Merchandising is pretty. Service is meaningful.

After spending half of a lunch hour searching through the “well merchandised” half acre of Barnes & Noble looking for a particular book (and never finding one staff person to assist or a self-serve computer terminal to search the inventory) I firmly say this: merchandising is not service. We’re confusing ourselves if we think so and tangle this up with the core of what we do. Merchandising is a very obvious thing to do and you can see the nice results. It’s not the answer to meeting needs of resource seekers.
Should we better merchandise our collections and resources? Yes–of course. Will it make a huge dent in customer service? No. It’s pretty. It makes the place look nice. It may increase circulation. But it is not service. People give service. This is what the big chains still don’t get. A user likely won’t remember that all the yellow books about travel were neatly stacked together on face-out shelves. She will remember a staff member who helped her search for what she needed or made her feel welcome or offered her an alternative. It’s the meaning behind the merchandise that is remarkable.

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