Why So Few Stores Get It Right

Many people think working in retail is easy. “It’s just about talking to customers”, they say, “That doesn’t take much effort”. My view is that retail is pretty simple but not easy. There are many things to get right, and it involves far more than just talking and being nice to customers.

This misunderstanding about what it takes to work in retail has some unfortunate results. People who are unsuited to retail, or those who can’t get a job elsewhere, can be attracted to the sector. This is doing the job for the wrong reasons.

In the words of Tom O’Toole, “We are in business to serve the customer.”

There is another common issue: employees who get stuck in their comfort zone. These are the employees who have stayed too long in the one segment. While they may love their baking, liquor, fashion segment, for example, and even do a great job, something happens. They get sick of the boss, the daily tasks, the location or they get challenged, and then they move on. Only problem is, they move on to a job in the same sector. These employees can wind up being the kind of employees who come to a job with lots of experience and lots of unresolved issues.

Retail customer service is about consistency

It is consistency that makes retail simple and not easy. Maintaining consistently high standards in retail is an ongoing challenge because there are many variables on a daily basis. As a customer, however, I don’t care what’s going on in your world; I just want to get served by someone who is friendly and helpful. Why would I be concerned that you have stock to put away, paperwork to fill out, or are due on your break?

Many of the complaints customers make revolve around consistency and the lack of it.

One week, the customer is well looked after; the following week, she is ignored or has to wait. It can happen all too easily. One staff member is poor, but the next one is great. Or the same staff member is great one day, and not the next.

Customers don’t know and certainly don’t care what is going on in your store; they just want to be looked after. Some businesses forget that the sale doesn’t end in-store if the customer has to pick up the product or get it delivered. All the hard work can be undone by a surly delivery driver, or a warehouse person who doesn’t appear to care.

Here’s a recent experience I had that makes the point. Having purchased a desk from a major furniture retailer, I was told I should pick it up from the warehouse when it arrived in stock. When I rang to check if it had arrived on the promised delivery day, I was advised the pickup hours were 8.00am to 4.00pm. Wanting to be helpful, I said, “I’ll probably be there around 2.30/3.00pm.” What do you think was the staff member’s response?

We don’t care what time you arrive as long as it’s before 4.00pm!

Any feeling I had of being valued as a customer was wiped out in an instant. They may as well have announced out loud, “Don’t inconvenience us. We’re the warehouse; customer service doesn’t apply to us.”

One little comment like this and all the hard work in the store is undone.