Archive for the ‘E-tailing’ Category

Service of Where Is Everybody? Looking for Help at Retail Today

Thursday, May 10th, 2018

Photo: blog.shelving.com

Are there longer lines when you check out in large retail stores these days? Have you had a hard time finding anyone to answer a question or direct you? The Wall Street Journal’s Suzanne Kapner offered reasons in “Stores Slash Staffs and Watch Lines Grow.”

Since 2008, she reported, Macy’s has cut 52,000 workers–full and part-time in stores, warehouses and at headquarters. During the same period at J.C. Penny, “workers have disappeared twice as fast as department stores,” now 112 per store down from 145.

Photo: blog.linelogic.com

“Retail staffing hasn’t kept pace with growth in the broader economy or population gains in the past decade. The number of salespeople at retailers grew by 1.5% over the past decade, even though the population served by each store has increased 12.5%, according to government data. At clothing and accessories stores, the number of cashiers is down more than 50% from 2007.”

In the lead, Kapner attributes the “assault” from Amazon while others blame cuts at headquarters, smaller stores, do-it-yourself checkouts, more full-time workers reducing the number of part-timers and “shelf-ready packaging that they say makes existing workers more productive.”

To redress overzealous cutbacks, Kroger grocery store is adding 11,000; Dick’s Sporting Goods plans to add 10 percent and Macy’s will bolster staff in fitting rooms, dress, women’s shoe and handbag departments “for the most impact.”

Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union president Stuart Applebaum told Kapner:  “If brick-and-mortar retailers can’t compete on price in an online environment, the only thing that allows them to survive is to provide a positive in-store experience.”

Kapner reported that “Over the past 12 months, 86% of U.S. consumers say they have left a store due to long lines, according to a survey conducted by Adyen, a credit-card processor and payment system. That has resulted in $37.7 billion in lost sales for retailers, Adyen estimates.”

Saks flagship store NYC Photo: complex.com

According to a Saks employee on the job 24 years, sales associates in the NYC flagship “process returns, restock shelves and fill online orders which takes them away from selling.”

Is there a solution? Kapner wrote: “Retailers typically set staffing as a percent of sales, but a growing body of research suggests it should be based on foot traffic. The problem is twofold: Many retailers don’t track traffic and even if they do, they are reluctant to add labor, which is already among their biggest costs.”

A Florida chain installed cameras and noticed that even though one store was packed during the afternoon, sales were down at that time because staff was overwhelmed. Sales increased when management added two people during the busy hours.

Do you frequent major retailers? Have sales personnel been distracted or nonexistent? Are there other answers to fighting behemoth amazon.com and online venues that don’t shoulder a retail rent expense? Do people have shorter patience when waiting for help or to pay in a department store than at a discounter? Are there other businesses that, like retail, use financial models from a different time that no longer apply?

Macy’s Oakbrook Center. Photo: cspaksco.com

Service of Being Painted By the Same Brush

Thursday, March 22nd, 2018

Photo: brushesandmore.com

There are some companies set up so you can’t reach them and others you can contact but that don’t listen to sense: They see all customers as offenders. A grouchy or nutty customer or employee writes a terrible online review and the words glare back from the top of every Google search about you or your business. Just try to get rid of it even if insane and untrue. Same if a competitor trashes your restaurant or business on Yelp. Nightmare.

And now, a company you can reach but can’t reason with—Retail Equation—can forbid you from returning purchases or exchanging them to a particular store for a year according to its calculations, even if you’re innocent.

Khadeeja Safdar wrote “Retailers Crack Down on Serial Returners,” in The Wall Street Journal. I’m all for that: Cheaters and unreasonable customers are not my favorites. I recently wrote about 106 year old L.L. Bean’s tightening its generous return policy after too many abuses hurt their bottom line in “Service of Going Too Far: L.L. Bean Puts its Boot Down.” But with Retail Equation keeping track of returns and more for retailers, reasonable shoppers can be swept up in the fray and painted by the same brush as serial returners.

One Best Buy customer bought a bunch of cellphone cases as gifts for his kids, let his sons choose among the colors, planning to return the three they didn’t select. When he did his salesperson warned him that the returns would jeopardize future ones–and even exchanges–for a year even though he was well within the designated 15 day after purchase period.

Photo: videoblocks.com

He contacted Retail Equation that tracks returns for large corporations. His entire record showed returns of the three cellphone cases worth, in all, less than $90. The company refused to change its decision. According to Safdar the customer said: “I’m being made to feel like I committed a crime. When you say habitual returner, I’m thinking 27 videogames and 14 TVs.”

Safdar reported: “Stores have long used generous return guidelines to lure more customers, but such policies also invite abuse. Retailers estimate 11% of their sales are returned, and of those, 11% are likely fraudulent returns, according to a 2017 survey of 63 retailers by the National Retail Federation. Return fraud or abuse occurs when customers exploit the return process, such as requesting a refund for items they have used, stolen or bought somewhere else.”

WARNING: You could be on the Retail Equation’s black list if you return in store or online:

  • an expensive item
  • a significant percentage of purchases
  • something without a receipt
  • after the accepted period
  • things that are often stolen at that store
  • just as the store closes or
  • too many items at once

Photo: cartoonstock.com

In addition to Best Buy, other stores that use Retail Equation to track returns are Home Depot, J.C. Penney, Sephora and Victoria’s Secret. If you want to protest your ban, you can call Best Buy at 1-866-764-6979 the Journal discovered when researching the story.

“It isn’t easy for shoppers to learn their standing before receiving a warning. Retailers typically don’t publicize their relationship with Retail Equation. And even if a customer tracks down his or her return report, it doesn’t include purchase history or other information used to generate a score. The report also doesn’t disclose the actual score or the thresholds for getting barred.”

I understand the reason for such a policy, but think it should be used judiciously and not be directed by a company that seems to treat every customer like a sleazy thief. Safdar didn’t say if the policy referred to gifts. What if you give your Aunt Millie a portable heater from Home Depot and her son had already bought her one? Who will be dunned and subsequently penalized for the return? Are customers supposed to keep unwanted items instead?  Have you been confronted with such a punishment? Does it make you think twice about using a vendor that resorts to such measures?

Service of Why Don’t You Say So?

Tuesday, February 21st, 2017

Say so

Communications is often not our strong suit. The cost? Customers pay the price in wasted time and/or mistakes.

Taxing

I ordered an item online from a high end men’s store and noticed, in checking out, that I was charged tax. For clothing that costs $110 or less, New York residents don’t pay tax. While it wasn’t much, it irritated me that tax appeared on my bill but because it was the last day of a super sale, I approved the order and wrote customer service [which was closed on the weekend].

TaxFirst thing Monday I got a response telling me that they will charge the correct total {without the tax} “when the order is ready to ship.” I was notified, but the tax was still there. So I whipped out another note–thank goodness for cut and paste and email. The correction was made.

Given that the store has a NY branch and that I assume more than one customer orders from NY, it would have been easier to note on the invoice that NY residents won’t pay tax for items under $110. Staff in billing should be similarly instructed….although I suspect that I may be the only one to care.

Check this out

I was having an annual checkup and on arrival dropped into the ladies room to wash the subway off my hands. There was a note warning patients not to urinate if they were having a sonogram. The office offers sonograms in a few parts of the body so out of curiosity I asked one of the technicians whether this directive applies to all sonograms. She said that it only applies to pelvic ones. So couldn’t that one word have been added to the warning?

Do it yourself and guess

USPS self service and binI used the do-it-yourself package mailing system at the Grand Central post office. One of the questions is “Will your package fit in the bin?” which it would. When done, I tried to open the adjacent bin and it was locked shut. So I had to wait in line anyway to find out where to put the stamped package. An exasperated postal worker, who looked at me as though I was dumb, pointed in the direction of a large canvas container on wheels placed well below the counter where nobody would see it with nobody nearby to secure it, either.

Was there a note stating what to do with a package on the bin parked next to the scale/shipping computer? No. Was there a note above the hidden container that collected packages? No. US Postal Service customers take note: Bring along your ESP next time you drop by.

Cross street please

When a business posts its NYC address on its website, if on an avenue, please note the nearest cross street.  I’ve lived in NYC most of my life and I don’t always know this information. [See 666 Fifth Ave and 546 Broadway, in photo below.]

Have you noticed that increasingly few businesses put themselves in their customer’s shoes in planning websites or procedures by anticipating questions or sharing clear instructions in the first place? Do you have other examples?

 Cross street please turned

 

Service of Marketing that Hits a Sour Note: Details and the Devil

Thursday, January 19th, 2017

New Yorker circ photo

I bought some items online during an after Christmas sale and almost three weeks later got a notice from the store that one of the items wasn’t available. OK. That happens. “LET US MAKE IT UP TO YOU,” came a proposal for a “gift”–$10 off a $100 purchase. This hit a sour note: It sounded like “heads they win; tails I lose.” Otherwise I like the store.

The next two examples are courtesy of the circulation departments of a magazine and newspaper considered top of the line in their categories. I subscribe to and admire both. However, they appear to be trying to save money by selecting under par fulfillment and promotion partners at just the time they need to excel.

  • The magazine has been nagging me to renew my subscription months early and if I do, I’ll get a free subscription as a gift. [Always suspicious, I envision losing the months I’ve already paid for, between now and the end of the original subscription, and I don’t want to waste time untangling this potential glitch.] Fine writing and elegance are just two of the magazine’s selling points and the subscription is costly. That’s why I didn’t expect to see a typo in the first word of the third line [“your”] printed on a piece of cheap scrap paper enclosed in their correspondence seeking my business. [See photo above.]
  • The newspaper didn’t deliver its weekend and Monday issues last week. I called customer service on Tuesday making clear that we didn’t want the credit, we wanted the newspapers. The operator [from a far-off land] said he understood. On Wednesday we received a second copy of the Tuesday issue. I called back and was told they would have to mail us the weekend and Monday copies and that this would take from seven to 10 days. I had already spent far too much time on this mistake and snapped “fine, do that,” and hung up. Still waiting.
  • All this reminds me of a restaurant we went to in the Berkshires years ago that served remarkable food in an enchanting setting with a terrible hostess who ran the room like a general during a military operation readiness inspection {ORI}. The tension her approach achieved added a false note to an otherwise pleasant experience. We learned later that her husband was the chef. Nevertheless, she ruined the evening.

Do you have other examples of an irritating detail that conflicted with the otherwise high quality of a product or service?

$10 off $100 turned

Service of Online Sales—Such A Deal Or Not

Thursday, March 17th, 2016

Great deal

I had to buy Oreck vacuum cleaner bags online and was surprised to see the price range, from $15 plus postage on the brand’s website to $9.69 plus postage on Amazon.com to $9.12, no postage, at Wal*Mart. [I really wanted to find a store near my office that carried them but was unsuccessful.]

My experience with this product was the opposite of most according to David Streitfeld’s front page Sunday New York Times article, “An Online Deal Just For You (Oh, and Everyone Else, Too).” He wrote about the public’s perception that they get bargains online because the asking price is much less than the “list price, suggested price, reference price or manufacturer’s suggested retail price.” He observed that “hardly anyone is charging” these.

Le Creuset skilletOne of his examples was a Le Creuset 11 ¾-inch iron handle skillet in cherry [photo, right] which Amazon claimed was $200 due to a $60 discount off list. At the same time everyone else was charging $200—Williams-Sonoma.com, CutleryandMore.com and AllModern.com, with posted list prices ranging from $285 to $250. Meanwhile the brand’s website was charging $200.

Another was a Cuisinart Mini-Prep Plus Processor [photo below, left] that on its site costs $40 but that Amazon claims costs $75 and you can get it from them for $40. “Mary Rodgers, a spokeswoman for Cuisinart, said the $75 list price was ‘the highest price you could actually see the product being sold for.’ She said as far as she knew, no one was selling the processor for that price,” he wrote.

Cuisinart Mini-Prep Plus ProcessorStreitfeld quoted pricing strategy expert professor Larry Compeau of ClarksonUniversity, “Everyone expects a deal on the web. Nobody wants to pay retail. Some sellers are now willing to deceive consumers to make the sale.” He said list prices are meaningless.

Overstock.com may be paying the price for deceit. According to Streitfeld, the company is appealing a $6.8 million fine in California for false advertising. Just one example in the case: A customer paid $450 for a patio set at a supposed 55 percent discount from $999 list but the same set cost $247 at Wal*Mart.

Wrote Streitfeld, “Overstock said it followed ‘standard industry practices’ to come up with its reference prices. Internet retailers including Wayfair, Walmart, Rakuten (formerly Buy.com), Crate & Barrel and Williams-Sonoma employ list prices to varying degrees. Amazon, the biggest e-commerce player, uses them extensively and prominently.

“If some Internet retailers have an expansive definition of list price, the Federal Trade Federal Trade ComissionCommission does not.” According to the Code of Federal Regulations, he wrote, “To the extent that list or suggested retail prices do not in fact correspond to prices at which a substantial number of sales of the article in question are made, the advertisement of a reduction may mislead the consumer.” Translation: You can’t say that a pen that everyone charges $7.50 for originally cost $15, when it never did.

Streitfeld reported that originally, the list price was to protect consumers who might see one price on a box and a much higher price at the cash register. We’ve come a long way from those days for sure—and not in a good sense.

Do you always compare online prices before punching in your credit card number? Are you enticed by what appears to be a deep dish online discount?

typing in credit card

 

Service of Apology IV

Monday, November 9th, 2015

Sad Dog

I think that Donald Trump has done a disservice to the business of apologies. He doesn’t offer them, nor does screenwriter/film director Quentin Tarantino. Tarantino made headlines because he won’t apologize to the police whom he called murderers.

On a smaller stage, but in the same vein, a friend had a dustup with a major trump yellingdepartment store where clearly, the message about a customer being right or  treated with kid gloves hasn’t reached or been taught to staff.

She wrote:

“I had a horrific customer service experience both online and in the store. What got me was that not a single employee would apologize. Even the in-store person where I eventually picked up my order refused to do so BECAUSE he said the inconvenience and lack of communication wasn’t HIS Fault so he has nothing to apologize for.

“I was on the phone for 25 minutes today to find out if yesterday’s online order, promised for today, had arrived. I never got an email order confirmation, a receipt or a status update.

“The customer service agent kept repeating herself [while providing no information] and finally put me through to the store where I was put on hold at least 3 times. A guy at the store eventually found the order, but wasn’t interested when I said that it took forever for this to happen. He couldn’t explain the delay and wouldn’t attempt to answer why I got no email communication about the order. [The information would certainly have expedited the search and shortened my phone wait–or saved me the call altogether if I’d received an email confirming arrival.]

Not my fault“The same man was there when I picked up the order. I again asked him about the lack of communication and he was very direct in saying he had no idea why there hadn’t been any. He said that the online function has NOTHING to do with the store and that he had no reason to say ‘I am sorry for your inconvenience!’

“I told him it’s a competitive market out there and that the reason there is so much medical malpractice in the country is because it was found that docs won’t say ‘I am sorry.’ (I admit this was a stretch and slightly irrelevant but it happens to be true and I think says a lot!!)”

The recent great experience I had with CVS, that I covered in “Service of Sales Promotions,” is an example of a company that trains its staff to understand that customers don’t want to hear about the differences between online and in store purchases or possible Internet glitches. The store gave me a full return on the online purchase I made in error.

credit card theftI unfortunately had to again deal with my credit card bank–see last week’s post, “Service of Contagious Credit Card Theft,” because when I called to activate my card, it had already been used fraudulently! Seems someone had paid for a $9 massage. No wonder the bank was suspicious: The card wasn’t activated and whoever heard of a massage costing $9?

I hadn’t carried it for one second–it traveled from the company that fulfills credit card orders through the post office to my postbox. When the phone connection was poor, the customer service person–who had nothing to do with the lousy connection–kept apologizing. The one who shared the bad news did so as well.

Do you think that publicity about public figures who never, ever apologize impacts how the public treats one another? Do major department stores have floor walkers anymore who might hear conversations between employees and customers? Why do people find it so hard to say, “I am sorry this has caused you stress?” Do you find that an apology takes the sting out of an otherwise negative situation?

I am never wrong

 

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