Ok so with Black Friday behind us all and Cyber Monday over, the Christmas shopping season is in full swing.
My thought and question to you all today is what you think the future is for physical retail stores and what you think they need to do to stay relevant and adapt to the ease of online shopping.
I like to share with you my Tale of Two Stores with apologies to Charles Dickens for even daring to taint his novel with this topic.
I am out and about and pass by a Lowes and have on my list to get some of that Teflon stuff that Glenn uses on his table saw mechanism which i discovered via the online site they stock in Canada. So i pop in with the expectation that this is going to be a quick fly by pick up and go expedition.
As i enter the store i head for the paint section and check the isle with the spray cans etc and low and behold a young girl is working at the same place and i pop the question regarding the spray. The reply illustrated she had no clue what i was talking about and it was not accent related. So she says hold on and continues to pile a bunch of product into her basket and hauls this down the isle dropping a few on the way and stopping to pick them up with me in tow. Then she eventually gets the message that she aint gonna move the load with what she has elected to use and abandons it in the isle and heads off to ask someone at the customer service counter where all the attendants were busy and there was already a line up.
She comes back to me and says "XYZ will be with you shortly and walks off and goes about her business.
So i decide heck man i will go scouring the isle and head to the tool section since with my own eyes i could tell it was not with the spray cans. In the tool section if find a guy packing out stuff on the shelves and ask him, he has no clue so i begin to think more generically and say where is the oil or rather 3 in 1 oil etc. No clue but he points to two associates down the isle and i head off. Well these two were having a discussion about stock numbers and data and already one of the two had a customer in tow, and being polite i waited my turn to pop the question. Well when one had handed over the problem customer to the other the remaining one asked me how he could help me. And he finally knew where the oil was and when i found the oil i found the $5 lubricant spray can.
Now some would say why did you not go to the customer service line and ask there. Well customer service is used for handling warranties and i have done this in the past and still found that they have no clue. In fact i have actually been told by customer service at Home Depot recently that they had no product in the store only to have another associate finally give up on looking resort to using the computer with the sku number i supplied via the home depot app on my own phone (yeah it was quicker and easier for me to search using my phone in store than they could find the product) and when he did he found they had 12 cases of the product, it was just not showing up as to where it was located. The result is i left in this instance without purchase.
Store no 2.
I had plans to pop in to Lee Valley to pick up a Christmas gift for Linda, on the day i recently went down to Toronto to visit a fellow member Ed Thomas. Well what was to be a few hour visit lasted into the evening and Ed pointed out to me that he was dead central to the Lee Valley triangle having three stores equidistant from him. I decided traffic etc it was better to enjoy Eds Company than rush off to go shopping.
But back to Lee Valley. I walk into the store, I go straight to the island of computers, ( for those of you not lucky enough or maybe lucky in another sense, to have visited a Lee Valley Store in person), they have a bench with a row of catalogs already open and i dont mean one or two but more like 10 and notepad and pencils at the ready for you to sit on a high chair and browse the catalog if you like. There is also an island with typically 4 computers and two printers all hooked up. It gets even better. The height of the various keyboards and screen has been set to take into account the variable heights of a short person or even a disabled person. Yeah can you believe the attention to detail. But wait this is not a TV commercial or me shilling for them. It gets even better. You have to stand on a pressure sensitive mat. When you do and you log into your account, if you step off the mat the computer will automatically log out your account and leave no trace that you ever stepped on the mat and used the computer.
So i go log into my account and proceed to load items from my wish list to my shopping cart and then hit print which results in my customer account number and my order being printed by the printer. I then move one step over and touch a screen and it pops out a customer service number and i can look up and see where i am next in the que.
But it gets even better. On this trip i am over at the island on the computer able to search the entire inventory of the store and able to determine which items are in stock at the store and which not and if not where the next store is that has them or if they are in stock at the warehouse. But while i am doing my order a guy comes in from a school an obvious Lee Valley customer. he logs in an begin searching but is having difficulty finding what he wants. No problem one of the most knowledgeable staff in the store, ( I know this from speaking with the guy previously) comes over, he is on "patrol" looking out for either having a friendly chat with a customer or detecting they are in need of assistance. He takes over and helps resolve the customers issue and even adds a touch of real advice that only comes from real knowledge.
I then go over to the counter when my number came up and give them my order and in no time at all my order has been picked and i have my goods but before i go to pay i get to review the product and in i cannot remember the number of instances where i have wanted to handle a product they have insisted on opening whatever sealed package is involved and when i have declined purchase i was never ever even give the slightest of attitude not an ounce. To say the experience of shopping there is a delight is just not doing them justice. Then when i go to pay rather than the surly check out clerks i have witnessed in the big box stores on occasion (to be fair not all big box stores staff are the same even the one I encountered in the trip to Lowes was pleasant) these people have sufficient registers on hand that they walk you over and service your checkout.
Now had i been highly organized I could have had these items in my wish list shopping list and loaded them in my checkout cart when the store recently had free shipping and had them delivered. Or i could also have gone online and placed a order for store pickup and not even had to come into the store rather stop at a side entrance and just check the item is what i though it is and wanted and go. My order having been processed and I would even have got an email notification to let me know it was ready for pick up.
But it gets even better. Due to their method of selling all your past order history is available to you and the store on your online account. Regardless of how you paid.
So these two experiences got me to thinking, as more and more people take to the internet to shop what exactly do you see as the key to a store remaining relevant and being justified and frequented for shopping.
Why do i want to go through the Lowes experience i just wrote about? and lets be fair its not Lowes specifically I am on about its the issue of what the experience is when the store is not customer service orientated.
Somehow the big box corporate store model just does not seem to have what it takes to make it work really well. There is a great deal of budget spent on marketing a lie to us which in the case of Lee Valley for example they do not even do. Their model is to ensure they have loyal long serving competent people that they either train/brainwash or educate into the merits of real customer is king customer service and rather that shout it from the roof tops as a truly differentiating position they just get on down and practice it.
When you feel the need to go selling it as THE issue that should be the reason why you shop with them, the promise is inevitably not fulfilled or falls horribly short of the customers expectation.
You dont need a Harvard or Yale degree to see what a customer wants, you need common sense and a true desire to execute properly.
But i guess it comes back to the age old model, as long as these jobs are paid so poorly what kind of staff can they hope to attract that are going to stay. How empowered are the staff? I have witnessed and experienced a change in that area at Home Depot both in Canada and USA but the motive behind the change was more economically driven than customer service commitment driven.
So whats your view how do stores stay relevant. Eg would you trust a best buy geek squad with your computer? LOL