What’s Wrong With Retail (Part One)

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What’s Wrong With Retail (Part One)

I own the dubi­ous honor of hav­ing spent more than a decade in both retail and the cor­po­rate world. In the case of the for­mer, more like three decades over two stretches. Thank you in advance for your sympathies.

Occa­sion­ally I’ve toyed with the notion of writ­ing a book about these two decid­edly dif­fer­ent worlds, assum­ing I could do so with­out fear of mul­ti­ple law­suits. In lieu thereof, today I set forth some obser­va­tions con­cern­ing what’s wrong with so many retail­ers fun­da­men­tals, and offer a few experience-​earned sug­ges­tions on how to cor­rect same.

Let’s start with Num­ber One, and no it’s not prices. It’s cus­tomer ser­vice. More spcif­i­cally, the lack thereof.

Fewer than none of us have not had an in-​store expe­ri­ence that left us say­ing to our­selves if no one else, “Well, I won’t be com­ing here again.” Vet­eran retail peo­ple know it’s not the tem­per tantrum throw­ers berat­ing one and all at max­i­mum vol­ume that pose a gen­uine threat to a store’s sur­vival. It’s the ones who qui­etly walk out, never to return.

There are two kinds of faulty cus­tomer ser­vice: the rude /​con­de­scend­ing /​indif­fer­ent /​what have you bad inter­ac­tions, or the none of the above inter­ac­tions as there was no inter­ac­tion because there was no employee to be found with whom to inter­act. The first can be cor­rected through var­i­ous means: train­ing, dis­ci­pli­nary meth­ods up to and includ­ing ter­mi­na­tion, proper reward­ing for employ­ees who do things prop­erly, etc. The lat­ter, though, is sel­dom a mat­ter address­able at the local level although it is the local level, i.e. the store employ­ees once one is finally located, bear­ing the brunt of cus­tomer wrath.

One of the main, if not the main, rea­sons for shop­ping in per­son rather than online is the expe­ri­ence. Even those of us who pre­fer to shop in soli­tude enjoy feel­ing like we are wel­come at any given store. Per­haps we have ques­tions, or we are seek­ing sug­ges­tions about/​for a given prod­uct. Or, we’re sim­ply try­ing to find some­thing. What­ever the case may be, we are look­ing for help, some­thing unavail­able in bor­ing boast­ful online prod­uct descrip­tions that make the ad copy for Ginsu knives seem utterly mod­est. And when we can’t find any­one to help, or the person(s) who could help is/​are unavail­able because of sched­ul­ing cut­backs, for some odd rea­son it ran­kles a bit.

Every employer, unless you’re a one per­son oper­a­tion, knows the neces­sity of keep­ing labor costs (salary, ben­e­fits such as health insur­ance, and so on) in check. Where most every retailer falls flat on their face in this area is grossly under­es­ti­mat­ing the num­ber of employee hours required to both run store mechan­i­cal processes — restock­ing, clean­ing, orga­niz­ing — and con­sumer inter­ac­tive processes a/​k/​a cus­tomer ser­vice. Fail­ure to grasp this rapidly becomes a self-​fulfilling prophecy: sales dip, cor­po­rate response is to cut back employee hours, sales dip even more due to lack of cus­tomer ser­vice, even more hours are cut, and inevitably every­one is won­der­ing why things once divine are now dis­as­ter­ous. Gee, I won­der why.

More next week.

I own the dubious honor of having spent more than a decade in both retail and the corporate world. In the case of the former, more like three decades over two stretches. Thank you in advance for your sympathies.

Occasionally I’ve toyed with the notion of writing a book about these two decidedly different worlds, assuming I could do so without fear of multiple lawsuits. In lieu thereof, today I set forth some observations concerning what’s wrong with so many retailers fundamentals, and offer a few experience-earned suggestions on how to correct same.

Let’s start with Number One, and no it’s not prices. It’s customer service. More spcifically, the lack thereof.

Fewer than none of us have not had an in-store experience that left us saying to ourselves if no one else, “Well, I won’t be coming here again.” Veteran retail people know it’s not the temper tantrum throwers berating one and all at maximum volume that pose a genuine threat to a store’s survival. It’s the ones who quietly walk out, never to return.

There are two kinds of faulty customer service: the rude / condescending / indifferent / what have you bad interactions, or the none of the above interactions as there was no interaction because there was no employee to be found with whom to interact. The first can be corrected through various means: training, disciplinary methods up to and including termination, proper rewarding for employees who do things properly, etc. The latter, though, is seldom a matter addressable at the local level although it is the local level, i.e. the store employees once one is finally located, bearing the brunt of customer wrath.

One of the main, if not the main, reasons for shopping in person rather than online is the experience. Even those of us who prefer to shop in solitude enjoy feeling like we are welcome at any given store. Perhaps we have questions, or we are seeking suggestions about/for a given product. Or, we’re simply trying to find something. Whatever the case may be, we are looking for help, something unavailable in boring boastful online product descriptions that make the ad copy for Ginsu knives seem utterly modest. And when we can’t find anyone to help, or the person(s) who could help is/are unavailable because of scheduling cutbacks, for some odd reason it rankles a bit.

Every employer, unless you’re a one person operation, knows the necessity of keeping labor costs (salary, benefits such as health insurance, and so on) in check. Where most every retailer falls flat on their face in this area is grossly underestimating the number of employee hours required to both run store mechanical processes – restocking, cleaning, organizing – and consumer interactive processes a/k/a customer service. Failure to grasp this rapidly becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: sales dip, corporate response is to cut back employee hours, sales dip even more due to lack of customer service, even more hours are cut, and inevitably everyone is wondering why things once divine are now disasterous. Gee, I wonder why.

More next week.