(On the example of Martinus, once the best bookstore in Bratislava, Slovakia)
A writer needs his own place to write. In the cities I often visit, I adopt a comfy and nice café, where the staff is friendly, the music not loud and wifi dependable.
In Bratislava, I use two places: one is Eleven Books & Coffee, small and hidden, selling second-hand books too, and pouring additional hot water in my tea cup without asking.
The other is Martinus, a big and shiny bookstore with a café on two floors (by Foxford, obviously part of Martinus company), an expensive one by Slovak standards but comfy and with friendly waitresses.
Step by step
Martinus used to employ knowledgeable staff but two months ago I came upon young man that was lost in the space; well, I said to myself, obviously they’re cutting costs by employing just any student. OK.
Toilets – locked
On the next visit, WC was locked. Paying guest could ask the waitress for a key. Martinus is located on one of the busiest streets, and it’s a busy place in itself, so no doubt occasionally some person gets in their toilet to answer the call of nature without buying something.
I’m always badly impressed by this locking of the restrooms – in Istanbul you’re welcomed to enter from the street and in Tokyo, I’ve seen the signs “Please use our toilets” – and the business is booming.
If you’re expensive and on the crowded street you should have some money left for the cleaners. Asking for a key puts even a paying customer psychologically in a beggar’s position.
What’s next? Calling the police if somebody didn’t order anything like they did at Starbucks in Philadelphia?
(BTW: why is locking the toilet always the first step on the cutting expenses mission? Freudians would nod and talk about anal stage, etc.)
Couch – gone
Fourteen days later: In the corner with the English books was a nice couch. I used to pick up the interesting books, sit there and choose one or two to buy. Well, no more. Now, the couch is gone.
Select from the shelves and go to the counter as quickly as possible.
Move, move, time is money.
Waitresses – not taking orders
Today I entered the café, sat down, greeted the smiling waitress and said: “Zelený čaj, prosim.”
She said she can’t take my order.
“Why?” I wondered.
She pointed at a leaflet on the table. The web address was written on it. I should load it in my browser, enter the number of the table, browse the catalog, add what I want to order to the shopping bag and send the order to her. She will deliver it.
While talking, she was standing less than one meter from me, knowing I wanted the green tea.
What if I don’t have a smartphone? Well … They’re sorry.
What if I don’t understand Slovak? Well … She will find what I want in the catalog for me.
What if I am disabled and can’t use the catalog or the phone? Well … They’re sorry.
What if I use the web page now, kilometers away from Martinus and make an order? (it works, there is no location check). Well … I’m sorry.
Usability expert is IN
I make my living as a usability expert. I usually don’t disperse my knowledge for free, but the logic of the Martinus managers is so wrong and so self-destructive, that I will make this analysis public.
They are using two paradigms and they got both totally and deadly wrong:
- fast food vs expensive café ordering
- internet vs brick and mortar sales
Fast food vs expensive café ordering
The situation in Martinus now: Orders are selected on the internet. One lady is preparing them, the second is bringing them to the guests.
The situation in nearby McDonald’s: you select your order on the touch screen display and when your number is ready, you go to the counter and pick it up. Basically, they don’t need a person asking you what you want and a person bringing it to you.
Martinus has kicked out the first person, soon the second will follow. You will order on your smartphone and go to pick it up at the lady preparing the orders. Only one person employed = low costs.
Martinus has switched its ordering system from human interaction to internet browsing. They are using the paradigm of the fast food chain trying to be as cheap as possible.
Problem is, Martinus is an expensive place. They are kicking out the humans but not lowering the prices! Geeks and sociopaths will like it, no doubt, but what about the rest? The expensive place is build on human interaction, on peerless service and warmth, not on click-click-click, locked toilets, and missing couches.
Internet vs brick and mortar sales
Martinus’ management is walking in a dangerous direction. They are brick and mortar store, physical building, a bookstore, and if you get the crazy idea to employ just anybody or even nobody, to make the place uncomfortable, to push the users to browse internet catalogs, clicking and ordering, you are using paradigm of internet bookstore, of Amazon or Bookdepository – in short: you’re killing yourself.
Physical bookstores can survive only with knowledgeable and friendly staff, as comfy places where people gather and discuss, where they can go to the toilet and where they can wave to the waitress, talk to her, exchange smiles and niceties. In short: places of gathering, places of humanity.
If I don’t want to talk to anybody and just want to click on the screen to order, I can do that at home.
Sadly, I’ve seen it many times: when cost cutting sets in the mind of the managers, it becomes a new mission of the company. In the end, all they do, is lowering the expenses (at all costs! What an oxymoron). And the expenses are zero only when the company is gone.
Danger of cost cutting is the same as with every addiction: it’s easy to start but difficult to stop.
It is sad to see Martinus turning into a physical replica of a web page, cold and unfriendly space, dedicated only to getting few euros more for owners, thinking about the customers as necessary evil to be milked and not humans to be wooed.