Retailers, take a ‘selfie’ of your stores

blog photo retail mallThe traffic cop who gave me a speeding ticket last week provided better customer service than a few of the retail stores I’ve frequented over the past few weeks.  He was pleasant, concerned and even included a nice anecdote about his spouse.  A hand-held mobile device made sure that the process was completed quickly and efficiently in a matter of minutes.

And this guy was penalizing me for my driving behavior.

So why can’t every retailer who benefits from the money we all spend in their stores, provide the same high level of customer service?

Back in the day it was termed ‘management by walking around’.  Maybe today we could call it a ‘selfie’ but in this case it would be a ‘snapshot’ of a given store shared within the respective retailer’s internal communication network.  The snapshot could be grading the stores on the total customer experience from the moment of entering the store to the time of departure.  And in an omni-channel world, maybe evaluate the online experience as well.  For the purposes of this post, I’ll focus on the brick-and-mortar only.

Retailers, shop your stores but do so inconspicuously.  That way you can experience the same in-store experience as the rest of us do.  The best product assortment, the best merchandising, the best store fixtures can’t fix poor customer service or store environments.

So who do I think got it wrong based on my recent personal experiences?

WalMart:  Because I know this store and parking lot can be insanely busy on weekends, I make a point of running quick errands on my lunch break during the week.  Last Wednesday I stopped in at 12:30 to pick up a few items.  After a quick 10 minutes of shopping, I headed to the checkouts only to find 4 lanes open with 5 to 6 shoppers in each line and they were not moving or if they were it was scarcely visible to the human eye.  This kept up for 5 minutes at which point I dumped my purchases in a bin at the checkout and proceeded to walk out only to be stopped by an associate who promptly opened up a register and rang in my purchases.  While I was grateful, what about the other people who had been in line longer than me?  What about the shorter wait times at the checkout that WalMart used to espouse when I worked with their head-office?

I am not a disagreeable shopper but expect service and a bit of common sense from associates (and retailers) when I shop their stores.  Especially when it’s commodity items (no one is buying designer ironing board covers) shoppers likely are more prone to drop their purchases and shop at another store nearby.

So, wouldn’t you expect a retailer who had just reported declining financial results would be more focused on creating a positive brick-and-mortar experience for its shoppers?

Party City:  Another mid-day, mid-week shopping trip — also to avoid line-ups.  The negative vibe started when 2 associates coming into the store to start their shift were complaining about the manager-on-duty.  I then headed to the cash with my purchases.  Although there were 6 stores associates at the front-end, there was only one register open (operated by one of the grumblers who was not only disinterested, she was also moving extremely slowly).  As for as the other associates, 2 were focused on entering something into the cash register and the remaining 3 were blowing up balloons.

The line-up was starting to build at which point I assessed whether I should ‘drop and leave’ or hang in there.  The latter seemed to be the obvious choice as I was first in line.  But that line just didn’t move so after 5 minutes I asked the 2 associates who were more concerned entering something into the POS whether the situation made any sense to them.  One associate apologized, began checking me out and explained that he had just started with the company.  My problem was the other guy who likely was the manager-on-duty and clearly should have known better.

H&M:  I think someone has challenged my local H&M store to see how much merchandise they can fit on their store fixtures.  ‘More’ definitely is not ‘more’ when it comes to retail store merchandising especially when trying to remove an article from a rack results in 3 other items falling on the floor; or when the sales floor is so congested you can’t turnaround.  Another tip for my local H&M, wrinkled clothes are not appealing.  A few minutes with the steamer will be a few minutes well-spent.

Who got it right?

Williams-Sonoma:  The seasonal window displays of Williams-Sonoma captured our attention while a quick-thinking associate welcomed us into the store with a cup of coffee brewed from their new Nespresso machine.  Given it was mid-afternoon and we were 3 hours into a shopping trip at the mall, the associate’s timing was not only perfect for a few tired shoppers it was also a great way to welcome us into the store.  A leisurely stroll through the store ensued and some new kitchen items were purchased.

Trader Joe’s:   When Trader Joe’s opened a location a few minutes from our home, I was skeptical about all the buzz even though neighbors had been raving about the store for some time.  Now I’m a believer and in fact a Trader Joe’s addict shopping at my neighborhood store at least once a week.  In addition to a great assortment of reasonably priced products catering to the foodie in all of us, the stores have a small footprint which means they’re easy to navigate especially when running a quick errand on the way home from work.  They are also in the enviable position of having shoppers who are advocates by sharing their experiences and food pairings with each other.  Even more compelling is the pride and positive attitudes of all their store associates.  My shop there last week concluded with the cashier telling me how much he appreciated the company and his team captain in particular who truly cared about her team members.

Trader Joe’s has taken a page from the Container Store – focus on your employees and they in turn will take care of your customers.  Seems simple but unfortunately many retailers have failed to grasp that notion.

Got some brick-and-mortar experiences that you want to share?  I’d like to hear from you.

Comments or questions, please email me at

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