Archive for the ‘Retail’ Category

Service of Nightmare for a Bride: What You Don’t Anticipate is What May Go Wrong

Thursday, July 20th, 2017

1930s wedding dress. Photo: nafdress.com

Last weekend an NPR segment made me cringe for those involved. Bill Chappell’s headline sets the stage: “Brides Scramble For Dresses And Information After Alfred Angelo Stores Close Abruptly.” Brides and their attendants who’d bought and paid for their gowns at the chain’s 61 stores—as well as the chain’s [unpaid] employees–were given little if any warning, according to Chappell.

The 80 year old business, started in Philadelphia by Alfred Angelo Piccione and his wife Edythe, filed under Chapter 7, so no restructuring will happen, and its headquarters office in Delray Beach has an eviction lawsuit against it.

Photo: richmond.com

Refunds from Alfred Angelo don’t appear to be in the wedding parties’ cards. As important: What to wear? Chappell wrote: “To help those who might not get their dresses, some former brides are now offering up dresses for free — and member station KPCC in Southern California is using the #dressmatchmaker hashtag to orchestrate dress exchanges.” Others are sharing contact information of seamstresses they learned were altering dresses.

Customers of the Tulsa, Okla. branch are lucky. Employees there, knowing that they probably wouldn’t be paid, opened the store anyway and planned to ship dresses to brides. In addition, they weren’t charging if money was still owed on a gown.

One bridesmaid who expected to wear her gown in a fall wedding “told KPCC that when she called Visa about the situation, ‘They said that if the company doesn’t follow through then they will give me my money, and they will go after Alfred Angelo.’”

In subsequent coverage, Peg Brickley and Michelle Ma wrote in The Wall Street Journal that the reason for the failure is [still] unknown and acknowledged that at one time the business was “considered one of the top bridal designers in the country.” The gowns were “priced in the midrange, where most of the money is spent,” according to an industry research firm.

The article reported that retailers, both online and actual, that depended on the manufacturing and wholesale divisions, were also both surprised and left in the lurch. While competitors anticipated an immediate uptick in business, one may have spoken for many small wedding dress enterprises when she expressed concern for the future. She predicted that customers would be reluctant to buy from them for fear that they, too, might go out of business in a flash.

Apart from the biggest hiccup—a bride or groom no-show—or when the photographer’s results fall flat, the wedding glitches I know of, though traumatic at the time, pale by comparison to a lost dress. They range from a florist who shorted the number of bouquets and dashed to get a replacement that didn’t match the others to a mom who left her flower girl daughter’s dress shoes at home. Do you know of other wedding calamities and how they were resolved? How can you protect yourself from similar misfortunes when dealing with a small business?

Photo: pinterest

Service of It Must Work Because I Keep Hearing It

Thursday, June 15th, 2017

Some commercials have always irritated me and they don’t get better with time. The adverts must do well or they would either be pulled or changed. For me they cause one action: I change stations.

I never again want to hear about My Pillow. While clearly a great success—bloomberg.com reported that Michael Lindell has sold 26 million of them at $45 or more each and has a workforce of 1,500–I’m not tempted and I’m clearly alone. According to Josh Dean in “The Preposterous Success Story of America’s Pillow King” “…a huge number of them [are sold] directly to consumers who call and order by phone after seeing or hearing one of his inescapable TV and radio ads.”

FortuneBuilder seminar Photo: pinterest

In the Flip This House commercial you learn that the company is looking for “a few good people,” to join them. By now, in the NY Metro area alone, they must have found thousands or, based on years of hearing the same ad, they are really selling something else, like classes, which they are. FortuneBuilders is the name of the company that produces free 90 minute seminars offering the opportunity for more that you pay for. The Central Texas Better Business Bureau president Bill McGuire, with 22 years as a banker under his belt, told Brooke West, a reporter at theeagle.com “‘if it sounds too good to be true it probably is. Most of the folks [who will attend the seminars] are regular people interested in making money, and that’s what their focus is,’ McGuire said. ‘But these [FortuneBuilder representatives] are going to get into their back pockets.’” ‘Nuff said.

I haven’t heard lately the incessant jingle for “Kars4Kids.” This might be related to recent publicity. I read on nonprofitorquartely.org Ruth McCambridge’s article “Kars4Kids: What the Jingle Leaves Out,” that first appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. She wrote “…. how many among the general public know that Kars4Kids is directly affiliated with—and sends 90 percent of those proceeds that go to charity to—Oorah, a single youth charity in New Jersey which, according to tax forms, is “a Jewish outreach organization for the purpose of imparting Jewish education, values, and traditions, as well as guidance and support, to Jewish children who lack access to these fundamentals?” Key words in this quote are “that go to charity.”

Photo: youtube.com

McCambridge continues to share the findings of a 300 page report by Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson. For example: “out of $3 million raised in that state from 2012 to 2014, less than $12,000 went to children’s services in Minnesota…. She additionally found that though Kars4Kids reports spending 63 percent on mission, in actuality, of the $88 million raised nationally from 2012 to 2014, only 44 percent was given to charity, with $40 million going to Oorah. (When it comes to car donation programs in general, that 44 percent probably puts it on the high side, actually.)”

Do some commercials that you’ve heard for years drive you up walls? Have you bought anything after you heard or saw an ad for the billionth time? Does Genucel’s Chamonix cream really remove those bags under your eyes?

Photo: parenting.com

Service of Stationery That’s Not

Thursday, May 25th, 2017

Card by Jesse Levison, Gold Teeth Brooklyn

My visit to the National Stationery Show at the Javits Center is always a treat as I love fine paper, eye-catching graphics, fancy giftwrap and embellishments and there was plenty this week to satisfy from wrapping paper stunning enough to frame, magnificent ribbon displays especially by May Arts Ribbon and Ampelco Ribbon, paper party plates, favors, banners and accessories, books, candles, portfolios, boxes, balloons, and a riches of note cards for birthdays, holidays—you name it.

Jesse Levison of Gold Teeth Brooklyn’s whimsical, well rendered motifs in saturated colors screen printed on superior paper [photo above] appealed to me. She wasn’t alone: Talented artists abound at this show. I worry that there may be too many of them, but then I could say the same for gifted writers and musicians, journalists, filmmakers and so many others with training and talent that may go unrewarded in a financial sense.

Neon flamingo by Sunnylife

I play a game with myself when I cover such a trade show. Would I order this or that for my imaginary stationery store? That’s when I noticed exhibitors who were selling items that didn’t fit my idea of stationery. Examples: Barware; bath and body creams; fragrances; tea pots and tea; neckties; leather luggage; backpacks; baby clothes; jewelry; sunglasses; Sunnylife’s pool toys, neon birds, lobsters and cactus [that I loved] and decorative pillows.

And then I remembered that supermarkets and drugstores sell stationery as well.

In addition to art, music, journalism, filmmaking and writing, what other industries are overcrowded with talent? How and where will these gifted people find a way to be paid? What items have you been surprised to see in any store that you’ve traditionally visited to buy something else?

Ampelco ribbon

Service of Pass the Buck: Shoddy, Defective Sales Support at Home Depot

Thursday, May 11th, 2017

Photo: littleonline.com

Photo: littleonline.com

CC, a friend, was bursting with understandable frustration when she wrote this guest post. The incident she described happened at a NJ Home Depot.

The day she submitted the story the company was in the news. It’s “among the biggest gainers” wrote Ryan Dezember and Corrie Driebusch in “A Rare Bright Light in Retailing.” The Wall Street Journal reporters attributed the rise in stock prices of big boxes in the home improvement sector to booming US house prices and construction. After reading about this transaction, you wonder how this happened: Untrained, unmotivated staff wasted the customers’ time and their own.

CC wrote: “On Sunday we went to Home Depot to order a rug for our kitchen, which meant picking out an office or indoor/outdoor carpet to be bound in a custom size.  Simple, right?  I’ve done it before. This time Home Depot dropped the ball repeatedly.

Mistake 1:  There were two sales people in the carpet department, seated at the desk.  One was busy with a customer. The other was playing with her tape measure. I approached and explained what I wanted and why. She barely looked at me and told me I needed to go to the garden department. I explained that I’d placed a similar order in this department before and that I knew what I wanted was here. She grudgingly got up and gestured toward a rack before resuming playing with her tape measure. This sales clerk did NOT want to help me or make a sale!

Carpet samplesMistake 2:  I found what I wanted and approached the other sales clerk, who was now free. I explained what I wanted and asked him to ballpark price it out.  He instantly tried to talk me into buying a stock item – because, he said, it was cheaper, I wouldn’t have to wait three weeks, etc.  I explained that it wasn’t an issue of price or time but size and style. He grudgingly calculated (with some difficulty) the cost.  This sales clerk wanted an easy sale, not one that made him work.

Mistake 3:  After finalizing the carpet choice, I went back to the second clerk and said I wanted to place the order.  He had started to write it up when a young sales clerk came into the department to start her shift. He instantly insisted that she complete the transaction “to get credit for it.” She said she had no experience with a custom order that involved binding. He insisted and then left.  This guy REALLY didn’t want to work and was willing to let his young colleague struggle to help us.

bored personMistake 4:  Eventually, all three of the clerks got involved in calculating the cost and completing the paperwork. They all seemed so uncertain how to do this, I felt impelled to check their math at each step.  No one was sure about where the order would be shipped, and no one told us that we’d be putting down 90% and then paying a balance on delivery. The order was finalized, we thought, and I paid with a credit card.  The process was far too complicated and the clerks were not properly trained.

Mistake 5: After my card was run, the system would not finalize the deal.  It kept saying we hadn’t paid.

  • The older two clerks insisted we go pay at checkout. 
  • The younger one knew how to check whether our card actually had been charged. It had. 
  • Just then, the store’s assistant manager showed up.  He could see three clerks working with two obviously distressed customers, so he stopped to ask what was wrong.  He did NOT look at or engage with us then or over the next 20 minutes. He sat and played with his cell phone, taking calls, while they went through the whole thing again.
  • Eventually, he had the young clerk call HD’s central tech office in Atlanta.
  • The young clerk, however, was very apologetic and professional as she tried to sort it out.  The assistant manager quite obviously wanted to be anywhere else. Tech couldn’t help, and the young clerk shut down her terminal and tried another one with no luck.  Senior management ignored us and never apologized!

Mistake 6: It had now been at least an hour since I first asked for a price.  Other clerks would buzz by the desk and try to chat up the three clerks we were working with. Finally, another manager came and took things over. The assistant store manager left without a word. When the new manager could get nowhere, she apologized and told us to leave – that they would figure it out and call us by the next morning.  Home Depot wasted more than an hour of our time before cutting us loose.

At that point, I was prepared to cancel the whole thing and go somewhere else – a sentiment I’d expressed to the clerks several times.

What they did right:  The young clerk called me later and again apologized profusely, telling me nothing had been resolved but promising to call me next morning.  When I opened my email the next day, the transaction had gone through.  She called me within minutes to explain what had happened with the computer system and to apologize profusely once more. Her apologies were genuine.  She and the second manager, alone, had behaved professionally.  She told me that the second manager was giving us the carpet ($300) at no charge. Later that day, I got an email update showing that the order had been fast-tracked and would now be completed in a week instead of three.

Will I ever place a custom order again at Home Depot?  No way!  The company finally did the right thing, but all the wrong steps along the way gave us an insight into the company that was extremely unflattering.  I go into Home Depot under duress as it is (my husband practically lives there).  I prefer to go to a hardware store.  Now I will, at every opportunity.

How does a district manager inspire catatonic staff at an individual store to treat each sale with care? When salespeople pass the buck and act uninspired is it because they: 

  • don’t think an order is big enough to bother with
  • are lazy
  • feel there’s nothing in it for them if they work smart and no downside to being sluggish
  • don’t know better
  • are not trained to be effective salespeople 

While Home Depot may be doing well for the moment, the retail landscape is bleak, which portends cutbacks for millions of jobs. How can anyone in retail dare to act blasé and indifferent? Doesn’t an employee want to be chosen to stay in the event of massive layoffs? What happened to personal pride?

Photo: blog.teletracking.com

Photo: blog.teletracking.com

Service of Insecurity Triggers: Healthcare, Economy and 45’s Strategy

Thursday, May 4th, 2017

Photo: goodguy.com

Photo: goodguy.com

There’s a lot to make a person feel on edge these days. Just to mention a few issues:

In healthcare:

  • Will Congress change the rules so that health insurance companies can charge what they like—as big pharma can—with the consequence that coverage will no longer be an option for millions including many who’ve traditionally been able to afford it?
  • Is insuring preexisting conditions really back on the chopping
    Photo: ourgeneration.org

    Photo: ourgeneration.org

    block in spite of 45s promises that it isn’t? I thought we’d settled that issue to a resounding national sigh of relief, but apparently not.

The economy:

  • GDP grew in the first quarter at its slowest pace in three years with a self-proclaimed business genius at the helm, [0.7 percent].
  • Who is going to make up the slack when corporations and the 1 percent get discounts on their taxes?
  • Photo: zambiainvest.com

    Photo: zambiainvest.com

    The retail industry is in shambles. There are many reasons for the latter: popularity of e-tailing/online shopping, increased purchases on mobile phones, etc. This is America, land of the chronic consumer and these retailers, too, have their oars in virtual waters. Troublesome also as so many jobs are involved.

45s strategy to make daily headlines at all costs doesn’t help. To achieve this he is mercurial, says and does outrageous things, takes an unorthodox stance for the fun of it and damn the torpedoes. It works–he’s front page news. His followers aren’t bothered but the approach, in addition to the anxiety-provoking real triggers, is making me uneasy. Am I alone? What antidotes do you recommend?

Photo: totalmortgage.com

Photo: totalmortgage.com

Service of Good and Bad Surprises at a Cash Register

Thursday, February 23rd, 2017

Rude

You find rudeness and grace in unexpected places.

I giggled at an outrageous comment a friend shared because it caught me by surprise. It was made to her by a snarky makeup sales associate for a major brand at a world-famous department store. She approached her counter with a friend and prospective cosmetics customer. In greeting, the sales woman turned to her and said: “I know you. You buy a lipstick from me once in three years.” It was rude and inappropriate and it sounded so New York-y yet it happened in New England.

Cosmetics in dept storeSeveral years before my friend asked this sales associate for a product she’d run out of. It was part of the brand’s new, luxurious line that she clearly didn’t carry. The saleswoman insisted on arguing that it didn’t exist, insulting her–even screaming. My friend concluded: “And the saleswoman has remained entrenched in her position for years.”

In a far less elegant place dealing with items at much lower price points–a supermarket—I had just the opposite experience. On either shoulder I was balancing two giant tote bags filled with my usual zillion pounds of stuff and my handbag. I’d come in for cider and noticed Bonne Maman jams on sale, two for $6. There was a “Closed” sign at one register so I stood in line at the next counter, juggling my heavy cider container, apricot and blueberry jams with my belongings that began to slide from my shoulders.

supermarket checkoutThe cashier on the “Closed” line, who had just finished with a customer, smiled and waved me over. I thanked her profusely, commenting that she was probably worried I’d drop the juice and jams causing a huge mess. “No,” she said, “I liked your face.” Made my day!

Don’t you wonder how the nasty woman in the department store keeps her job? The cashier at the supermarket had been standing all day in far from glamorous circumstances and was cheery nevertheless. How does she do it? Have you similar experiences to share?

 Gracious

 

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 Mood Change: NYNow and Then

Monday, February 13th, 2017

Witloft leather apron

Witloft leather apron

 

What a difference a market—or six months—makes. It’s as though a shade came down over the gift show—called NYNow—my overall impression of exhibited products was such a dramatic gear shift last week from last August.

I’d characterize what I just saw as visually quiet, matte in texture, mostly natural colors—lots of gray–and booths filled with linen, cotton, wood, ceramics, straw or products made to imitate them. Patterns were tribal-inspired. The few vibrant colors, flamboyant patterns and sparkles jarred.

Last week we were at the farm; last summer we prepared for an elegant party.

Walter GWhen I wrote about my last visit in “Service of What You Might Get For Your Birthday,” I was taken by the abundance of shiny things–highly polished stainless steel, aluminum, copper, platinum and some gold and silver tableware.

The reason for the shift could be timing. In August exhibitors/manufacturers are thinking of winter and holiday decor while a winter market dresses stores with summer goods. But glorious hot days can also call for all things sunny, crisp, clean and bright—they weren’t.

As always I warn that my impressions are made from largely visiting the Home section which represents relatively few exhibitors vs the whole, though I cover the same area year after year.

A few examples.

Fog Linen Work’s aprons, table linens and clothing, designed by Yumiko Sekine Farmhouse potteryfrom Lithuanian linen, epitomize the simple, natural style I described above as do Witloft saddle leather aprons from Amsterdam [Photo above] and pieces of Farmhouse Pottery from Vermont [Photo right].

One company, Couleur Nature Paris, true to its name, offered more than earth colors. It looks to the garden for inspiration but there was nothing glossy about its tea towels, tablecloths, market baskets and glassware.

I’ve previously written about washable, resilient, stretched and tanned paper totes and sacks. This market there were several in this category. The ones that caught my eye were by Bsimple Creations [Photo below, center]. An Italian brand, Essent’ial, featured paper slipcovers, an introduction for ecoitalystore.com.

hapticlab-sailing-ship-kite-white_d246919f-094e-4480-abb4-a4bd3ef17de1_grandeI was charmed by the handmade sailing ship kites in the Hapticlab booth [Photo left]. They were made, according to the website, “in collaboration with Balinese artisans exclusively for Haptic Lab from locally-sourced bamboo and nylon.” You can also display them as a mobile.

Some of Middle Kingdom’s porcelain vases at the show appeared to be a departure from the spring colors on their website. Oversized pieces with a tribal, ikat motif—especially the ones in a curry color—commanded the booth. Walter G’s hand block printed indigo and white textiles, cushions and napkins are designed by owners Genevieve Hewson and Lauren Emerson in Australia and made in collaboration with artisans from Rajasthan. [Photo above, left.]

Honest wood bowls, boards and accessories filled much of the Javits real estate. Peterman’s Boards and Bowls was just one.

The exhibitors hail from around the world. To what do you attribute such a change in mood to inspire this drastic shift in style or am I overdramatizing standard seasonal fashion tweaks and trends?

Bsimple CreationsBsimple Creations’ tote in treated paper

 

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 Interpretation: Cartier, the One Percent vs. Everyone Else

Thursday, January 12th, 2017

Cartier window January 2017 turned

Funny how one image can cause two people to come to such different conclusions.

I was walking by Cartier’s windows on a recent Sunday and after I’d passed by I backed up to take the photo [above] because something was so clearly missing: Jewelry.

I showed the shot to my husband Homer Byington and said “How sad. Look where we’ve come. The jeweler can’t display a thing in its windows on a Sunday when it’s closed for fear that someone will steal rings, necklaces and pins. Imagine the rent paid yet the store can’t take advantage of this marketing tool to showcase its wares.”

Homer replied “I think Cartier didn’t display its jewelry to signify to the one percent how valuable and expensive their pieces are—far too precious and priceless for a window display. The store isn’t interested in whether the 99 percent can see what it can’t afford to buy anyway.”

What do you think? In addition, should a brand with this stature think of a clever way to decorate its windows for the times it doesn’t show product for whatever reason?

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