5 Warnings to Shoppers From Barnes & Noble Employees

There are some things you may want to know about the retailer before you buy your next book.

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Whether you're a lifelong voracious reader or just like to pick up the occasional beach read, Barnes & Noble is a go-to for anyone who needs a book in a pinch. The retailer has managed to hold on to its corner of the market amid increased competition from online stores like Amazon, even outlasting other brick-and-mortar shops like Borders in recent decades. But no matter how much time you've spent perusing the aisles and leafing through copies over the years, insiders say there are some things you still may not know about shopping at the iconic bookstore. Read on for warnings that Barnes & Noble employees have for shoppers.

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You may not be able to return some books if you wait too long.

Woman reading book.

Whether you were gifted a duplicate copy or simply weren't grabbed by the first few chapters of your latest read, it's necessary to return a book every once in a while. But if you're hoping to get store credit or your money back, just make sure you're not taking too long to bring back your copy—and that it's still in good condition.

"You have your receipt? Take a look at the book you want to return. As long as there aren't any obvious marks, you're okay," Benjamin Rathbone, a former Barnes & Noble employee of five years, explained in a Quora thread. "[But] I'd worry more about whether you're within the time limit (it will say on the back of the receipt)."

You may not be looking in the right place for the best price.

Barnes & Noble bookseller website
Casimiro PT / Shutterstock

Increased competition has made the book market feel like a race to the bottom when it comes to price. But Barnes & Noble staff warn that just because a book may not be a new release anymore doesn't mean they have the power to take a few dollars off your purchase.

"Booksellers don't set prices," TikTok user and Barnes & Noble employee Campolka explains in a video posted to her account. "We always sell books at the set market cost, and we have no say in it. Trust me: I wish books were cheaper too!"

However, in the comments on her video, Campolka clarifies, "Though booksellers don't choose what prices are, we will price match whatever is on our own website!" That provides you an easy way to get a copy of the book you need fast without paying for shipping.

That's where the price changes typically end, though. She explains that customers regularly inquire if the retailer will match prices found on Amazon, which it does not. "If I had a nickel every time [I was asked this], I'd never have to work for Barnes & Noble again," she says in the comments on her video.

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There's one thing that can get you banned from the store's café.

woman drinking coffee and reading
Shutterstock/ESB Professional

Part of the appeal of trekking to Barnes & Noble to buy a book in person versus online can sometimes be the on-site café that serves up beverages and snacks for customers. But if you're worried that leafing through one of the store's magazines or books while you sip a latte is forbidden, you might be surprised to learn that the staff sometimes doesn't mind it.

"As long as you're buying something, even a coffee, managers are okay with people who hang around like that," Barnes & Noble employee and Reddit user MyShelfToBlame explained in an AMA. "If you want bonus points, put away your magazines after you're done reading them…Too often we have people leaving huge stacks on the table to be picked up by a cafe employee and brought to the register to shelve. If you put away your mags, you're cleaning the table for the next person and saving us the hassle."

However, they still warn that you shouldn't get too comfortable. "Side note: we have banned people that just come in on a regular basis and bring their computers and don't buy anything ever," they add. "Just a little fun fact."

You're missing out on great sales before and after the busy holiday shopping season.


Unlike clothing retailers, bookstores like Barnes & Noble don't have the same seasonal changes when it comes to inventory. But if you're looking to save a little money on some items, employees say you should time your purchases more carefully around certain times of the year anyway.

"If you're willing to wait about a month into the year to get your planner, you can get it for only a couple of bucks," Campolka says in a TikTok video, adding that even expensive brands can go for as little as $2 and wall calendars can get marked down as much as 75 percent. "In general, January and early February are gold mines for sales. It's the slowest time of the year and we're trying to get rid of all of our Christmas items, so you can get cute, cozy Christmas items for only a couple of dollars."

But even if you're not in the market for seasonal products, there's still a way to save money with the company for purchases down the line. "If you're looking to come in around the holidays like in December, take a look at the gift cards," Campolka suggests. "We almost always do a deal where if you get a big enough gift card, you can get another one for free. Every holiday, I buy this for myself because hey, who doesn't like free money?"

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Your Starbucks gift card won't work there.

woman on phone drinking starbucks
Farknot Architect / Shutterstock

Whether you're in a rush or looking to lounge around for a while, swinging by Barnes & Noble can be a convenient way to both pick up the books you're after and get your favorite Starbucks order in one stop. But just because the company's famous green logo may be all over the place doesn't mean you can use your reward points or stockpile of gift cards there.

"This is not a Starbucks: It's a Barnes & Noble café that's licensed to sell Starbucks products," Campolka explains in a video covering common misunderstandings shoppers have about the store. "It's under the jurisdiction of Barnes & Noble management and is part of the store. This is why the café can take Barnes & Noble gift cards but not Starbucks ones. Please don't give the baristas a hard time about this: They have to explain it, like, 50 times a day."

NOTE: Best Life only includes information from social media and job boards when there is corroboration from multiple sources. These comments have not been independently verified, however, and are the opinions of the people who posted them.

Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
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