted store fixtures. It is good stuff, and the prices are sweet.
*When I was a bookseller, one woman fell asleep and peed herself in one of those chairs. Very smelly people also sat in them for hours. I’d rather sit on the floor.
Nobody knows how the sale will progress to a day, not even the liquidator.
People always sidled up to us & asked when prices were going to “get really good” or drop below a certain amount. They’d then get miffed when we said we didn’t know, because they assumed we were lying. “Well,” they’d say, “of course you wouldn’t tell me…” But we really didn’t know. Even management didn’t know, and neither did the liquidator.
Here’s how it worked in my store. We had two liquidator representatives in store, one in charge of selling off all the appliances & fixtures, and one in charge of selling off all the books, multimedia, etc. That second guy is the one who made the decisions about when to drop prices.
He made those decisions based on a) daily sales figures, which I or another manager called in every night after close and b) his company’s projections. If a certain area of the store wasn’t selling quickly enough, that area would get a price cut. If the entire store wasn’t selling quickly enough, then it would get a price cut. As far as I could tell, this was decided on a daily and sometimes hourly basis.
Price cuts happen in 10% increments. Certain areas of the store tend to get cut quicker: magazines, gifts & stationery, and romance books. Children’s books & games sell well regardless of discount, and tend to sell out quickly. Ditto for cookbooks. Everything else kind of depends on the store. Your best bet is to check in with the store weekly, and then, towards the last week of the sale, daily.
Finally, I’ll just note that this sale is more aggressive than the last one. Our close-out started at 10% for the entire store. Then it dropped to 20%, and finally (after weeks) 30%+. This closeout started with some items at 40%. There are also a lot more bargain shoppers this time around, though that may drop off.
The sale speeds up toward the end.
Especially at the very end, when the discounts go from 60% to 70% and lower, at warp speed. The last two days at my store, books were $1, although the only good stuff left was gone by the second day. Sale end dates are hard to predict, though; the official estimate is 8 to 10 weeks, so my guess would be 6 weeks for smaller stores and up to 8 weeks for the rest.
I think that about covers it. If you have any questions, have more sale advice, or if you’re a fellow Borders bookseller/bookstore worker/anyone who’s worked a retail close-out sale, I’d love to hear from you!