Sometimes I really feel that the retail industry’s own actions are causing its suffering.
So many shops have lost the art of true customer service (and of course many customers have lost the appreciation for it anyway). Yet the shops that have retained the values of helping customers and going above and beyond expectations never seem to have enough of a range of products in stock and/or their prices just can’t compete.
When it comes to buying stuff we all want the best price we can get. In certain circumstances there’s the situation where someone may decide to pay a little bit extra for better service or because a salesperson really gave it their all to help. Other times we have the idea that we’d like to support local business, so when our local store doesn’t have something in stock, we ask them to order it rather than going online. But I think these cases are increasingly rare, at least among my generation. We want the best price possible and we often feel perfectly moral going into a shop to squeeze out as much information and advice as we can, to try on a product, or look at it in the flesh, and then unashamedly head home, jump online and order the same product or similar from the website offering the cheapest possibly deal without regard for its location, local or overseas.
How do shops compete with that?
I believe when your options are to order something online for a cheap price and wait a few days or weeks for it to arrive, if you’re only saving a couple of bucks a lot of people might not see this as worth it. Shops of course need to compete on price. But, perhaps more importantly these days, they also need to offer great service. So many are not.
I decided I was in the market for a new hiking pack after I realised during our recent trip to Mount Difficult that my old travel pack was starting to fall apart, not to mention it’s not exactly designed for hiking long distances in the first place. It had been years since I first started researching these kinds of packs, and although I remembered a bit of the advice I received last time, I didn’t know what I wanted and I needed some help.
I entered the first store I visited with the mindset that I would find the cheapest deal I could – prioritising bargain price over quality, long-lasting product. “Who knows how many more hiking trips I will realistically go on over the next few years?” I thought. “And if they’re only going to be a couple of days long, maybe I don’t need my gear to be the absolute best of the best.”
The store offered multiple brands but only three or four options when it came to hiking-specific multi-day packs.
The store attendant came up to help me not long after I started looking – which is great. To give him credit, he was quite young and tried to be helpful, but he really didn’t listen to what I was after. Throughout our exchange, he constantly insisted that I look only at the top of the range model and that most of the other options were just not the quality that I would need, no matter what. I actually had to insist to him – it was slightly awkward – that I wanted to try the cheaper options, “just to compare”. Well into the conversation it became apparent that he thought I was going backpacking for multiple months as opposed to, say, four days at a time, so he didn’t really understand my needs anyway.
Basically, he convinced me I needed the most expensive pack in the shop and nothing else would do. The cheapest option was far outside what I expected to pay anyway so this wasn’t a great thing to hear.
The pack was about $365 in the shop. It was really nice but it was bright green (urgh) and it definitely felt the most comfortable and supportive out of all the options available there. The guy said it would go on sale and if I didn’t need it straight away it would be worth waiting. I agreed. I left.
Over the next few days I checked out all of the other outdoor shops in town. Three of them sell only their own brand-name products, something I am quite suspicious of since I don’t believe any company can do everything well. Also their prices were outrageous because you’re paying for the brand, and their products weren’t really what I wanted anyway.
One store, in the shopping centre, didn’t even sell hiking packs. A big name outdoors brand in a tiny store without hiking packs – why do they even bother paying the rent? Also, the lady had no understanding of her products when I asked her questions. I was also after a particular waterproof wash for my jacket. What did she do? She searched through the products on the shelf, declared it was out of stock, and gave me a brochure – basically sending me straight to the manufacturer’s website and freeing herself of any responsibility. And also business. So, so silly.
At another brand store I found a passionate and helpful sales lady who understood just what I was after when I explained. She pointed me in the direction of a pack that was on sale, recommending I wouldn’t need anything of better quality than that just yet. I liked her honesty. We tried it on and it was okay but it simply didn’t compare to the expensive pack I’d tried in the first store. and while its price was cheaper, it was still a lot of money to fork out ($180 i think) for something I wasn’t completely happy with.
A friendly, helpful salesman attempted to help me at another store but when it turned out that they only had men’s size packs I asked whether they often had the ladies, smaller sizes. “Oh, I’m not sure we’d be able to order them in in that size,” he said. Was he serious?! They could order the large packs but not the small packs – even if a customer was asking for them?! I nearly fell over when he told me the best thing to do would be to check out the pack maker’s website. Retail suicide!
With my further options firmly rooted in online, I sat down at my computer and had a look around. Since all my retail options were really more expensive than I’d expected, even the lower quality ones, and I couldn’t get the original, top-of-the-range pack out of my mind, I searched for it online. And what did i find? Multiple online stores selling that exact pack for the price of the cheapest ones I’d found in the retail shops. Better still, I found it in a nice neutral grey colour instead of the crazy green that was my only option in-store.
I ended up buying the pack from Scotland for 100 British pounds ($150) – less than half the price it was in the shop here. But shipping was going to cost 93 pounds, still giving me a saving of about $60 but I thought that was pretty expensive. I was lucky enough to have Dan’s parents kindly receive the package for me and send it on to Australia, costing only 62 pounds.
All up, I ended up saving about a third of the cost of the top-of-the-range pack – and got the colour i wanted – by buying it online.
Now, retailers take note – if that first boy had been more sensitive to my needs and encouraged me into preferring one of the cheaper options, I may have bought a pack in the first shop I visited. If any of the other stores had a better range and prices I may have been more interested in their brand-name products. And if the store-holder who told me to shop online had have ordered a pack into his shop for me, I just may have bought it.
But no, retail suicided on me and I couldn’t be more satisfied.