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The retailer received a financing commitment of $550 million from the General Electric unit on Jan. 27. The funding had several conditions including securing $175 million from other lenders and $125 million in junior debt provided by vendors and lenders. The funding is also contingent on Borders completing a program to close stores.
Borders has posted almost $800 million in losses since 2006 as it lost market share to competitors such as Amazon.com Inc. The retailer has also been slow to embrace digital reading, which continues to gain popularity with consumers.
Frankly, none of this washes with me. When Borders first arrived in Fredericksburg back in the mid-1990s, the folks there were friendly and knowledgeable about the books sold. There was a coffee house where people who gave a damn made the coffee. You could browse through a book without being hassled, and if you had a question, you literally had to turn a corner to find a person who would help you right there on the spot.
Today, that same bookstore’s shelves are bare. Books are turned with the cover facing out rather than with the binding staring at the customer. Coffee is practically tossed at you. Help is now a kiosk. And best of luck finding an employee that is paid well enough to care about the books they are selling — Borders might as well be Taco Bell or the Gap to them.
I had a particularly poor customer experience once at Borders, where when I complained, the manager fobbed me off with a free magazine that was little short of “just go away and take the free crap.” So I called the regional manager… who didn’t even return my phone call.
Finally, it took a sales rep at the top of the food chain to listen to my complaint about customer service (which had really boiled down to “will someone please give a damn?!”) before I finally was assured that someone listened. Even after that… I had no idea whether anyone really gave a damn, or whether the next time I asked for a copy of The Economist someone would have the courtesy to check in the back for me, rather than just roll their eyes and speak into a dead phone — true story.
The moral of the story is that no one cared about this customer. And potentially thousands of others. That’s why Borders is on the brink of bankruptcy protection, and why booksellers like Joseph Beth and any number of boutique bookstore are expanding.