Anthony forwarded a link to me today for BlogTO and their Best Comic Shops In Toronto. It’s a nice snapshot of comic shops, listing one to nine, but absolutely no criteria are defined for what put these shops on the list and in the order provided. It’s hard to put any worth into a “best of” list if you don’t know what they’re basing it on. And that got me thinking: what criteria would fit rating and reviewing a comic shop?

After the Joe Shuster Awards last weekend in Montreal I had a chance to speak with Rob Haines, Shuster retailer liaison and force behind the Harry Kremer Retailer Award, about retailing and Canadian comic shops. He said there were about 300 comic shops currently in Canada, and each one represents our hobby to everyone that walks in the door. That conversation and the list discussed above made me want to develop a secret shopper program here at Comic Book Daily.

Since clearly defined criteria are a must I turned first to The Joe Shuster Awards and their clearly defined list. These are expanded upon at the site so I suggest everyone go there and give it a full on read, then come back.

  1. Support of a wide variety of innovative material
  2. Overall appeal of the store
  3. Knowledge
  4. Community activity
  5. Adherence to standard ethical business practices

So, now that you’ve read the defined criteria, which work well for a retailing award for best of, let’s see what we can change or focus for our ratings. Let’s look at the store from the outside in, as a customer would from their initial and subsequent visits. The customer approaches the store: is it clearly defined, inviting, open for reasonable shopping hours? Once inside, how does the store appear? Can the customer locate what they’re looking for? Is the customer greeted by the staff? Can the staff point the customer to the various products? Can the staff provide recommendations? Is there a breadth of material available? If the shop focuses on one area of comics, do they have the knowledge and product in that specialty? Can requested products be ordered? Are there any membership or rewards programs? Is the purchasing process efficient? Would the customer return?

Let’s define our criteria in a handy list.

  1. Appeal of the store
  2. Customer service and knowledge
  3. Shopping experience

A breakdown of the three criteria items above. At this point they should have equal weight in an overall rating, with a store of 1 to 5 assigned to each for a possible total score of 15.

Appeal of the store. The overall look of the store, inside and out. Clean, bright, organized, inviting.

Customer service and knowledge. Friendly, helpful, interested and knowledgeable staff. Services offered in store such as subscription service, discount cards, events such as signings.

Shopping experience. Well laid out store with easy to find items. Depth and breadth of product. Not every store can specialize in all areas of comics so if the store is mainstream comics, graphic novels, manga, small press or anything in between that area of expertise is well represented.

This is the tip of the iceberg and much debate will rage before we proceed. Diamond, the comics distributor, has a secret shopper program and I’m looking into their criteria to see what we can borrow. I’m posting this in the hopes the vox populi will weigh in via the comments section and let us know what they want to see from a comic shop.