I’m exhausted by the horrible customer service I get these days. It used to be just Rogers and Bell and occasionally the clerk at the local dry cleaner who prattled on about how life was so much better in the old country. It was the norm for customer service to be useful and helpful. The retail experience was defined by its sole purpose from clerk to the store manager with a fairly simple construct – help customers find what they want, ensure they get out of the store with ease and maybe a bit more than they came in for (the old school up sell).
This is big business. Really big.
The lovely people at Stats Canada tell us that 12% of Canadians work in retail and it generates roughly $500 billion dollars (2011 data). Not surprisingly when you eliminate Auto/Grocery&Beverage/Gasoline – mass merch comes in at the top of the heap. So with all the potential in this category to grow and generate profit why is sales execution so poor? I am honestly just a few steps (or clicks?) removed from shopping exclusively online and I’m not alone. I rarely grocery shop in a store anymore. Like millions of others, I haven’t purchased music, videos or books in a store in what seems like a decade. Why? Because I’m completely fed up with ALL of my retail shopping experiences. I have long loathed numerous large retailers, the Bay, Home Depot, Walmart, Toys’r’us for the apathetic approach to taking my money for goods and services I can just as easily purchase online.
**Before I get the eye rolling nasty comments and ‘you don’t know how hard it is‘ response – let me just say – that I’ve worked retail sales. And it sucks.
Is it so hard to treat customers like you want them there?
I’m tired of being treated as an obstacle in the path of some front line employee. Or worse yet, when I actually need someone, they scatter no where to be found. So I increasingly avoid specific retailers and like the rest of us, shop online. The retail environments (i.e. stores) simply fail to deliver me with any redeeming qualities. Bad service. Limited inventory. Frustrating policies. The ONLY two reasons I bother to shop in stores these days is simply because I’ve left an online purchase too late that I can’t wait 48 hours to have it delivered OR because I feel the need to try something on.
Are we at risk of a collapse of retail outlets?
I have to wonder. The current issue of Canadian Retailer reports that fully 75% of Canadians are comparing prices online before they purchase. So what is stopping them from the ‘click and send’ and have items sent direct to home. Numerous retailers are offering free shipping and generous return policies. Why would I bother driving to a store for a terrible experience? I am no expert but I have to think that the leading minds in retail customer service have to be concerned about the pervasive nature of this. The fact that dominant online brands are crushing growth figures that make Wall Street and Bay Street drool, while bricks and mortar retail continue to close up. Target couldn’t make it in Canada and we continue to see others drying up in the face of the digital consumer.
What’s the fix?
The short term fix is easy. Get a handle on how to sell product. When I worked retail – we had product knowledge seminars and programs (incentive based and others) that focused on moving product. Time, energy and oversight was put into ‘how to sell’. I was a 16 year old kid who was taught how to sell and it mattered to me that our customers had a good experience (mostly because I didn’t want to get yelled at by the shopper or store manager).
Teach them how to sell, and sell they shall.