A Tale of Three Stores

A Tale of Three Stores

by Rich Gordon aka Retail Rich

It was the best of times.  It was the worst of times.  Charles Dickens was right, especially if he were referring to some retailers out there today.

I’ve been visiting a lot of stores lately, especially in Hawaii, St. Louis and the Washington D.C. area.  And I’m here to tell you that there are plenty of retailers in all three cities who don’t belong in business.  But this isn’t what I love to find.  Finding poor retailers just makes me feel sad, and it makes me wonder how many people visit these stores only to think to themselves’, “no wonder I love buying on the internet”.  The fact is, I love it when I find a really good retailer that actually “gets it” and it impresses the heck out of me.

I’ve decided as I’ve visited these stores that there is no way my wife or I will buy anything from any store that can’t acknowledge and make me feel sincerely welcomed in their store.  They don’t know that I write a blog and that I have a broad retail background.  All they know is that I’m a person who may be a potential customer within their store.

The first shop I entered in the Annapolis, Maryland area one Saturday failed right off the bat.  I had to move out of the way of an employee who was hastily making a beeline for the backroom.  No excuse me, good morning or even drop dead.  Just an attitude of, “your in my way” as the employee moved from behind the counter. Judging from the age of this person, they were most likely an employee.  It made me wonder just what the owner feels when their investment, their livelihood, in some cases their very identity is at the mercy of such a poor excuse for help, even if only for a day!  By the way, this person never did say “hello” and they seemed distracted enough, I felt like I should be looking for the self-service checkout line.  As I left, I heard a rather insincere shout out, from the clerk, “thanks”.  I thought, thanks. . . For what?  Thanks for not bothering me?  If you couldn’t say anything to me the entire time I was in your store, why say thanks now that I was walking out the door?  Then it hit me. . . The young indifferent girl was thanking me for leaving and not bothering her anymore.  She might have had to ring me up or answer a question or something!

I got to thinking, what if the owner of this store had just invested in some new mobile messaging technology and I had been texted to entice me into the store?   Could the owner be wondering why they weren’t getting a better response from their investment.  Let me tell you. . .technology won’t solve this kind of problem!

The next store I entered had an older gentleman manning the front counter area.  There was so much merchandise and general junk around the counter, the walls and the floor, that it appeared he had built a small fortress around himself so no customer could see him.  What was he doing back there? Eating, sleeping, playing solitaire?  No one could tell!  Maybe he just wanted customers to feel more hesitant about peeking through the fortress and bugging him.

There were ceiling tiles missing and some of the ones that were there were stained from roof leaks in the past.  I realized no one wants to pay for stained sales tiles and a store are usually at the mercy of the landlord.  How about just painting them white again?  It’s not a big deal! The floors weren’t much better looking, but the merchandise was packed on the shelves and the prices were full boat.  I asked myself, why should I pay full price in this place for anything.  When I couldn’t up with an answer, so I left.

My next store visit was a total accident.  It was an affordable jewelry/gift shop.  We weren’t in the market for either, but through the window it looked bright, interesting, clean and spacious and my curiosity got the best of me.  Boy, was I glad I went in.  My wallet wouldn’t necessarily agree, as it was lightened by a few hundred dollars over the next half hour.

Upon walking in, my wife and I were greeted immediately even though the store’s single salesclerk happened to be leaning over a jewelry counter talking to another customer.  He enthusiastically told us, he would be with us as soon as possible.

After taking care of the other customer, the salesclerk engaged us in conversation, while being interrupted a couple of times by a phone caller.  In both cases, the salesclerk excused himself and answered the phone, only to tell the caller he would need to take their name and number and call them back as soon as possible.  This clerk understood that the person who has actually taken the time and trouble to go to your store comes first and foremost.. . . Hallelujah!

The amazing thing about this person was that after engaging us in conversation, he asked my wife if she was familiar with a particular new line of jewelry he had started to carry. He enthusiastically led her and I over to an attractive well-lighted counter.  The jewelry involved silver and a variety of interchangeable precious and semi-precious stones.  He explained the line as well as the catalogue and how the pricing worked.  He provided just the right balance of creating interest, product information, genuine friendliness and helpfulness.  He wasn’t pushy, but positive. He sensed when we wanted to be left alone to look and consider our possible purchase.  He provided an incentive to purchase more, but provided the offer as information as opposed to some hard selling tactic.

In the end, my wife was happy and the store had a few hundred additional sales dollars added to the till.  The clerk explained the warranty to us once again, as well as how to access any help.  He handed us his business card and told us about the company website while capturing our contact information. He gave us a couple of care tips, while giving my wife a free polishing cloth. He thanked us for the business and recommended a good place to go eat lunch.

Good customer service starts with acknowledging there is a person in your store, not ignoring them or hoping they won’t bother you.  Most owners know this, but they often have no clue as to what their people are really doing.  Some owners understand the importance of customers, but still take them for granted, or they assume that if the customer wants something they’ll get the clerk or the storeowner. They deserve your respect and attention, especially over that of a phone caller.  Everyone would do well to remember that customers are people who deserve your respect until they give you reason to think otherwise.  They are people who have gone to the expense to drive, walk or both to your place of business and give you a shot at some of their hard earned money.  They are physically at your place of business and you have invited them in by the mere fact that you are in business. If you don’t treat these people with basic respect and can’t talk to them and truly serve them, they will probably continue to shop, but possibly elsewhere.  Maybe  they’ll shop online, only you’ll never know what they did or how much they spent.  They may spend less online or they might not, but you didn’t give them any reason to buy from you, not even “friendliness.”

This is the way it’s supposed to be.  Which tale is your store closer to?

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