On the weekend I went into a Target store to purchase an Esky for a pitch presentation I was doing where the reference was brands becoming generic terms for a product. Rather than walk around a giant retail floor, I thought I’d ask a staff member where I might be able to find one. I approached a staff member and asked. He was friendly and attentive. He almost cared and he said:
“To be honest, that is a seasonal line. I know we have them in summer, but I’m pretty sure we don’t carry any stock in winter. But, to be sure let me check.”
He then reached for his internal walkie talky and spoke with a colleague.
“Yeh, like I said we don’t have them this time of year. Sorry man, maybe try Bunnings.”
So while he was civil, approachable and nice he didn’t solve my problem. He didn’t even offer to to walk to me to where these items would be on the shelf during the warm season. (He was very busy fixing a shelf) He suggested I go to a competitor, which can be a valid customer service response, but certainly was not on this occasion and here is why:
I didn’t believe what he told me. In my 40 years I’ve been in enough department stores and discount retailers to know I’ve seen them ‘out of season’. I know enough about how poor Australian retailers are at selling excess stock to think there might just be a few left overs. I’ve also had enough retail staff give me false information over the years to test my intuition and have a look around for myself. So I did that and below is a picture of what I found. A wall of Esky type chillers.
And they got my sale, despite their retail apathy.
But it’s a pretty bad situation when the customers know more about a retail store than the people who work there. It got me thinking about how many times this must happen through the entire store. How many customers are sent away, told an item is not in stock, or don’t even know what product the customer is asking for? Multiply this by 305 retail stores, 10,000 items in store and thousands of uninformed, uninspired staff and it is hard to see this type of retailer competing with on-line options. How can a staff member even know what’s in store as well as a search engine can on line? They simply cannot.
For retailer to survive the transition to online the first step is for them to realise that it’s actually not about product and price point. It’s primary about the experience and how much the people that serve customers actually care. Both of which are deliberate strategies that are not born at store level.
I’m developing a new website which is an on-line supermarket. Here’s some of the features I’ll be building into it in terms of usability.
If you want to place an order for milk, you must first look at all the items you don’t want to buy. They will pop up on the screen one by one. You’ll have to click past all of them. Then the milk will pop up after you’ve seen every other product for sale to click on. But after this, you then must click past all of the goods for sale again. The same ones we already showed you. When you want to proceed to the checkout, we’ll make you wait for maybe 5 or more minutes and show you many of the items you already saw on screen, again, just in case you changed your mind. If you decide to shop late at night at our on line supermarket, only one person can buy at a time, because we will restrict our ‘server’ so that all of our customers cannot buy their supermarket items simultaneously. This is because we will be trying to save a few dollars on serving people. A few people might leave and go somewhere else, but it will be a great expense saving idea.
Sounds pretty ridiculous right? Well, this is defined as ‘retail strategy’ in the physical supermarket world. Maybe it’s time they re-thought how they do some things. Right now there is tremendous opportunity for smart startups in the retail space employ on-line usability best practice to show some dinosaurs how it’s done.