Crash Course on Creativity Observation LabStores Visited: Booksale • Booksale is a used-books store in the Philippines, with over 91 branches nationwide and a majority of them in Metro Manila. • Here is an outside view of the typical Booksale branch: Booksale BranchActivity: • For this activity, I visited six different Booksale branches. I’ve been visiting Booksale regularly for five years, but last week is the first time that I focused on anything else over book-buying while at Booksale. I shall list down three of last week’s key observations along with some insights. In the end I will list down scattered observations culled out from years of visiting.Key Observation #1 Figure #1: Concealed Books • Whenever I look at a stack of books, often I have to move some books to look at some more concealed ones. That takes up a lot of time!
• Often I have to move the books above so I can check out the books underneath. That’s fine for me but not for other customers who struggle in the task.Key Observation #2 Figure #2: Mess Heap Above Concealed Books • Some customers (including me, admittedly) move books to look at concealed ones but don’t return them in an organized way. That can be a nightmare for other customers, especially the older ones who find physical exertion difficult, and the staff who need to rearrange the books every now and then.Key Observation #3 Figure #3: More Concealed Books • They’re not just ordinary stacks. There are books concealed behind them. • To see the books behind, one must sit down, pull out one of the front stacks, and move the other front stacks sideways as needed to see the books behind. That wastes plenty of time and can be tiring. (Which I do because on my five years of shopping at Booksale, I found very good books from the concealed ones.) • Stacks like these exist not only on low shelves but also on higher ones. In that case, it’s impractical to pull out a front stack and then move books sideways as needed – there is a risk of falling books.
• Moreover, in book stacks similar to Figure #3, it is hard to pull out any book buried by other books or sandwiched between any two books (for instance, the book “Jack’s Life”). One should pull out a stack and lift some books to get a desired book. This applies especially when books stacked this way are thick and heavy.InsightsI estimate that on any Booksale branch, 50% of the books are concealed from plain sight. I can’t changethe settings at any given Booksale branch, so my insights apply for a generic used-books store.#1. No books should be concealed. All book titles should be visible in plain view. Customers are oftenwilling to squat or sit to see books below (and even move them), so it is okay to fill up bottom shelves.But in general no books should be placed two stacks higher than the average height of the buyers. Used-book shops can incorporate this insight when looking for book cabinets.#2. A simple sign stating that customers are to return books properly for the benefit of other customerscan surely help. I just realized that such a sign isn’t present in any Booksale branch I visited. Thesituation mentioned here is similar to that happening in fastfood chains in the Philippines; after thediners are finished, they just leave their plates, silverware, and leftover food on the table even ifdeliberately cleaning them up, instead of waiting for staff to do it for them, is only a minorinconvenience.#3. Insights #1 and #2 certainly help with reducing the labor needed to browse through books. Now, wecan go further: what if no books are lying down the way they do in Figure #3? Books sandwichedbetween books or buried under other books are often hard to pull out, especially given the tight shelfspace. Books are better arranged as they often are in libraries – books are placed vertically, nothorizontally. (Of course, it’s impractical to change Booksale’s cabinets now, but this insight is applicablefor other settings with lots of books.)Other Scattered Observations • Sometimes, two identical books from the same Booksale branch have different prices. That justifies the physical ardor of moving some books; serendipity can strike at any time. That also justifies going to several Booksale branches at any one go. • Sometimes, two identical books from different Booksale branches have different prices. (There’s nothing I can do about that, but it’s nice to say that I’m always lucky when it comes to this.) I would sometimes be astonished if I buy a book for Php45 at one Booksale branch only to find out that the same book cost P125 at another. I’m sometimes on the losing end, though, but years of being a loyal customer have given me a gut feel of which books deserve which prices. • Prices of concealed books are often smaller than the prices of the easily noticed ones. Also, prices of books that you can see only when sitting or squatting are often lower than the prices of other books. (Perhaps it’s Booksale’s move to nudge customer choices based on accessibility?) • The most desirable times to visit any Booksale branch are three hours from opening (9 AM or 10 AM, depending on branch) and three hours before closing (9 PM) because there aren’t many
people yet. The least desirable times are during 4-7 PM, after Philippine work and school hours.Booksale stores, moreover, are more crowded during Saturdays and Sundays than duringweekdays.