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Retailers that lost their way

October 16, 2018

Yesterday the venerable Sears filed for Bankruptcy protection. It is certainly a tragedy for all of its employees and suppliers. However, anyone patronizing Sears in the recent years cannot be surprised by this. I was one of Sears “former” customers after too many episodes of poor customer experiences.

A few incidents happened to me this past week that also indicate shoddy management that I will relate here. My purpose is to create a wakeup call to others in retailing to pay attention to their customers – because that is what keeps doors open.

I saw a big window display in a Manhattan book store featuring a new book. It looked interesting and I went in to flip through it and then purchase it. Well, I could not find the book anywhere so I asked the manager, who likewise could not find it, so he took one out of the window display and gave it to me. I thanked him and then got on the line to pay for it. There were two people working the registers and at least a dozen people ahead of me on line. I put the book down and left. That night I ordered the book from Amazon with about three clicks and the price was $7.00 lower! No wonder retailing in some sectors are failing.

This weekend I needed special light bulbs and went into one of the hardware superstores. I found the bulbs I needed, but the lumens were decreased from 230 to 170. Everything else was the same. I wanted to ask a sales associate about the difference and could not find anyone. I went to the customer service counter who paged someone. Five minutes later I found a sales associate who wasn’t experienced with those products so he paged someone. Five minutes afterward, someone finally showed up and he did not have a clue what a lumen was. My bad! Why didn’t I just go to Amazon who sells that product? This retailer is supposedly doing well – well we’ll see…

Another experience was with a bank credit card my wife uses that developed a defective chip. Yesterday she went into our local bank branch and they said my wife needed to get help by calling the number on the back of the card, but they offered to help her and called the number for her. After being on hold with periodic “your call is important” messages someone finally picked up. The person in the branch was very helpful assisting my wife and the credit card representative was also courteous and helpful; and she cheerfully said they would send a new card and it should arrive within ten days. Comment: This is a card that most of my wife’s purchases are made with because of the high cash back amounts we receive because we are “premier” customers. So now it won’t be used for ten days. Seems stupid to me that they did not send a new card by overnight or even priority mail. To me, this does not seem like such good customer service.

Another bad experience was in a local fast food chain restaurant that just switched to digital ordering machines in the store. I spent 20 minutes figuring how to maneuver the many screens [I think I got it worked out] but there was no one available to assist me or any other patron. I also tried to order from someone behind the food counter and was told that the machines were the only way I could order. I received a number and only after waiting another 20 minutes and asking where my food was, I was told the electronic sign announcing the in process orders wasn’t working properly but she would process my order – which was done fairly quickly. I am not sure I will go back to that particular store, but might since I am passing this off as a bad manager having a bad day. But if I have the same experience the next time or in another store…..

One final peeve, but this occurred a couple of months ago. We purchased a 15 month bank CD online and when it came due the bank’s interest rate for a 12 month CD was 2% and for an 18 month CD 2.25% but for a 15 month CD the rate was 1.5%. If we did nothing, the CD would have been automatically renewed for the same term as the previous CD at their then current rate. This seems to me like the bank is cheating their customers that rolled over the CD trusting the bank will treat them fairly. I guess this bank, that spends a fortune advertising about “what’s in your pocket” is trying to make my pocket lighter. I doubt I will ever do business again with that bank. How is this good business for them?

Sears is a tragedy, but also seems typical of the disdain I feel many retailers have for their customers. Don’t they understand that retailing is a very competitive business that is being disrupted by Amazon and some others with newer and faster and easier ways to sell and deliver products to their customers?

Regardless of your business, the customer is king and if you don’t treat them as such, market share and sales will rapidly decline.

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