Thursday, June 16, 2005

Downturn in retail sales? - then train someone to serve me!

The retail trade has seen a global downward trend recently, and all sorts of reasons and excuses have been put forward by power dressers in full spin control.

Thankfully, these days not everything is blamed on "9/11" or "Sep 11". Pity, that was so easy. Downturn in sales of elastic bands - blame 9/11. Ten percent increase in prices - blame Sep 11. Sept 11 became the, "my dog ate my homework," for both the corporate sector and government. I even expected a losing boxer to say, "Ya know like, I gave it my best shot like, but you know like, it was Sep 11 to blame like".

Retail boardrooms around the world are busily developing strategies, new policies and implementing revolving door executive recruitment. Millions of dollars are being directed towards advertising and marketing budgets. Forget all that. I have the answer.

It's too much bloody hard work to go shopping. Even harder, is getting served or anything resembling customer service.

I used to enjoy shopping. I would enter a department store, my wallet at the ready, and feel like a kid let loose in a candy store. Not any more. I feel like the South Pole explorer, Captain Oates, who sacrificed himself with the famous last words "I am just going outside - I may be some time." Change "outside" to "shopping" and that's how I feel.

Deciding on what you want to buy is relatively easy - as long as you remember to ask, "Before I start looking, what models don't you have in stock?"

How many times have I spent hours deciding on a particular brand or model of TV, Video, Hi Fi, only to be told, "I'll' just check if we have it in stock." Of course, when the assistant finally re-emerges from the depth of the storeroom, "Sorry, mate we don't have that in at the moment."

That's another thing. Call me a snob, but I don't like being called, "mate" by shop assistants.

In one shop I was even told by the assistant, that he couldn't check until I had decided if I actually wanted that model. I simply told him that either he walked to the storeroom or I would walk straight out the door, go back to my office and start work on a service review article for my corporate newsletter, a copy of which would be sent to his head office.

Of course, I should have counted myself lucky that I was able to buttonhole an assistant in the first place. Either they are missing in action, talking on the telephone or huddled around in groups talking. Heaven help the poor customer who dares to interrupt with a subtle cough and a hopeful look in their eyes. I have no objections to staff engaged in work related calls while I wait, but I do take exception to being forced to overhear their personal or romantic problems.

At one department store the young lady assistant, phone in hand, was obviously more interested in serving her boyfriend than serving me. That ended when I politely and apologetically interrupted by saying, "I'm sorry to interrupt your efforts to find a shag for tonight, but could I pay for this please."

Staff could also be more discreet with their language. At one electrical store, I was looking at clock radios when my attention was drawn to an unofficial staff meeting right next to me. "If she phones up again, don't believe her. She's a liar. She's a snake. I told her all that when I sold it to her. She's a f**** con artist." Some conversations are best left for the staff room. I never found out what happened, I was too busy walking out the door.

A similar thing happened recently when I purchased a new mobile phone from my local Optus shop. In the middle of completing the transaction, a male assistant was on the phone to another outlet yelling, "Bullshit mate, that's bloody bullshit."

Then there is the patronising type of assistant. My mother aged 74, recently went to Myers, a well known Sydney department store to buy a cardigan. For some reason, the powers that be think it is too easy to have a floor layout that has some sort of logic. You need to hire an experienced guide to help you around and even then you should you take a flask of tea and some sandwiches.

She asked an assistant. "Is this where I find cardigans?" A simple "No Madam," would have sufficed. Too easy for Little Miss Up Herself, who replied, "No Madam, this is for the young and chique." Another lost customer vowing never to return!

Forget strategies and million dollar advertising campaigns. If you want me to buy - find me someone willing to give me answers and service that make me want to buy!