What Can Save Brick and Mortar Retail

I was contemplating titling this blog, “The Real Cause of Death for Brick and Mortar Retail,” as I had several challenging shopping experiences this past weekend. I will omit the names to protect the guilty, but my experiences, in three different national retail chains, included:

-          Over 20 minutes to process a return

-          Being given the wrong amount of money in the refund once the return was finally processed

-          Four salespeople ignoring me while I was the only person shopping in the store

-          A pricing chart that looked more like calculus than simple math

-          Going to a clothing store and receiving zero help in finding clothes that fit my son

I could go on and on, but you get the point. In every case, it was the people that I encountered, or those that ignored me, that defined my shopping experience. I found myself wishing I had shopped online. The punchline to the blog I was writing in my head was, “People are the real cause of death for brick and mortar retail. Online shopping is simply a better experience.”

But then my faith was restored at The Gap, of all places.

My son and I found a salesperson who greeted us with a smile. She took one look at my son and told me his size. Unfortunately, they don’t carry a lot of that size, she explained, because it’s the smallest adult size.

We looked together for a few minutes, couldn’t find anything his size, and then she disappeared while I continued to look. Two minutes later, she came back with a bigger smile on her face.

She found a pair in my son’s size.

Not only did she find a pair of pants in his size, she was 100% right when she guessed his size! We continued to shop, found some shirts and a belt. When we went to check out, our friend was behind the register. She asked if I had any Gap Cash. I checked my email and found a code for $40 off. I never would have looked if she didn’t ask. Not only did she tell me the size and find the only pair of pants in the store in the right size, but she helped me save money.

This is the kind of person and experience that will save retail!

I was so impressed with her, that I insisted on buying her something from Starbucks. When my son asked why we were bringing her a drink, I explained that she went out of her way for us, so we were returning the favor. The fact is, she was doing her job, but because she was doing it so well, I thought she deserved a reward.

I think retailers understand the danger of mediocre customer service and the amazing upside to a customer friendly experience. However, with the unemployment rate where it is, there simply may not be enough people available who are willing to work in retail (weekends and nights) who can provide that experience.

How do they fix it? Some retailers are closing store after store, shrinking their footprint and eliminating jobs along the way. Maybe instead of cutting costs, they should increase their spending on training in hopes of providing a special customer experience, regardless of the price point. That’s what will distinguish the winners from the losers. It can’t just be a race to the bottom on price; it should be a race to the top of customer service.

Simply put, people who continually do their jobs and go above and beyond to provide a great customer experience are the only thing that can save brick and mortar retail.