Archive for the ‘Retail’ Category

Service of Buyer’s Remorse

Thursday, November 3rd, 2016

Photo: realsimple.com

Photo: realsimple.com

“The Lists Issue: Style and Fashion” page of last weekend’s Wall Street Journal’s “Off Duty” section asked five “stylish men” to report their “most regrettable purchase.” These included three pairs of a Clark shoes–all the same–that the owner tired of; a suede Ralph Lauren car coat with too much fringe; Nike sneakers with pink and purple accents bought online while under the influence of Ambien; a $450 umbrella from London enjoyed for 31 minutes before being left behind in a taxi and boots purchased on Piperlime, [it’s out of business now], with too thin soles discovered while walking five miles in a parade.

Too tight shoesShoes that hurt account for most of my mistakes along with a pasta maker I never had time to use so I eventually gave it away after dragging it, with good intentions, from home to home.

However, the one that stings the most and longest was a red dress I pleaded with my mother to buy when I was in eighth grade so I’d have something to wear at a Christmas party at school. We wore uniforms—except on Friday when we could dress in civilian clothes. My mother said, “You don’t like red and will never again wear this dress.” Nevertheless she bought it for me and I don’t think I ever did wear it again. When I think of it I still cringe at my selfishness.

What are some things you’ve regretted buying? Have you learned something from each experience or do you keep making the same mistakes?

 Girls red dress

Service of Make Your Prices Clear, Please

Monday, October 24th, 2016

Price tag holders

A friend—I’ll call her Leslie–who is up to date on all things restaurant and retail shared a complaint that I’ve grappled with myself for years: She wants to know what something costs without having to ask.

hip female shopperLeslie wrote: “I ventured downtown to the new Target on Greenwich Street [NYC]. There is a Chobani shop inside that sells food and yogurt. The staff is very personable; however there are no prices on food on display like dips.”

She continued: “I find having to ask someone for prices so annoying. There is a tiny candy shop on the Upper East Side that also sells ice cream. There are no prices on candy so you have to ask about everything…..and you know the prices will be inflated. I said to the owner the first time that I think it would be helpful to have the prices listed and he said ‘I don’t mind telling you.’ But I am one of those people who decides in my head what something should cost so I don’t like not knowing, meaning I wouldn’t ask if I knew something is priced ridiculously!”

Back to the Chobani experience, Leslie added: “Chobani guy says: ‘Enjoy the rest of your day’ to everyone as they leave…that gets tiresome too if you’re in the store for a while! I ordered half sandwich and half salad. Pretty good. But they don’t accept the Target Visa….meaning no discount like I get on everything else in the store. Strange!”

Prices markedLeslie concluded: “What is it with the oh-so-annoying response to everything ‘No problem!’”

When I go to an art, craft or antique show—or store–I also much prefer seeing what the prices are without having to ask. And you? Do you know why retailers and restauranteurs force people to converse with staff? Do repeated expressions–like “no problem”–irritate you as they also do me?

Chobani half salad half sandwich

Service of Giving a Second Chance

Thursday, October 20th, 2016

Second Chance

After a more than trying experience at the china department of Macy’s New York many years ago—trying, the operative word, to buy a wedding gift where the bride had registered–I swore I’d not return to the store. I broke this pledge last weekend, not in the city but in Poughkeepsie, NY, and was rewarded ten fold.

We visited the men’s shoe department and lucked into a sales associate who knew shoes, fit, and his way around customers. Troy Capp outdid himself to help. My husband wanted a slip-on shoe in a wide width but the store doesn’t stock them; we’d need to order a pair. To increase the possibility that the ordered shoe would fit, Capp measured his foot and brought out a few shoes with ties in various sizes by the manufacturer from whom he ended up ordering a slip-on.

macy'sThe style my husband preferred was quite a bit more expensive than another one he’d looked at and Capp found a discount coupon to help in the decision. He also gave us a way to reach him should the shoe that arrives not be just right.

shoe measuring toolHe actually seemed to enjoy solving my husband’s problem and helping us. We were dumbstruck as we were no longer used to such care. As we arrived in his department I noticed a family leaving with smiles and a young man in his late teens reaching out to shake Capp’s hand. He was also in charge of “tailored clothing,” according to his business card. While he was helping us a couple came to pick up a jacket. He didn’t skip a beat and while my husband was trying on a shoe he went in the back for the jacket, accommodating us both seamlessly, calmly and almost simultaneously.

Have you enjoyed the assistance of a salesman like Troy Capp? Are his skills trainable or instinctive? Have you given a company a second chance? Did the second experience work out well?

 vintage men's fashion

 

Service of Facing the Music: It Doesn’t Get Better if You Wait, Yahoo and Target

Monday, October 3rd, 2016

face the music

When something goes wrong you’re better off taking action quickly—that goes for people and companies: Most have to fight putting off facing the music.

Dr. Alan JasloveUrged by my husband to move quickly I averted a disaster last week by immediately acting on a dental emergency that seemed overwhelming when it happened. My instinct was to hide and hope. My great dentist, Alan Jaslove [Photo, right]—I’ve written about him before—saved my tooth and a whole lot of stuff that depended on it, squeezing me in and staying late to do so. Had I waited, as he was scheduled to be out of the office for four days which I didn’t know, I might have damaged the tooth beyond repair causing a domino effect of horrendous proportions.

I know this yet avoidance is in my DNA.

yahooIt must also be in Yahoo’s. It took two years for the company to report and/or discover a humongous customer hack. It doesn’t reflect well in either case: That it knew and didn’t tell or that it didn’t know.

“The Yahoo theft represents the most accounts ever stolen from a single email provider,” I read on usnews.com from a syndicated AP story, “The Yahoo Email Hack is Bad,” by tech writer Michael Liedtke.

  • According to Liedtke, “Yahoo didn’t explain what took so long to uncover a heist that it blamed on a ‘state-sponsored actor’ — parlance for a hacker working on behalf of a foreign government. The Sunnyvale, California, company declined to explain how it reached its conclusions about the attack for security reasons, but said it is working with the FBI and other law enforcement. Yahoo began investigating a possible breach in July, around the time the tech site Motherboard reported that a hacker who uses the name ‘Peace’ was trying to sell account information belonging to 200 million Yahoo users.
  •  Jeff John Roberts on Fortune.com, in a fact sheet format, answered the question “Why did Yahoo take so long to warn everyone?” as follows: “Good question. It’s currently unclear when Yahoo learned about the attack…….All Yahoo has said so far is that a ‘recent investigation… has confirmed the breach.’”

The breach happened in 2014 well before the public knew that Verizon was planning to buy Yahoo. Did executives at the digital services company really think a hack involving so many customers could be forever hidden from the purchaser and that a sophisticated company like Verizon wouldn’t protect itself from such a bad surprise had the sale gone through before this news leaked? And what about 500 million hacked customers who turn to Yahoo for email, finance or fantasy sports—according to Roberts–who must take steps to change passwords and, in some cases, answers to security questions.

TargetTwo years seems to be the magic number for Target too. From August 2014 to July of this year it sold—for as much as $75–what it thought was 100 percent Egyptian cotton sheets and pillow cases according to Bloomberg news, the company bought the products from Welspun India that turned out to be lesser quality cotton.  Target has offered refunds to its customers. But I wonder why it took so long for buyers to discover this. Eons ago, at a party, a friend in the retail business remarked on the quality and thread count of the shirt my husband was wearing without touching it. He was right: It was a pricey shirt in soft, fine Egyptian cotton.

  • Do you drag your feet when you really shouldn’t?
  • It can’t help people sleep well at night to realize that it takes years to discover a giant email hack. Should it take two years to learn something’s amiss?
  • As for Target, did no buyer open a single package over 23 months to check the contents and did he/she even know what Egyptian cotton was supposed to feel like?
  • Do you pay for premium products and sometimes wonder if you are getting your money’s worth?
Photo: cbsnews.com

Photo: cbsnews.com

 

Service of What You Might Get For Your Birthday

Tuesday, September 6th, 2016

 

POLaRT furniture

POLaRT furniture

I visited NY Now recently—formerly the NY International Gift Fair—to report on the kind of present you might receive on your next birthday or anniversary, especially if you like to entertain. As always I caution that my observations are impacted by the fact that I saw only a fraction of the summer market at the Javits Center.

I hope you like shiny things because I saw a lot of highly polished stainless steel, copper, platinum and some gold and silver tableware. In fact sparkling aluminum was prominent. In addition, there were plenty of nods to the past.

Arthur Court Designs

Arthur Court Designs

Here are a few examples that reflect the show-stopping SHINY TREND:

Aluminum

  • Arthur Court Designs exhibited gleaming sand-cast aluminum platters, serving trays, bowls and beverage servers.
  • Beatriz Ball

    Beatriz Ball

    Julia Knight’s website explains that her collections are “handmade of sand cast aluminum with a signature blend of enamel infused with crushed mother of pearl.”

  • No wonder Beatriz Ball’s bowls and ice buckets, platters and spreaders, wine coasters, frames pitchers and trays shine as they do: They undergo four levels of polishing. The pieces are handmade in Mexico of “molten aluminum poured into sand molds.”

Stainless Steel

  • Mary Jurek Designs

    Mary Jurek Designs

    It was hard to identify the medium just by looking at the exquisite tableware and serveware in Mary Jurek Design’s booth. Could it be silver? Turns out to be hand-hammered stainless steel.

Touch of Gold

  • Yedi HousewaresSome of Yedi Houseware’s porcelain coffee cups—in shapes reminiscent of the 1940s—were dressed in contemporary colors and dipped in gold like a hallmark Dairy Queen is immersed in chocolate [photo left]. Yedi’s traditional silhouettes featured gold rims.
  • Annie Glass enhanced the edges of some pieces in gold.

Precious metals

  • Cannes Fayet

    Cannes Fayet

    Shining silver handles on the canes of Cannes Fayet from France winked at passersby.

  • Also from the République Française I saw Design Sophie Villepique Paris’s decorative elements with dashes of silver, gold, platinum as well as gemstones and Swarovski crystals.

Some of you are going to say about the items that were UNUSUAL AND NEW TO ME, “Why that’s been around forever….” I’m not shy in revealing my ignorance: I call out below the glass ginger jars filled with fruit in brilliant colors that fooled me—I didn’t know they were candles—and they’ve been made in the USA for 22 years!

  • Lifetime Candles by White River Designs

    Lifetime Candles by White River Designs

    If I hadn’t overheard another visitor exclaim, “These are candles?!” I wouldn’t have known this about Lifetime Candles by White River Designs’ cylindrical and ginger shaped glass jars and perfume bottles filled with everything from brightly colored fruit and branches to pinecones, butterflies and flowers suspended artfully in clear lamp oil. Headquartered in Harrison, Ark. the company has been around since 1994. [At the booth, the candles weren’t lit yet the magnificent jars nevertheless caught my eye.]

  • Tote & Able

    Tote & Able

    Tote & Able canvas flasks in the shape of foil juice pouches were unusual and curious–useful too.

  • Uashmama [pronounced wash mama] washable, resilient, stretched and tanned paper that looks/feels like leather is transformed into lunch bags, traditional looking paper bags,  purses wallets, trays and such.
  • I loved watching steam dance out of the Cado Japanese air purifier, which itself was handsomely designed and a far cry from the ugly look of cheap, plastic boxy humidifiers of yore. The steam hitting the air was almost as mesmerizing as staring at a waterfall.

    Uashmama

    Uashmama

  • Sarut’s rubber chicken handbag made me smile. I wonder if it was designed for those who attend countless $250+ per person industry lunches where the menu consists of…rubber chicken?
  • Martone Cycling Co.

    Martone Cycling Co.

    I was surprised to see a bicycle at this show. Martone Cycling Co. stood out both for this reason and for the featured bikes’ clean, vintage design and creative–for a bicycle–colors.

  • Furniture in primary hues at the POLaRT booth [photo at top] made me stop to touch the polymer pieces in Victorian and other historic shapes. The faux button tufting was especially clever.

Do you like adding shiny accents to a dining table or to your décor? Can you point to evidence that some manufacturers, in addition to those I identified, are reaching back for design inspiration not only in decorative elements but also in fashion?

CadoCado humidifier

Sarut

Sarut

 
Julia Knight Collection

Julia Knight Collection

 
 
 

Service of Hardware that Computes In or Out of the Closet

Monday, August 22nd, 2016

Midtown Outside turned

I visited a big box hardware store on Third Avenue near Bloomingdale’s in Manhattan looking for shelf brackets and flat shelves to fit two styles of tracks already installed in a closet. The perfectly pleasant associates I flagged down did their best to help but not one, on three visits, knew anything about the options. I bit the bullet, bought heavy shelves and brackets, dragged them home and was 50 percent correct in my bracket choices. Now I have brackets to return.

Hardware Brackets turnedI next visited a small hardware store a block from my office—Midtown Hardware, part of the True Value cooperative. I showed the cashier my photo, he sent me to the last aisle where there was only one bracket left that matched the snapshot. An associate jumped on a ladder and pulled down a box and found more. The cashier said, “Don’t be disappointed if these don’t work—there’s a chance you know. But at $1.30 each, you’re not risking much.” They were a perfect fit. My time in the store? Less than five minutes.

The brackets cost a fraction of those at the big box.

Wall clips for mop holdersI didn’t mention that on one of my forays to the giant emporium an associate, poised to direct customers, sent me to the very back of the store for wall clips that hold mop handles. I couldn’t find them and an associate in the department said they weren’t there, but she knew where they were so I followed her the equivalent of a city block, back where I’d come from in the first place. We roamed a few aisles, never finding the clips and as I had to leave, I thanked her and told her I really didn’t need them.

Back at Midtown Hardware, I asked Pedro the manager how he seemed to have everything a person would need in space smaller than a single department at the big box. I’d been to this neighborhood store over the years but couldn’t imagine that they’d have something as space-hogging as shelves or I’d have gone there in the first place. They had shelves too. [They were priced quite a bit more than the big box’s but the time and anxiety saved would have been more than worth it.]

Hardware inside turnedPedro’s secret? “If enough customers ask for something, we try to get it—especially if they are repeat customers,” he said. “We hire people who know how to do the work. They fix things around their own homes.” At almost any time of day, you’ll see an associate explaining a procedure to a shopper. In addition to retail customers, superintendants from miles around buy there.

And wall mounted clasps to hold mop handles? “They’re over there,” pointed Pedro.

An aside: the home improvement chain hasn’t suffered a whit. Its second quarter sales jumped 4.7 percent and profits are up 9.3 percent, so what impact did my experience have? Clearly none.

Do you buy the things you need from small gems like Midtown Hardware even though some of their prices may be higher than the big boxes or are these stores all gone where you live and work? Do you think the big boxes are better suited to customers who know what they are doing, not weekend do-it-yourselfers–people like me–who don’t have much of a clue?

Hardware another turned

Service of Unexpected Outcomes: Shout-out to Chase Bank & Morton Williams & a Dud

Thursday, June 2nd, 2016

Surprise

There’s a surprise associated with an unexpected outcome, mostly happy, but not always.

Juicy

I am grateful when a grocery store cashier gives me the discount Morton Williams logowhen I buy only one in a promotion offering a fantastic price if I buy two. It happened when I bought a giant Tropicana OJ at Morton Williams this week. I didn’t want, nor could I use, two. Her decision put me in a good mood and the store on my “I’ll be back” list.

Check it out

I put a stop-payment on a check when I learned that a hefty May payment never arrived. The USPS let me down. I went nuts. When I arrived at Chase Bank in Pleasant Valley, N.Y. the Friday before Memorial Day weekend, I was rattled. I saw my stellar credit rating going up in smoke.

Chase Bank LogoStacia Zimmerman, bank manager, greeted me pleasantly and was sympathetic. She made a copy of the new check and late notice for my records and gave me an extra copy of the stop-payment confirmation to include with the check. She even gave me an envelope so I could go immediately to the nearby post office to zip the replacement check by Priority Mail! To my astonishment, she waived the $30 stop payment fee as well.

I also noticed that Ms. Zimmerman called almost every person who entered the bank by name. She merged a charming, small town feeling with the benefits of a very big bank.

Dining Disaster

Bad restaurant serviceThen there was the dinner that we’d happily anticipated at a restaurant we’d visited for brunch and lunch, marveling at the food and cheery service. When we arrived the place looked fairly full but not jammed, however there were only two waitresses in view. We were seated  promptly by a pleasant server—the older of the two–and then ignored. We waited and waited. Eventually, after perhaps half an hour, the other waitress took our order. Then we waited again.

An hour after we had arrived, having asked three times for two glasses of white wine, only one arrived half full in a diminutive Champagne glass and the second, 10 minutes later. Meanwhile, staff was handing out beer and wine to those waiting for a table.

Did I mention that the AC wasn’t on and it was 80+ degrees outside? People tend to eat–and order more–when not roasting.

Our main course and one of two appetizers arrived together half an hour after the wine. They tasted fine, but still. We never saw the bread; no spoon came to capture the sauce in one dish. We’d given up by then.

The course we didn’t get remained on the check. My husband had to send it back a second time so the tax reflected the reduced total. He’s a generous man, but he was irritated.

At the next table when food arrived for a graduate and five celebrants, there was nothing for one in that party. She slapped her head in exasperation. Once they’d eaten the grandmother said, “The food was good but the management severely lacking.”

What had happened? The restaurant didn’t realize that it was graduation weekend for a local college, [a waitress admitted], and wasn’t prepared. By not turning away the unexpected  customers to handle only the number they could manage, they ruined the evening for everyone.

Can you share unexpected outcomes, both good and bad? What else might the restaurant have done to salvage its disaster?

Bad restaurant service 2

Service of Not Caring for the Next Guy: Picky, Picky

Tuesday, May 31st, 2016

Me

Self-centered behavior has been the source of many of my posts. I’ll cover three examples that take the cake.

What surprised me was the reaction that people had when I mentioned the green bean and missing section in the plant flat examples. Respondents of different ages and industries replied: “Some customers are picky.” Maybe so, but I think that in being so, they are also selfish, disregarding what they are leaving for the next person.

Green Bean

At our market green beans are sold loose and you bag as many as you want. It drivesGreen beans me nuts when people pick out one bean at a time. Apart from preventing anyone else from reaching the bin as they stand there for ages, do they think that the rest of us want to buy all the bad ones they reject? Further, in all the years I’ve scooped out random handfuls of these beans, I’ve tossed too few to mention. They were all fresh and in good shape.

Left me Flat

Flower Flat Minus OneI went to Greystone Greenhouses in Sharon, Conn. to buy flats of flowers to enhance our garden, [at least until a wild creature discovers what I’ve planted and plans a dinner party with flowers for dessert].

There are six to eight sections of flowers in each flat and I had a hard time finding a complete one. Someone or several people had taken out one section of many different flats.[I removed a section in the flat featured above to illustrate.] Apart from the inconvenience, this egocentric approach made me think: “Why should you leave the less vigorous plants for someone else?” As in the instance with the beans, the crops at this garden center are great and few if any of the flats this early in the season have flaws. But still.

Some Party

That must have been some gathering in the Katherine Hepburn Garden on East 40th Street last week. All the garbage can tops on the pavement between First and Second Avenues were pulled off and leftover food and containers were tossed around throughout the usually pristine block near the UN [photo below]. If raccoons lived here, I’d understand the mess. Otherwise, it’s another instance of not thinking of the effect of your actions on others.

Can you think of examples of what people do to ruin things for others? Do mine illustrate selfishness, people just being picky, unawareness or something else?

Garbage at Katherine H Park

 

Service of Retail: A Bellwether of the Economy’s Health, Impact of Shifts in Purchasing Habits or What?

Thursday, April 28th, 2016

empty store in manhattan

On a recent weekday we walked down First Avenue from 70th to 53rd Street in Manhattan and were alarmed by the number of empty spaces where stores, restaurants, nail salons and other business once thrived in a neighborhood swarming with people.  The worst was an entire block with rental signs in all the street level windows.

The Mt. Kisco Daily Voice reported last week that the Poughkeepsie Kmart branch is one of 78 to close around the country in May. I’ve driven by it a few times a month for years. The times I dropped in I found that the supposed value priced store offered cheap fashion and home fashion with no flair and commodities at far from discount prices which, in part, may account for this news.

On to another retail scene. “Upscale Shopping Centers Nudge Out Down-Market Malls: Some retailers are closing stores in weaker-performing locations to focus on Web sales and more luxury spots,” was a Wall Street Journal headline for Suzanne Kapner’s article. She wrote “Once-solid regional ‘B’ malls that thrived for years are losing shoppers and tenants to the ‘A’ malls—those with sales per square foot in excess of $500, according to Green Street Advisors.

“The research firm estimates that about 44% of total U.S. mall value, which is based on sales, size empty store 2 ave 1and quality among other measures, resides with the top 100 properties, out of about 1,000 malls.” Kapner continued: “Mall owners disagree about whether the Internet is their main problem. They point to demographic changes that redirected population and income growth away from malls built years ago, along with a real estate glut that has left the U.S. with 24 square feet of retail space per person, compared with 15 for Canada, 10 for Australia and 5 for the U.K., according to the International Council of Shopping Centers.”

A few days later, also in The Wall Street Journal, Kapner wrote “Glut Plagues Department Stores,” where she reported that hundreds will close “to regain the productivity they had a decade ago.” Green Street Advisors was again her source. Some 800 are expected to close representing “a fifth of all anchor space in U.S. malls.”

The developers will figure out what to do with these properties and customers will find other places to buy what they need but what about all the employees–how will they make a living?

I wonder if these retail signals representing mom and pop enterprises to major brands reflect shifts in purchasing habits or a canary in the economic coalmine–or both? Politicians and their followers looking for easy answers and quick fixes will blame increased minimum wage laws and the greater cost of health insurance for employees under Obamacare. Others will fault the closings on the massive shift of disposable income from the middle class to the extremely rich, which has occurred over the last 35 years. What do you think?

empty store 2 ave 2

Service of Good Fortune

Monday, February 8th, 2016

Good fortune

Exemplary service is around if you’re lucky. It’s no surprise that most of it happens repeatedly in all the same places.

Milking it

Cumberland gas stationStopping for milk at the Dover Plains, NY Cumberland gas station on a Friday night there was only regular milk in the fridge in quarts. I brought one to the cashier and asked if she’d noticed any cartons of skim in the back and she asked me to wait a minute and dashed to look. She returned full of apologies saying that there was no skim or 1%. I was taken with her energy and sense of service. She could have so easily said, “No. Next!”

Note: Cumberland began its life as a dairy and it has morphed into a chain of convenience stores and gas stations.

Auto-matic

Barry LangIn “Service of an Expert Salesman,” I wrote about Barry Lang [photo at left] of Audia Motors in Millbrook, NY, in April, 2013. He hasn’t lost his touch. We’re leasing another Malibu and he makes it so easy: He takes care of all the paperwork with  the insurance company and the Department of Motor Vehicles and even more. I wanted to give the car a whirl before signing up for a new one. As we left the showroom–it was a week before we were to pick up the car–Barry told us he’d enrolled us to receive a $50 Visa Gift Card from General Motors, a promotion the corporation was offering to anyone who takes a test drive. Barry says he reads this blog on occasion. The fact he even remembered that I wrote one is over and beyond.

Snow-no, Joe yes

Trader Joe's 14th StreetA few days after New York’s January blizzard I went downtown to stock up at Trader Joe’s on 14th street. Shelves were empty because trucks were snowed in at New Jersey and Pennsylvania warehouses. My cashier suggested I call before coming next time and two days later I did. The man who picked up listened to me and immediately transferred me to another person who asked me what I was looking for. I reeled off my list from olive oil, chips and jam to popcorn–and he asked me to wait a moment. When he returned—he wasn’t long–he said, “I raced around the store and we’ve got what you want.” Wow. 

Love the glow

I recently placed an online order that I was to pick up at the Uniqlo 5th Avenue store in NYC [photo below]. I was charmed by the automatic response at the end of the procedure: “We hope you are as excited as we are about your order XYZ. You should receive an email receipt soon, with love from UNIQLO.” When I arrived on the day after the January blizzard, I’d forgotten my order number. No problem, “what’s your name?” asked the attendant who checked a printed list and out came the package in a snap.

Have you had the good fortune to land on a positive, helpful, enthusiastic employee or company lately?

Uniqlo 5th Avenue

Uniqlo 5th Avenue

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