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Edition 209 – Retail Indifference

My wife likes shoes. Lots of shoes. Not necessarily expensive ones and most often quite well priced. It’s just that Trish really can’t walk past a shoe store without stepping inside just like I can’t walk past a patisserie. Sigh!

On this particular Friday, I had some meetings to attend in North Sydney. We drove in and I dropped her off in the City so she could indulge in a few hours of retail therapy. Two birds – one stone – that sort of thing.

Later that day, as we overlooked Sydney Harbour and shared a glass of wine, she explained to me how hard it was to purchase a pair of shoes she had her eyes on.

She wandered into the partially refurbished Sydney CBD flagship store of this national chain that, once upon a time, used to proclaim “there is no other store like ……”. By the way, they’re spending over $200 million dollars on the renovation project, at a time when their sales are declining.

Trish wandered up to the floor for ladies shoes, spotted a pair she liked, but not in her size. She waited, seemingly forever, for a sales assistant to wander up. So did another customer.

When the “sales” “assistant” (both words oxymorons when we finish this story) finally appeared, Trish requested a slightly different size to the pair she’d chosen. In my wife’s words, the sales assistant was gone and had returned so quickly that she could not have even entered the stock room.

“Computer says no!” Was the sales assistant’s response to my wife’s request, to quote a phrase from a character out of Little Britain. She really meant “I can’t be bothered”. This retail indifference was taking place in an area of the store dedicated to a middle range of shoes. 

Not far away, in the eye wateringly priced level, sales assistants fell over each other as they gushed at the tourists eyeing off the shoes you see only in an episode of Sex and the City.

So, just to re-state some points:

  1. Retailers are struggling at the moment – or so we’re told.
  2. Some of the retailers are spending big bucks on store renovations to arrest the sliding sales – apparently to create new experience for the customer.
  3. Online retailers are killing the typical bricks and mortar shopfront – or at least, that’s the hue and cry from typical retailers.

Perhaps, it’s none of that, and that retailers need to:

  1. Actually greet a customer warmly.
  2. Offer assistance as opposed to be asked for it.
  3. Suggest an alternative if a product is not available.
  4. Ask the customer if there is anything else that could be done to help resolve their enquiry.
  5. And, if you’re a part of the executive team, simply shadow shop (or ask someone you know to shadow shop) your own business so you can gauge what the true customer experience is.

Whilst today’s story is of a large corporate, there are lessons for all family businesses in this. Ultimately, business success comes from building a relationship, over a period of time, and having a consistent approach to nurturing and supporting that process. Otherwise, it’s a transaction – and that is purely price driven.

If you’re the owner or manager in your family business, get out on site, hop into the truck or sit in on appointments with your staff.

You may well find the values you’re espousing in the big training days are falling short, or are non existent, in the everyday.