retail news in context, analysis with attitude

The Richmond Times Dispatch had a column over the weekend by Gray Poehler in which he addresses what he calls the “obsolete” notion of customer service in the retail business, noting that the now-extinct Ukrop’s brand was “a prime example of a business that grew and prospered by putting the customer first.”

Here’s some of what Poehler had to say:

• “Given the current economic slowdown, job losses and other uncertainties, it is no wonder that the masses look to save a penny any way they can. The big-box retailers and discount stores are the beneficiaries of this mentality. However, when they compete solely on price, you should expect to deal with certain inconveniences, such as a lack of helpful sales clerks and long checkout lines.

• “That we now live in an increasingly impersonal world is no secret. Try getting a live person on the phone at any major service provider. We have been programmed to deal with automation and the Internet. When you are lucky enough to reach a human being, you are usually referred to another department, which requires that you repeat the process.”

• “Many retail-store clerks, when you can locate one, seem indifferent to whether you buy something or not, unless they work on commission. Many are not that knowledgeable about their products or services. It is, therefore, quite refreshing when you come face to face with a sales clerk who takes a genuine interest in "helping" versus selling.

When was the last time you came across someone whose sole motivation was to help you make a wise and informed decision?

“Thankfully, many people still value their time and are willing to pay a little more for the personal touch.

“These ‘valued customers’ like to shop at places where they are greeted by name -- where service personnel remember their preferences, are knowledgeable and make them feel appreciated. They not only will come back often, but also will tell their friends."
KC's View:
I thought these words were worth reading this morning because it has long been the contention around here that too many retailers ignore the importance of making human connections in-store.

I’ve always expressed certain reservations about self-checkout simply because they remove what often is the only human contact that takes place in a food store; it was interesting to me last week when the Whole Foods opened around the corner from my house in Connecticut that there is no self-checkout and the checkout folks are very, very friendly. Human contact matters.

Now, I’m not saying that self-checkout is a bad idea. It is a component of the shopping experience that appeals to a lot of people...but I’m not sure that it has to be mutually exclusive with human connections.

It is sometimes a good thing to remind ourselves how people not involved in retailing and manufacturing perceive the customer service equation.