by Larry Williams
So there I was, doing something I don’t often do. It was my twelfth wedding anniversary and after taking my wife out to lunch, we decided to go to the mall. Having worked in retail for many years, visiting the mall is about as exciting for me as getting a root canal. But being as though this was our anniversary, I decided to take my wife shopping.
After purchasing a sports coat in one of the major department stores, we eventually found ourselves inside a smaller shoe store located inside the mall. It was one of those very colorful stores with plenty of eye-catching shoes and banners advertising sale items. Behind the counter were two young female employees. As we entered, they were talking to one another. I stood near the entrance of the store while my wife walked towards the counter, located in the back. The overhead music was blaring an edited version of California Love by Tupac. Because it was an edited version, it sounded as though it was skipping every three seconds. I found this somewhat annoying but it was still better than hearing the original version with the bad words.
As I was being amused by the overhead music, my wife doubled back around and began her second trip through the store. I decided to join her on this one. As we both stood near the counter, we happened upon a sale rack of shoes. By this time, another customer had entered the store. The two employees continued to chat. As my wife was showing me a shoe, I heard one of the employees shout out “That’s an awesome backpack!”
I looked to see another customer wearing a backpack that was green and shaped like the shell of a turtle. After the customer said “thanks”, the employees continued with their conversation behind the counter. There were now six customers in the store. My wife asked a question about a shoe being available in a different size to which the sales clerk replied, “we only have what’s on the shelf!” The two employees quickly resumed their conversation. As you might imagine, my wife was reading my mind. I gave her a smirk that immediately told her we would be better served elsewhere.
Sometimes that is all it takes to lose a customer. The lack of any interest by an employee can be just as damaging as a bad interaction. There was no acknowledgement, greeting, offer of assistance, additional options to consider or “thank you for shopping with us!” It was as if these employees were just there to warm the seats behind the cash register.
My wife and I left the store and continued back to the department store where she was quick to receive great service and bought a new pair of shoes. Our decision to purchase shoes at the department store had little to do with price and more to do with service. For the record, we found many nice shoes in the smaller store that we probably would have purchased. But the lack of attention and assistance made it an easy decision for us to walk away.
In most malls today, there are several stores that sell shoes. Like customers, every shoe is different. But there is one common thread that ties every shoe and every customer together. That common thread is comfort. If the shoes are not comfortable, you won’t buy them. If the experience is not comfortable, you’ll shop elsewhere! It’s really that simple!
What struck me most about this particular incident is that the business owner is probably oblivious to the harm this lack of service is doing to his or her business. It’s likely the business owner will never be aware of the money that is literally walking out the door. They might be very happy with their employee who is always on time for their shift and continually balances their cash drawer at the end of each day. They might feel that customer needs are being met, because complaints are low. They might blame poor sales figures on a sluggish economy. It’s revealing when a customer can see what an owner cannot.
The next time you’re in a retail store, observe the sales process from the outside looking in. You might find some eye-opening imperfections that can be quickly remedied by the simplest of corrections. When these are addressed, customers will stay longer and shop more because they will have been recognized for their patronage – and not just for their “awesome backpack!”