For someone who writes a lot about retail, I don’t go into stores to shop (rather than observe) that often. The global store that the internet has become is more my thing, which does little for my bank balance and my waistline, but is refreshingly low on human interaction
But whether I’m shopping online or in-store, great customer service and small details really do count and are what make me want to return to a store.
Online, it’s all about well-designed websites, real customer service reps rather than not-yet-good-enough chatbots, picture that allow you see the full detail of the product, PayPal as a payment option, being able to pick up in-store and return it that way too.
Back to the physical world
I could go on, but I won’t as this piece is actually about physical stores, not virtual ones.
Some years ago I was in Cannes, a place where every third person has a happy lapdog and they even get their own seats in restaurants. Anyway, in a branch of Jacques Loup, a customer’s Shih Tzu took four of first five letters of its breed name quite literally and left a small deposit on the immaculate carpet. It must happen a lot there because the clean-up operation was so slick and ultra-fast that it was all gone in less than a minute and life in the very fragrant store went on as usual. Now that was amazing customer service.
All of which sprang to mind late last week when I was killing time in Oxford Street, the UK’s flagship shopping destination, before an evening event I had to attend.
Shopping pilgrim’s progress
- First stop John Lewis. Great store and hugely successful but obviously not interested in customers below 5ft 4ins tall. I’m 5ft but in platforms I was around 5ft 3ins that day. I still couldn’t reach any of the many high rails in the womenswear department. One sales assistant barked “BE CAREFUL” as I tried to nudge a hanger off the rail on tiptoes but didn’t offer to help. After the third attempt to reach something on a top rail and trying to find someone to complain to, I gave up and left.
- Now Sandro, another excellent store (product-wise) but why, when they’re charging hundreds for a dress, are the changing rooms so awful? Tatty, small, covered by an inadequate curtain, no mirror. The hapless customer, while still in that “this might be making me look like Bette Davis in Whatever Happened To baby Jane” no-man’s-land of uncertainty is forced into the body of the shop to be stared at by other customers and staff alike. Cue fast, tetchy exit.
- Where next? Zara. It went like this: I walked in. Over-sensitive alarm went off in full view of a security guard. Went about 10 paces into the shop, decided I couldn’t be bothered to turned round to walk out. Alarm went off again. The same security guard who’d been me 10 seconds earlier said he wanted to search my handbag. I refused. He promptly ‘barred’ me (cue hysterical laughter).
- On to Whistles. Very friendly and helpful (unlike a previous occasion in South Molton Street when my entire transaction was conducted by a sales assistant chatting to her colleague and ignoring me). But I had to wait about 10 minutes while the leather skirts were unchained (I hate the habit of chaining up leather clothing in some stores). I tried on three size 8 skirts, two of which wouldn’t have gone over my hips even if I’d been a size 6. The other would have swamped me if I was a size 10.
- Last stop Boots to pick up some pre-ordered products (the email telling me they’d arrived got to me five hours after I’d collected them and several hours after the store had closed on my allotted collection day). When he asked me to sign the receipt, the man serving me pulled out a pen he had wedged behind his ear and tried to hand it to me. He seemed surprised when I politely declined and fumbled for my own pen in my bag.
OK, I know there are a lot of bad things going on at the moment and, as Humphrey Bogart said in Casablanca, my petty problems don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.
But the issues detailed here aren’t actually my problems, they’re the problems of each of the businesses I visited. Store design in which customer needs are ignored, criminalising customers, inconsistent sizing, lack of attention to detail. They’re all massive turn-offs.
And they were all found in stores trying to sell products at full price and compete for the attention of customers who are increasingly discount-driven. Must try harder.