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Why Borders Books is Doing Terrible...



December 24, 2008 – Comments (27) | RELATED TICKERS: BGPIQ.DL , BKS

This post is going to relate to everyone the terrible customer service experience I had today 12/23 at a Borders Books in Utica, MI. I've recently been following Borders (BGP) stock problems as a possible turnaround play as I am a regular customer.  After this last week, I completely realize why Borders can't make money:  It is being run by idiots.  So sit back, grab some hot chocolate, and enjoy my write-up of my experience today attempting to buy a book....  

On a completely unrelated note, I want to say hi to everyone.  I haven't been on my blog a lot lately as I have been traveling, working on the election, and graduating from college.  I now am a bonified college graduate looking for a job in politics.  If you know anyone who needs someone for corespondence or speachwriting... let me know! LoL. (I guess complaining about being a history major who gets no repsect isn't possible anymore....) 

Onward to my story:

All I wanted to do is buy a book, and use a coupon which they emailed to me... But instead, they refuesed to help me and instead made my job harder.  I had to return to the location twice, and I still did not receive the book.  No wonder Borders is going out of business! Next time I'll shop at Barnes & Noble.... 
I had recently gone to Borders and attempted to purchase The United States of Atlantis by Harry Turtledove, a new novel that retails for $25.

Borders from time to time sends out coupons to its reward program member, and being a member I receive them in my email. So I went to the store, went to purchase the book, and realized I had left my 40% off one item Rewards Coupon at home. Understandably, I was angry at myself for being some dumb during my Christmas shopping, so I spoke to a manager, asking if he could give me the discount, as I had my rewards member card on me.

He was very apologetic, but said he couldn't help me, as I needed the actual printed barcode from the coupon. He even suggested that I could pull it up on a blackberry and they could scan it for me there. The Problem is I don't own a blackberry and my old flip-phone does not have the capability. I angrily put the book down, and the several other books I planned on buying and went home.

(Since they send the coupons out by email, would it be too hard or complicated for them to link the system with the card? Wouldn't linking the coupons to the card allow for faster transactions? I know Borders has been doing terrible sales-wise lately, and I feel making transactions easier would be better for their bottom line, but I digress...)
So the next day I returned to the Borders to use my coupon, however the book is now out of stock in the store. I look the book up on the bookfinder, and I find that the book is now out of stock in this store (Utica, MI) but is available in almost every other store in the state.

A clerk approaches me and asks if he can be of help, and I explain my predicament to him. The clerk confirms my books is out of stock. I ask if the book can be ordered as this is my second time in the store, and I really want to purchase this book. He says he can't order the book or reserve it at another store, because that would make the book "A Special Order" and I could no longer use my coupon on it.

The clerk then suggests that I drive 30 minutes to the nearest location in Rochester, MI, and buy the book there while my coupon is still valid (it expires today.) Mind you, that it is 11:20 pm and the Rochester store closes at midnight. Also, I giant snow/sleet storm has engulfed Michigan, and the roads are terrible.

Here's the rest of our conversation:

Me: So you want me to drive 30 minutes in the middle of a snowstorm? There's no way I can make it in this weather.

Clerk speaking with indifference: Well sorry then, there's nothing I can do.

Me: Can I speak to a manager then? I've been trying to use this coupon the last couple days. I really want my 40% off.

Clerk In a completely rude tone of voice: I am the manager, and I can't help you.

Me quizzically: So you'd rather not have my business? No wonder Borders is about to go out of business.

Clerk even more rude: That's incorrect sir. Our profits are very good.

Me: That's not what the shareholders think.

I then left the store, again without purchasing the book. The only reason I became snarky at the end was because the manager was treating me with complete indifference and had a terrible attitude. I just wanted to make a purchase. But I was turned away two times this week.  I almost felt like Mugato at the end of Zoolander  when he goes, "I feel like I'm on crazy pills!"  Does anyone else have commonsense at Borders?  No wonder Borders can't make money.  When they treat their customers like absolute trash, what does anyone expect?   I know one thing though.  I intend to buy this book someplace else now.  That's a guarantee.

27 Comments – Post Your Own

#1) On December 24, 2008 at 3:22 AM, gman444 (28.16) wrote:

Interesting experience Allstar....BGP just became my top scoring CAPS pick--I red thumbed it awhile back.  I was not aware of the quality of their service, as it has been some years since I lived near a Borders...I do frequent a nearby Barnes & Noble bookstore, and have found the service to be good.  However, I must say that I think there are industry-wide problems for bookstores that may have more to do with the decline than the quality of service.  The overall climate for consumer spending, and the less expensive availability of virtually unlimited reading material online being two that jump to mind.  It does not look to me like BGP will survive this downturn; I think BKS will, but I recently redthumbed it anyway---so far so good for my CAPS score....

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#2) On December 24, 2008 at 4:19 AM, kaidoi888 (< 20) wrote:

This sounds like a typical, arrogant case of "the customer is always right". As gman444 wrote, there are industry-wide problems for bookstores. However, if you would have just paid the retail price for The United States of Atlantis on day 1 and used the coupon on a future visit, you would have saved yourself added aggravation, gas money, and precious time. One needs to remind themselves from time to time that many retail employees (store managers included) are compensated a wage commensurate with what makes sense to the bottom line. Low profit margins and steady net losses will generally yield a staff of employees that reflect how they are valued within the organization.

I am not making excuses for the behavior of the BGP store manager, as he should have handled it in a manner that did not violate his directives, and made you feel good about being rejected. Next time, don't forget the coupon... or just spend the extra money and think of it as your "cost" of being forgetful.

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#3) On December 24, 2008 at 5:53 AM, allstar31 (99.87) wrote:

lol @ Kaido.

I'm a long term customer.  The manager should have made an exception.  That's why they are the manager.  They can override things if they feel it is necessary.

I was just pointing out this is the type of service that is killing their business.

And The United States of Atlantis  is alternate history.  I really am that nerdy of a history major.


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#4) On December 24, 2008 at 10:58 AM, jmt587 (99.80) wrote:

It doesn't sound to me like you were terribly treated.  They could have done a little more for you, perhaps (say giving you a raincheck on the book for 40% off or something, once they have it in stock), but they went with their policies.  Maybe their HQ told them they have to stop bending over backwards for customers, and make some money.  The only way they'll lose money on that series of events (not giving you the discount) is if you stop shopping at Borders.  If you still shop there, then that manager did the right thing.  And since you are in the rewards program, and made that clear, they're probably gambling that you will continue to shop there.

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#5) On December 24, 2008 at 2:17 PM, allstar31 (99.87) wrote:

No, I agree with you.  I'll prolly continue to shop at Borders books.  Normally I don't have problems.  But this type of behavior, on the grand scale is what is causing Borders problems.  I just wish CEOs would actually visit their stores, and act like regular customers.

Then they would realize why business is bad.  Its this behavior, and my inabiliity to use my coupon that is infuriating.  They want people to purchase books, but why would I pay $10 more for a book?  I would normaly use as it is because it's so much cheaper, so when Borders puts up hurdles, they aren't helping themself.

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#6) On December 24, 2008 at 3:20 PM, iamnik77 (91.91) wrote:

You mentioned that one of the employees spoke to you in a rude tone of voice. Having worked in customer service and dealt with difficult customers I strongly believe that a good employee never speaks in a rude tone of voice. Even an employee who is aggravated can at least fake it. Even if he couldn't help you, the professional thing for him to do would be to show some empathy and maintain politeness whether or not he is able to help you.

 Let's remember that managers don't always have blank checks to discount merchandise unless they have some way to input into their computer that the discount is company approved. Apparently, without that barcode his hands were tied.

 That they can't give you a discount without the actual coupon doesn't sound totally ridiculous to me. Borders may be struggling to stay afloat but I don't think it is because of their inability to assist in situations like yours.

 That said, this sounds like a very frustrating experience for you and you probably wouldn't even have been posting this here had the reps handled it more professionally.

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#7) On December 24, 2008 at 3:56 PM, allstar31 (99.87) wrote:

I agree.  When I forgot the coupon at home, I was mad at myself. I was hoping the manager would cut me a break, but I didn't expect him to.  And when he said he couldn't, I was kool about that and went home to retrieve the coupon.  That manager displayed excellent customer service.

 The 2nd manager was the one I had a problem with.  I will admit I was frustrated about this bookstore because I was forced to return to it 2x.  However, I was nothing but polite, as I have worked in retail, and I can understand that around the holidays, things can get hectic. I still was unimpressed with the customer service the 2nd time.

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#8) On December 24, 2008 at 3:59 PM, Inept (92.32) wrote:

So Borders is doing poorly because they won't give you 40% off on a product that's out of stock? Seems like they might not be doing as badly as you'd like to hope (Bah, who am I kidding? lol) given that the item you wanted didn't wait around for you. You were forgetful, which is perfectly understandable especially at this busy time of year, but when you make your mistakes the clerk's mistakes they always shut down immediately. The second you get snarky with them is the second you've run out of luck.

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#9) On December 25, 2008 at 12:55 AM, scoutmomsf (< 20) wrote:

I agree that you had terrible service.  As a bookseller at a different Borders, I can tell you that we used to just scan a coupon for customers who didn't have theirs.  Then word came from Corporate that we were no longer allowed to do that, and that any employee found doing so would be subject to discipline including the possibility of termination.  So, as much as we would like to do so, in this economy we'd rather not risk our jobs.  Yes, a manager can provide a coupon, but they too have to be careful.

 As far as ordering the book and using the coupon, it depends on the coupon.  Some can be used on orders, some cannot.  Borders is in the process of switching from doing in-store special orders to placing all special orders through  If there is a promo code on the coupon, it can be used online.  If not, it is for in-store use only.

The second employee could have, and SHOULD have offered to call the other stores to see if they indeed had the book, and then asked them to hold it for you so that you could go pick it up the next day.  You might even have been able to pay for it over the phone so that you could still get your 40%.

As far as the crummy attitude, not to make excuses (ok, maybe I am), but the Christmas season is a horrible time to work retail.  We are overworked, underpaid, and very underappreciated by many people.  By the end of our shifts we are exhausted and more than a little burned out/frustrated by customers who don't understand that we can't carry every book ever printed just so they can have it the day before Christmas, that yes they DO have to stand in line with everyone else, and no there's no way that if you order it today you'll have it tomorrow. And those are just a few of the things we deal with every day.  So, please, if you have another experience like that, just chalk it up to a bad day ...  Hopefully your next one will be better.


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#10) On December 25, 2008 at 1:44 AM, allstar31 (99.87) wrote:

I like the comments.  I still find is highly amusing that at that one store that book sold out.  I'm wondering who all the hidden Harry Turtledove fans are in the community. :)

 And I usually don't have problems at Borders.  I'll go back.  I was just completely unimpressed with this manager.  I actually wanted to buy the book over the phone, which is what I was trying to suggest, so I could get the coupon.

And the fact that Borders is printing these ludicrous coupons (40% off, $5 off a purchase of $5 or more) shows they are trying to drive business by gettign people in the stores.

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#11) On December 27, 2008 at 9:43 PM, markantonythe3rd (31.54) wrote:

I don't get it what were you expecting him to do?  Pull out a magic stick and create the book that was out of stock? You should work his job for a few weeks and you'll realize the type of people (customers) he has to deal with (you being one of them)!

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#12) On December 28, 2008 at 4:00 PM, VinHill (< 20) wrote:

Sorry. The customer is ALWAYS right. Your little story and the comment from the Borders employee combine to show a business in rapid if not terminal decline. The corporate policy preventing replacement coupons is incredibly short-sighted -- especially in this environment. But the manager's training (or lack thereof) and attitude speak volumes. When employees like this don't care and lose interest in keeping every possible sale, they are reflecting a company-wide malaise that cannot bode well.

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#13) On December 28, 2008 at 6:13 PM, ANoun (< 20) wrote:

The situation at Borders aside...

"I now am a bonified college graduate looking for a job in politics.  If you know anyone who needs someone for corespondence or speachwriting.."

At first I thought you were joking. I hoped you were joking. Obviously you're not joking! 

For one thing, it's "bona fide", not "bonified". 

Correspondence has two Rs. 

There is no A in speechwriting. 

You are absolutely not qualified. How about going back and getting some remedial courses before marketing yourself so poorly! 

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#14) On December 29, 2008 at 10:22 PM, allstar31 (99.87) wrote:

lol.  My personal blogpost that I wrote quickly?  Are you serious?  And that first part was a joke to the readers I haven't heard from in a while. I used to always joke about being a college student, and now sadly I'm not anymore. :)

And you're right of course, it is bona fide.  In the future I will be sure to triple check my blog posts at 4 in the morning before I publish them.  At the time I was in a hurry.  I am still surprised I spelled speechwriting wrong. lol

As this is my personal blog, I feel i have some leeway, as I do not actually have a resume posted, nor will I.  It was a joke!

And as a reader with a score of less than 20, maybe you should study stocks a little more before commenting on my posts.


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#15) On December 29, 2008 at 10:35 PM, allstar31 (99.87) wrote:

Oh, I also spelled refused wrong.  And I added the wrong kind of colon once.  I also added an extra s to book and I spelled respect wrong. 

Want brownie points now?

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#16) On December 29, 2008 at 10:54 PM, wassercom (36.49) wrote:

Well, I've seen a big improvement at Borders stores in the past couple of years. The grungy, body-pierced employees who used to staff the stores have been replaced with "bona fide" book selling professionals. And the newly revamped, Amazon-free Web site is clearly a step in the right direction. Whether these improvements will suffice in today's adversarial retail environment is another question.



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#17) On December 29, 2008 at 11:03 PM, allstar31 (99.87) wrote:

I think getting rid of Amazon is a great idea, but I wonder if Barnes & Noble is already too entrenched.

And Borders using coupons to drive business worries me.  For a while there I wanted to believe, because I really like their stores, but it seems to me (this issue aside) that they do not have coherent business recovery plan.

They are closing stores, building new "modern" stores and spending money every which way but on selling their products to customers.

And you are right, the employees have also notably improved over the last couple years.

I just wonder if Borders is attempting to do too much. It wants to be a coffee shop, a community gathering place, a DVD and music store.

I wonder if they should simply cut their inventory (thereby cutting overhead) and scale back a little bit.  As an avid user of, I only really go to Borders for hard to find books, books that would not be worth the money to ship, and new releases.

My two cents I guess.

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#18) On January 01, 2009 at 7:46 PM, Bordersj77 (< 20) wrote:

Ok, so first of all everybody knows in this world who shops at various stores know that every business has rules. Thats what keeps stores running smoothly. Now the employees, and the managers are only following rules that they are giving by corp. managers, district managers, zone managers, CEOS, and lastly the big guy, Owner of Borders Books and Music. When you wanted to use your coupon and get your percent off and you dont have your coupon with you, they arnt just going to bow down to you, break the rules so they can get written up and disciplined for it. If you forgot your coupon then you know what your out of luck, and just alittle FYI there is no way the store can link your card or your card number to the coupon. If you look closely on the back of your borders card there is a 1-800 number on the back thats deal with anything for your card and emails, and coupons. We only offer them and sign you up, "BARNES AND NOBLES"!!!! is the same way. Just think about it, your busy as ever, its the holidays, and one customers such as yourself wants to use the coupon but doesnt have it on them, then you say yes we can do that for you. Then the next customer explains the same thing, then you give it to them, pretty soon you are going to have to go through the hassle of allowing agaist "STORE POLICY" hundreds of customers flowing in and out of the stores very fast and rude to use a coupon without them actually having it with them, all because you went against store policy and the customer standing in line before them over heard the conversation. Then as a store we lose money, because we give customers the coupon without the actual proper paper showing that you actually have the coupon. Some people do try and scam borders by giving them a card they found on the ground somewhere, which is a big loss of money for our stores. If you forgot your coupon like I said you are out of luck. Just rember your stuff next time, and there wont be any problems. If you were trying to buy a book that is out of stock, its the holidays, its most likely sold out, and wouldnt be shipped to the store until way after the holidays, and again theres the whole rule thing, and its against store policy to let you use your coupon for a special order that isnt easy ship. We dont use coupons on special orders that arn't available for easy ship (Meaning it can be sent to your house, instead of to the store). So in other words to use you coupon you would have to pre-purchase your order which you can only do with a easy ship The clerk, or manager rather, was merly explaining to you that there is no way for you to order your book there or another store and use your coupon for it all with-in 40 mins before it expires. So you basically had 2 choices buy something else in the store and use your coupon, or wait until next time a coupon that high of a percentage. Thats the consequences you have to pay for when forgetting your coupons. So no thats not why Borders Book is going out of business, its because they are going through a rough time financially. Have you ever thought of rent fees, employment cost, product cost, vendor, and supplier cost, as well as paying taxes along with the cafe cost. Yea it adds up buddy, and this day and age our country is also struggling, meaning not alot of people are going to go blow there money on 100s of dollars on books. So next time do yourself a favor remember your coupons, ask an employee for the rules on ordering books, and try not to slam your books down and storm out, prob why the manager gave you attitude, because your flying away buisness when you do imature things like that.If you havent notice I'm an employee at borders, I have to deal with those problems daily, and we handle it just fine, its the customers who get an attitude such as yourself and make our job harder. So how about you stop talking down borders and look at talking down yourself, k buddy.

Sincerly, Employee

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#19) On January 03, 2009 at 11:36 AM, allstar31 (99.87) wrote:

lol.  Paragraphs are good.

And I wouldn't be throwing around words like immature.  It seems to be very shortsighted to think that was the case.  I simply wanted customer service, which I had not received.

And the reason I asked about the coupon was because I have seen it done at stores.

And futhermore, the Borders card could be linked because they track spending and award "Borders bucks." So they therefore track purchases.  It wouldn't be too much of a stretch of the imagination for them to link coupons to cards.  They decline to do this obviously.

And Buddy, you are the reason Borders is in penny stock land.  

Like I said, I hope Borders does not go out of business, but I don't have much faith in that scenario.


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#20) On January 04, 2009 at 12:21 AM, MBH54 (< 20) wrote:

I am not excusing the behavior of the employees at that particular Borders, but I do have a few opinions of your behavior.  First of all when you go to the grocery store and forget the couple you got in the mail for toilet paper do they make an exception? No, they don't.  Second, if the manager made an exception for every customer who forgot to bring in their coupon then there wouldn't be a point to the initial rule in the first place.  Why not give everyone who comes in crying 'I don't have my coupon' the discount?  Third , have you ever worked in retail?  Usually the customer not only wants instant gratification but apparently that isn't fast enough.  I do work in retail and the number of complete nut jobs we get is enough to make anyone go postal.  I have seen people cry over how a customer treats them.  The customer is not always right.  You can yell all you want at me, but when you make someone cry, that crossing the line.  People are horrible and I would like to add you to that list.  Next time suck it up and pay for the book and use the coupon when you actually have the damn thing in your hand.  We are talking a difference of around 5 dollars.  If you are that hard up for cash you shouldn't even be buying a book in the first place.  It's called a library!!!!  Use it many of those are closing all over the country and need our patronage.  In conclusion I will be most happy if you do not go into a Borders again!!!!  Cuz I work at one!!!!! 

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#21) On January 04, 2009 at 12:06 PM, allstar31 (99.87) wrote:

As we now see, Borders employees don't understand how to treat customers.  I no longer wonder why my service was so bad.

I love how I am being personally attacked for simply asking a question.  I have worked in retail and have had to deal with customers.  Maybe I was successful, and Borders isn't, because I understood sometimes that I needed to suck it up and do what the customer asked.

And I'm also wondering wny all the commentators who work at Borders have scores <20.  C'mon guys.  Use that library or whatever and read a book about the market.


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#22) On January 06, 2009 at 12:20 AM, bartlet4america (< 20) wrote:

I find much of this hard to believe.  As a Borders bookseller, in the store where I work this would never happen.  If a person produces a rewards card, we would ask them what the coupon they forgot to bring with them offered.  Generally coupons are for 20%, 30% and sometimes 40% off something (eg, book, music, movie, etc.).  As long as the customer had a rewards card and can describe a coupon that's currently valid we would honor the discount by scanning a real coupon with the card.  

Either the people in this store are out of touch with reality, or the story is a fiction wothy of being part of an anthology in the fiction/literature section of any bookstore, not just Borders.


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#23) On February 09, 2009 at 9:29 AM, mke112 (< 20) wrote:

I actually work at Borders, not the one you went to but in Illinois.  First off, the manager you spoke with is incorrect - the book could have been ordered and/or reserved for you and a notation made that your coupon could have been honored.  We do this all the time in certain circumstances.  Usually we do not do this when the book is sold out because the company could stand to lose a lot of money by doing so due to customer abuse.  Which is why Borders now makes customers bring in the coupons - customer abuse.  Does your grocery store just take your word for it. that you have the coupon at home?  Borders does not link a coupon with a Rewards card because you may use the coupon once a visit for the duration of the coupons date.

Borders loses an immense amount of capital ordering books for people that are never picked up.  We end up returning, with a penalty, these books.  The store is changing their policy on book orders for this reason.  I know you believe we can just put them on the shelves but that itself is a waste of money.  Nine times out of ten no one else wants that book.  Kind of like in your case, I work for the largest store in the company as a side job and have never had any one ask for Harry Turtledove's science fiction.  This is not a disparaging remark on his work.  I'm just stating that Borders tracks the sales of authors in regions and is fairly accurate in predicting what they need for stock.  (anything mentioned by Oprah nonwithstanding, any casual mention of a book by that woman and we are sold out within an hour of show's ending)  Only the most popular authors and works get ordered in quantity up front.  Once an author gets press we'll reorder more.  Bookstores are constantly bombarded with publishers hyping there crap and are becoming more discerning.

I understand you experience was not the greatest but you need to remember that you are asking for special treatment that goes against company rules for a $25 book because you forgot your coupon. 

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#24) On January 05, 2011 at 2:33 AM, Fuller159 (< 20) wrote:

I'm sorry they were rude to you, but to be honest, you kind of sound like not a particularly polite person. I'm not really convinced you were being the epitome of class and good manners yourself. I'm guessing those Borders employees signed up just to post those comments, so talking about how their scores are less than 20 is completely irrelevant to them and makes you sound like a jerk to those reading. And finally, the above poster has a point - people have received job offers through blog posts (not often, but I know people who have), but not when I speechwriter writes like this. I hope this blog isn't connected to your name at all, because potential employees do google checks nowadays, and this isn't work I'd want associated with my name, particularly if I was interested in the line of work you are.

 In conclusion, I'm not too impressed by your handle on cause and effect - I sincerely doubt a single manager who had a rude tone (because that's the only part that sounded actually rude to me) is the reason Borders is failing.

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#25) On January 11, 2011 at 11:29 PM, marriedlady1974 (< 20) wrote:

I realize this post is 2 years old but I'm commenting anyway...

 I was a manager for a Borders in upstate NY until they eliminated my position.  I transferred to Waldenbooks and 7 months later, they closed a ton of those stores and I lost my job again.  As a manager, if a customer told me they forgot their coupon, I simply walked over to the trash can and gave them a used one.  Bar codes are not assigned to each Borders Rewards card.  The coupons are mass emailed and every 30% or 40% off coupon has the same bar code.  It's that simple-just getting a used one from the trash.  No one counts the coupons, no one compares how many coupons are in the drawer to how many transactions reflect the discount.

 The stores are staffed by idiots because the home office is full of them.  The fact of the matter is they cannot manage their business.  They can't even grasp the simple concept that they need to take in more than they spend to be profitable.  I am surprised they are still around.  They can't have more than a few months left.  I still hold a grudge-I did not lose my job because I performed poorly, I lost it because the execs in Ann Arbor don't know a simple business model.  I cannot wait for them to fold.

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#26) On February 20, 2011 at 10:22 AM, slightlines (< 20) wrote:

Carbon copy of my experience at the Burleson, Texas, store...which is now closing.

My antagonist was an assistant manager.

I tried to tell everyone that he was running off customers, but they turned a deaf ear to me.

I have been in customer service and sales all my life.

I ended up going 20 miles to another Borders, in Fort Worth, but the damage was done.

Now, they will never know, and the next place to hire that guy will be closing soon.

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#27) On July 20, 2011 at 7:21 AM, allstar31 (99.87) wrote:

Just an an epitaph for my earlier post.  Borders is liquidating on Thursday.  I'm sorry to see them go.  

 I hate to say it, but I told you so?

 And for all the people who attacked my college blog post, I went on to work in politics for 2 years and am now in graduate school at Columbia University and the London School of Economics.  Not bad huh?



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