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Willie's Off-Brand Web Journal: May 17- May 24, 2003

Sunday, May 18, 2003:

Still dog-sitting. Aunt was supposed to pick up puppy an hour ago. Cannot go to sleep till she does. Puppy, though adorable, wore me out. Her excretory system produces some sort of carpet-damaging material more often than my birds did. Wiping up urine (or worse) and disinfecting floors loses its charm after four or five times. (Puppy refused to do these things whenever I actually took her outside, opting instead to eat those helicopter things that fall from the maple tree.) Lots of work. Cements my resolve to never have kids.

TIME: 12:26 AM.

Saturday, May 17, 2003:

Just so you all know, Barnes & Noble has redoubled their ridiculously intrusive efforts to collect customers' e-mail addresses. Before every sale, a red dialog box pops up on the cash register screen, prompting the bookseller/cafe server to input the e-mail address of whomever is standing before them. (Erica and I had a fun day yesterday making up e-mail addresses like "sm0kinandt0kin@aol.com," "cheeba420@hotmail.com," and "DoctaBong@msn.com," because we thought it'd be funny to paint an exaggeratedly stoner-based picture of our clientele.) Since I work in the receiving room and not on the sales floor, I don't really know the ins and outs of how the system currently works, but the card-carrying Mensa members who make up the Barnes & Noble board of directors attempted this same program back in summer of 2000, when I was a bookseller. For the purposes of my ranting here, I'm going to assume that the e-mail solicitation scheme hasn't changed.

Back in my day, the "incentive" for customers to sign up for B&N's illustrious Spam Mail Galore program was that they would be sent a coupon for 10% off a future purchase. A future purchase. Singular. Now, according to the dementedly copious notes I took back then, the average amount of the sales I rang up as a cashier was $22.61. That means their 10%-off coupons were worth an average of $2.26. Granted, a certain lack of common sense is evident in many of our customers (such as the woman who, last week, was looking for "a biography or autobiography of Harry Potter"), but I can't imagine even the dimmest of the dim feeling psyched about trading their personal information for a discount that can buy roughly half a magazine.

It's hard enough to wrangle phone numbers from some customers when they themselves order a book from us, simply so we can call them when it arrives; no one wants to give out his or her contact information when purchasing something that was already in the store. The e-mail program might not seem like much, compared with, say, Radio Shack's weirdo policy of asking for your home address when you buy anything at their store, but it's still an inconvenience and an invasion of privacy, even with the dangled baby carrot of "valuable coupons" buried within annoying promotional e-mails. The entire notion of suggestive selling is an irritant to customers, from "Would you like fries with that?" on up, but when it reaches a point where personal information is requested for a service that doesn't require any, it's reached the point of creepiness. And if anything, thanks to our government's dangerously intrusive Patriot Act, people are even more hesitant to give out personal info now than they were when the program bombed two years ago- as well they should be. Adrienne, for instance, told me the other night that she's trying to get in the habit of paying for things with cash, because she's wary of the government having access to her credit card records. Not that she makes a habit of purchasing mass quantities of orange juice and gasoline or anything, but the very idea is an unsettling one. And since a person's reading habits are always among the first things that are investigated in "terrorism"-related inquiries, I think people have every right to want to be cautious about what information Barnes & Noble has about them.

Something tells me some red flags went up at the NSA as I typed that last paragraph.

It's not like Barnes & Noble is hurting for cash. The next Harry Potter book alone will surely net the company a few million (billion?) dollars. Yet, like most corporations, they feel a need to be in control of every cent ever minted, and if that means resorting to invasive marketing tactics, then so be it. After all, when the customers get agitated by this policy, who are they going to take their anger out on? Len Reggio and his crack team of corporate whizzes? Nope! They'll just spew mouthfuls of crap at the person who makes $7.75 an hour behind the register.

Again, I'm familiar only with how things worked back in summer of 2000, when they first gave this program a try. Perhaps they've grudgingly included more worthwhile coupons in their reams of advertisements. (I doubt it, since they're still flogging the ill-conceived Reader's Advantage program, which is a discount card that gives you 10% off every purchase... for the annual membership fee of $25. So you have to spend $250 on books to make your money back with that one.) And if the current incarnation of this program is anything like the old one, it will quickly fade away because the booksellers will just hit "clear" every time that dialog box pops up anyway. I just found it annoying and am now tired of writing about it.

CURRENT MOOD: I'd say "indignant," but I'm dog-sitting my aunt's shihpoo right now, and it's hard to be very upset about anything when you've got a little puppy napping on your foot.
TIME: 4:42 PM

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