When Retail Goes Bad
These days it’s hard enough for retailers to get customers into their stores to buy products which are readily available online. That’s why in the battle against the eComms it’s important for retailers to win on service and at least be competitive on price. Recently on a trip to a home electronics store I experienced neither.
Now before you roll your eyes and say to yourself this is just Gabe ranting about a bad shopping trip, understand the broader point. In order for B&Ms to survive they need to give customers something worth making the trip to a store for. With that in mind here’s my story.
The Shopping Experience: I went into the store knowing what I wanted, a Bose wireless headphone set. I found the exact item I was looking for in about 30 seconds, and asked a store associate to unlock the display case so I could take the item to the register. But the associate didn’t have the key (of course), and had to find another coworker. This set off a five minute scavenger hunt involving four store employees to finally track down the coworker with the magic key. When they got the case open I was handed the Bose box to make sure it was the right item. It was, so I started to walk to the register while talking with the associate.
Trust: Then something weird happened. The associate stopped me and said I couldn’t take the headphones to the register because of a store policy that an employee had to walk higher-priced items to checkout. This seemed odd because the register was 15 feet away, there were no other customers around, and there was even security personnel at the front entrance to guard against shoplifters. Even with all that, and the fact that I was walking with a store associate to check out, they apparently didn’t trust me enough to transport the box to the register. This distrust would soon be reciprocated.
Price: When we got to the register the headphones rang up for $350. That seemed high to me since I had purchased an identical set six months earlier for $290. When I mentioned that to the associate they said the price should be $280 as long as I’m a Rewards members (which I am), and that he just needed to confirm the lower price on their website. So he took out his phone and went to his company’s website to find the product. I also took my phone out to search “Bose Wireless Headphones” and saw dozens of listings for the exact product I was buying. Google Shopping had the item listed for $250, so I showed it to the associate. At the same time he found the headphones on his company’s site, but at the full $350 price. Their $280 discounted price was nowhere to be found . . . hmmm.
Trust 2.0: Then I asked the associate if they would price match the $250 offer. He brought his manager over who reviewed the situation, looked at the ad on my phone, and then announced that this product wasn’t eligible for a price match. I asked what the purpose of a price match was in the first place, if they weren’t going to match a lower price on an identical item I found elsewhere. The manager didn’t have an answer, which felt dishonest.
The Parking Lot: Based on my frustration with the overall shopping experience and $100+ price difference I left the store by saying I’d just buy the product online. Five minutes later, sitting in my car in the store’s parking lot, the purchase was made. And since it was my first time using Google Shopping I received free shipping and an extra $20 discount. After taxes my out the door price was $255, compared to $380 (with tax) from the retailer. The product arrived at my door three days later, exactly as expected.
Sadly the national retail chain in question spends hundreds of millions each year advertising to get customers like me into their stores. So you’d think they’d be on their game when someone comes in ready to make a purchase. Based on my in-store experience not only did they lose this purchase event, they also created a feeling of distrust with a once-regular customer. I know my experience may have been a little extreme, but you have to assume thousands of shoppers will go through a similar situation this holiday season. Makes you wonder how much longer traditional retailers will last if the customer experience doesn’t improve.