Retail Detail. Another Reason to Shop Online. Second City Style Fashion Blog

Fountain of 30

May 17, 2007 • Shopping


Sales associates who look away as soon as you approach, you know the ones that continue to restock merchandise or discuss their next break (anything to avoid actual contact) are reason enough to stay home and shop online. It’s the type of behavior that galls customers and dominates the list of complaints cited in the second annual Retail Customer Dissatisfaction Study conducted by Wharton’s Jay H. Baker Retail Initiative with the Verde Group.

According to Knowledge@Wharton, the study found that disinterested, ill-prepared and unwelcoming salespeople lead to more lost business and bad word-of-mouth than any other management challenge in retailing. " Wharton marketing professor Stephen J. Hoch, director of the Baker Initiative.

In a telephone survey of 1,000 shoppers who were asked about their most recent retail experience, 33% reported they had been unable to find a salesperson to help them. Many of these shoppers were so annoyed by this one problem that they said they would not return to the store. According to the Wharton analysis, sales associates who are missing in action cost American retailers 6% of their customers.

Add to that the 25% of consumers reporting they were ignored outright by sales associates (no greeting, no smile, not even eye contact). Wharton marketing professor Stephen J. Hoch, director of the Baker Initiative, is puzzled by sales associates who retreat from potential customers. "You would think that if these sales associates are spending the whole day interacting with people, they would be a lot happier in their own life if they were friendly. Instead, they pull into their shell. What’s wrong with saying, ‘Hi, how are you doing?’"

Mass merchandisers — like Target — generate the highest level of
loyalty both in terms of repeat patronage and the likelihood of
consumers recommending a store to others, although survey respondents
did report some problems with a lack of staff at these stores as well.
Department stores ranked second in customer loyalty although some
consumers reported difficulty finding items because of cluttered stores.

Overall, Hoch says, the rise of category killers dominating certain
merchandise segments has changed the nature of retailing, eroding the
level of professionalism that had been an important element of the
industry in prior generations. "In the old days, you could walk into a
hardware store and find a little old man who had been there for 25
years and knew exactly where to find anything," says Hoch. "Now think
about trying to know where everything is inside a large do-it-yourself
store that’s humongous. It’s impossible to expect someone would know
where everything is." Similarly, it is difficult for sales people in
electronics stores, where technology is changing rapidly, to know the
answer to every question a customer has about a certain product.

The survey results come as little surprise at Federated Department
Stores, the parent company of Macy’s, according to Jim Sluzewski, the
company’s vice president for corporate communications. "This survey
demonstrates what a complex subject customer service is. Customers have
different expectations that are not necessarily driven by demographics,
but by psychographics or lifestyle," he says. "There are some
individuals who want a great deal of service from a store, and others
who are irritated if they are talked to too much. Finding the right
balance is something that we’re always working to achieve."

Read "Are Your Customers Dissatisfied? Try Checking Out Your Salespeople."

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