Category Archives: retail

Customer Service NOT

We just came back from a popular bakery, soup, and sandwich chain.  In many ways, decor-wise, it is a Starbucks knockoff, with comfortable seating, WiFi, etc.  The place where you could go, anytime, be comfortable and stay awhile.

The last time I was there the service was awful.

The problem at that time was focus.  It was difficult to get anyone’s attention to take our order and when they finally came over, the two cashiers, a male and female, were busy flirting instead of serving us.

I wrote an email to the corporate management that followed up and the local restaurant manager followed up.

We’ve been back once before: the service wasn’t exceptional, but it wasn’t bad.

Tonight we were back.  The cashier who I reported for her flirting transactions took our order.  She was FABULOUS!  Engaging, polite, one couldn’t ask for more.  I was impressed: the manager turned the place around.

Then I waited for the food to be prepared and my name be called out.  The food prep person stopped working on preparing our meal (or any meal, for that matter) and spent time talking with an employee who had concluded her shift.  There was discussion of how her cell phone had run out of minutes.  The on-duty food prep person actually reached across the food serving bar to “high-five” the departing employee.

During this exchange another two workers were cleaning items… and apparently both were having difficulties, because I heard a loud “SH*T!” out of both of them.

Sigh.  Madeline was better… other members of the staff were now “broke.”

I complained to the on-duty manager, who brought over bakery items to make amends.

Here’s an observation: companies need to make a decision about customer experiences and not send two signals.  A nice warm inviting decor with awful employees is still an awful experience.

What confuses me is this: with so many people out of work, why is still difficult to find quality employees that can provide a quality customer experience?

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Posted by on October 8, 2012 in customer experience, relationships, retail, users


Observations on Retail in the United States today

Last night and today my wife and I ran around getting errands done… shopping.  As a result, I’ve got a few observations:

  • Retail staff are obviously getting spoken to about customer relationships.
    – At Kohls last night, I had possibly the best cashier I’ve ever been served by.  At the end of the his service, he pleaded with us to complete a survey on his service to us.
    – At the Sears hardware store multiple floor personnel greeted me and offered me help.
  • The SKUs that stores carry is still abysmal.

My assessment is this:

  • At least in my case, I’m so used to store personnel that in the past just didn’t give a damn, I really don’t know how to react to these newly caring personnel.  I’ve learn to become so self-sufficient when I’m shopping, that I feel like these folks are intruding on my shopping experience.  Strange, eh?
  • Retailers next threat is a new threat from Amazon.  In the New York Times article “Amazon, Forced to Collect a Tax, Is Adding Roots,” (, David Streitfeld reports “Amazon will soon be able to cut as much as a day off its two-day shipping times, said Jeff Bezos, its chief executive, in an interview. This will put the much-rumored same-day delivery — the elusive aspiration of every online merchant — potentially within reach in some metropolitan areas.”  Amazon has an almost endless lists of SKUs… almost everything I could want for less than retailers have fewer SKUs I really don’t want so much.
  • Helpful personnel are only great if you’ve stock something you can sell your customer.

It only stands to reason that the following use case would be more optimal than Amazon’s next day shipping:

  • I go online, say to, find what I want, but see that it isn’t available in my local store.
  • I place an order for NEXT DAY DELIVERY (or if early enough in the day, SAME DAY DELIVERY) to be delivered to my local store.
  • When item is delivered to my local store from a district distribution center, I am notified and go and pick it up.

Lots of retailers provide delivery to local stores now, but to the best of my knowledge, none of them do it in one day.  There are lots of advantages of this to the retailer and me:

  • The retailer better competes with Amazon.
  • The retailer has an extended set of SKUs available at a short time.
  • Since I’m coming into the store to pick up the item, the retailer has an opportunity to cross-sell me something.
  • And for me, I don’t have to be home to accept the delivery: my item is securely delivered to my local retailer.

This means that retailers are going to need to tune up their distribution centers and online systems, because without that, their local presences, with limited set of SKUs, will matter less and less in the face of Amazon’s next day “retail lite” model.


I miss CompUSA

I was reading Brent Leary’s posting Christmas 2011: a Great Example of Smarter Commerce in Action | SmartData Collective tonight and it got me thinking.

I remember going retail shopping with the only motivation being to find something cool to own and bring home.

I don’t do that anymore.

I suspect there are a lot of reasons: I’m older and more careful with the family coffers.  I’ve got all the stuff I need.  But honestly, I think it all boils down to this:

Retail outlets, because of their reduced SKUs (stock keeping units), have less interesting stuff for me to buy. There is less variety in the stores.

And I think this is a vicious cycle that is eating retail.  Retailers, with the high cost of distributed inventory, reduce the number of SKUs to only those items with the most mass-appeal. People go to the stores, can’t find what they are looking for, go home, get on the web and buy it.

And web retailers are getting much better at fulfillment:

  • shipping is increasingly free: 93% for this past Christmas vs. 85% for the season before (let’s be real: it is built into the price) (see USA Today article quoted by Brent)
  • shipping is increasingly fast

Let’s dwell on the last bullet.  My younger son had a small fender-bender with one of the family vehicles requiring a turn signal lens to be replaced.  On Friday, I placed an order with, with normal, non-expedited shipping.  I received the lens on Monday.

I miss CompUSA (the retailer not the current web store).  Toward the end of CompUSA’s retail existence it was awful, but there was a point that they had a wide variety of SKUs and I could always walk out with something I needed but didn’t go in to buy.

Microcenter, the closest of which is over two hours away in Boston, is still like the old CompUSA somewhat. That being said, the last time I was in one, I was disappointed that they, too, had cut back on the SKUs.  I haven’t been to a Fry’s for a while, but suspect it is the same story there, too.

For a reality check, have a look at this article in the NY Times about the problem of malls.

Short of Star Trek transporters or replicators, I’m not sure what the answer is to change this transformation.  One thing that I wonder is whether there is a point when the current just-in-time mass-appeal SKU/local inventory system breaks because of the cost of fuel for 18 wheelers.  One could imagine a point where it is actually makes sense to spend less money on fuel by having very full trucks of goods go to retail stores and create larger local inventories that have to be replenished less often.

I wonder, also, about the fabric of society that shops local retail less.  Is that a good thing?

If you’ve got some opinions on this, I’d love to hear from you by way of comment.

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Posted by on February 8, 2012 in business model, internet, retail

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