From The Co-Founders


Tips, Tactics & Strategic Insights and Commentary
from The ROI Co-Founders, Pat Johnson and Dick Outcalt
Outcalt & Johnson: Retail Strategists LLC; Retail Turnaround Experts

The Customer Service Woes of the Big Guys

"In-Person Shopping Keeps Getting Worse"

That was the headline in a recent business page editorial*. And the writer was able to cite chapter and verse of all-too-prevalent lousy shopping experiences for customers. 

  • "More American stores are doing with fewer employees and many have locked items up to keep them from being pilfered."
  • "The retail industry slashed head count in 2020 and has never returned to pre-pandemic staffing levels."
  • Meanwhile, "store employees are spending more time fulfilling online orders, leaving them less time for helping [in-store] customers."
  • Then this warning: "Head-count reductions will become even more tempting in the quarters ahead, as the economy dampens consumers' appetite for shopping."

As noted by a Wharton School professor, "retailers frequently reduce headcount because 'you immediately see the savings in payroll but you don't necessarily know what damage that does to the top line.'" Of course, the retailers that professor is referencing are the Big Guys who have to satisfy their investors every quarter.

As independent retailers, you have advantages that are unavailable to the Big Guys.

You answer to the customer, not to the investors. That means you can showcase what makes your specialty store special.

  • First, a reminder: "Specialty" retail is not a function of price point; it is not reserved for luxury retailers. Your specialized product knowledge, your merchandise selection, your assortments, the shopping experience you offer – all those matter, whether you are selling tires or books or furniture or apparel.

What else sets your stores apart from the Big Guys is, of course, your nimbleness.Your recognition that "Times have changed, and so have we." 

  • Want to bring some pop-up shops into your space? Do it!
  • Or an "exchange" with another nearby merchant, with each displaying some of your products in their space for a couple weeks? Make it happen!  
  • Or, a series of "theme weeks" showcasing the major countries from which your products are - sourced (with music rotating slide shows, etc.)? What are you waiting for? Someone's permission??

Get your staff involved; they will have lots of intriguing ideas. Make it fun!

Most of all, seize the opportunity. Be the store in your community that puts the personality back into in-person shopping.

When customers are put off by the hassle of shopping at the Big Guys, welcome those customers with open arms. They'll love it!

*"In-Person Shopping Keeps Getting Worse." Jinjoo Lee, The Wall Street Journal, September 9-10, 2023. 

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