It’s About the Service, Stupid!
In politics, we sometimes hear “it’s the economy, stupid”. Well, I believe that tenet applies to retail as well – Just substitute “economy” for “service”.
The often-cited reasons for retail’s troubles are the challenging move to omnichannel, Amazon, burdensome debt and changing demographics. One overlooked reason is poor customer service. Providing good customer service is one of the most basic fundamentals of retail. Yep, good, old-fashion, someone to help you customer service. Even in the age of “smart shopping” and the mobile experience, many retailers seem to have forgotten about the human touch.
After several bad experiences at one of America’s top department stores (I shall not name names), I came away flabbergasted that this struggling retailer is still making the customer work so hard to buy, exchange or return their offerings. I’m not shopping there anymore, nor am I ordering from their online store. In my latest experience, I purchased a pair of shoes online, which are just a different color of a pair I already own. Same model, same size, just a different color. Strangely, it didn’t fit (It probably was made in a different factory). I decided to return it in-store, hoping they might have a different size in stock that I could try on. Long story short, 45 minutes later, I left the store with nothing. No one seemed too interested in helping me. One person pointed me to a different department and told me to “wait there until the associate got back from a break”. Another gave me a look like I was an outcast since I ordered the shoes online. This retailer needs to do everything they can to provide great service to customers coming in their doors because any negative experience can drive them away – forever. Like me (It might just help their stock valuation as well)!
Conversely, I purchased a new GoPro camera for a family vacation in Florida. I received an email directly from GoPro with a special promotion and I jumped on it. I received my camera the day before we left for Florida and put it in my luggage in its unopened packaging. Once in Florida I opened it up and couldn’t seem to get it to charge or turn on. I’m fairly experienced with GoPro so I was sure I was doing everything correctly, following the instructions. I decided to call GoPro. Not only were they apologetic about me not getting the camera to work, they offered to FedEx me a replacement to my hotel in Florida! And they threw in a free accessory for my troubles. That’s exceptional customer service and I will be a customer for life.
I understand that many retailers have cut the number of associates on the sales floor. But the responsibility to teach, coach and provide excellent customer service – exceeding customer’s expectations – still falls upon their shoulders. I have had pleasant customer service experiences at JC Penney and Kohls, two retailers who understand they must fight for everyone one-hundredth of a percent of market share in the mid-tier.
Eliminating stockouts is another important tenant of customer service. In fact, we at ERS dedicate ourselves to helping our clients improve item performance, inventory productivity, store execution and much more with hands-on consulting by retail veterans or AI assisted expert software solutions.
Retail is a zero-sum game these days. Each organization must be absolutely peerless in every way. A retailer can offer Wall Street all sorts of business plans and strategies to save themselves but whether they can execute the boots on the ground is another story.