It’s no secret, times are tough for retailers. Not only are smaller independent stores struggling to survive, with many closing their doors but we’ve seen some big names disappear too.
That’s why when I visited an independent ladies apparel store this week, I was totally surprised and mortified by the experience I was offered. There was a complete lack of service, even border lining on rudeness on the part of the sales assistant. It made me question, with how tough things are out there, do certain retailers even want to be successful? When I see this type of poor or non-existent service, I want to shake them and say “wake up”. You can’t treat your customers in that manner and expect to be successful, particularly in today’s retail climate.
My experience on this particular occasion couldn’t have been more disappointing. Upon entering the store, the female assistant, who I suspect was the store owner, looked at and almost through me, with zero acknowledgement and an intense scowl on her face. She then proceeded to walk straight past me to continue carrying out a task. After I wandered around the store for a few minutes perusing the racks of dresses, I walked past the counter where the woman was now standing. She once again looked straight through me, failing to say thank you or farewell with a look of annoyance on her face. I left the store flabbergasted. I couldn’t believe it. I almost felt guilty for being in the store, like an unwanted guest trespassing someone’s private property.
Over the years during my regular visits to this reasonably large suburban shopping centre, I have never actually seen a customer in this store, nor walk in or out. My mind boggles as to how this business still exists. Perhaps the ‘50% Off All Stock’ signs plastered all over the window and walls, is an indication business isn’t going so well. I can’t imagine why!
Over the last twelve months, I have seen numerous stores in the centre close down with many retail spaces remaining empty for months on end. With sky rocketing rent and reduced foot traffic, businesses can’t afford to get lazy in the customer service department. They need to be doing more in order to provide their customers with positive shopping experiences, inspiring them to purchase and encouraging them to shop there again. Unfortunately many retailers haven’t worked this out.
When I hear retailers complain about profit loss, impending staff cuts and store closures, of course I feel sad at their demise however, I think back to my shopping experiences in many of these retail stores and can recall nothing but disappointing, unsatisfactory and deterring experiences. You can’t expect to survive, if you are not winning and retaining customers.
Stores and their employees can actually drive customers away through the lack of or, the poor quality service they offer. As with my recent experience, staff may subconsciously be sending the message to customers, ‘we can’t be bothered serving you, it’s too hard, go somewhere else’.
Today customers have a great deal of choice in where to purchase their products and services. Not only the choice between various retailers but also the option of shopping online. We hear story after story regarding the increase of online shopping and the death of bricks and mortar stores. One of the major differentiators retailers have over online shopping, is the shopping experience they provide their customer with. Therefore, it’s vital for retailers to ensure the customers experience is exceptional otherwise, they may do nothing other than drive the customer away, prompting them to consider purchasing online or from a competitor.
The service experience is also a huge factor that sets retailers apart, with similar products at similar prices available from numerous different stores. If a business wants to encourage customers to choose to shop with them, they need to provide customers with a valid reason to do so. Unfortunately, too often we are presented with reasons not to shop in a store, to choose never to return and ultimately tell everyone how terrible they were.
Business owners large and small, before it’s too late, must put the focus back on customer service. It takes a long time to build a positive service reputation through consistently providing each and every customer with quality service. Unfortunately, it only takes one bad experience for that news to travel fast and impact your business in a negative way.
A retail store relies on customers to be successful or to merely survive, they are what keep the doors open. The focus and priority therefore, must be customers and providing them with exceptional and memorable experiences. To do this, provide your team with customer service training, implement and hold your team accountable to customer service standards, with owners and managers leading by example. If you don’t do these things, you might find yourself having to display ‘50% Off Everything’ signs and become another one of those empty stores in the local shopping centre.