Bermudian retailers could learn the value to providing better service if they’re serious about staying in business. The first rule of better service? Don’t insult your customers. The second rule? Be more creative in how you offer your business, solve problems and provide better convenience.
When an article comes out in the paper quoting Kristi Grayston, the co-chair of the Chamber of Commerce, suggesting consumers are to blame if retail disappears on island it is clear that they’ve completely lost touch with what it means to be in the service industry. The co-chair would be well advised to take her own advise to “take a look in the mirror”.
Competition is a fact of life, especially in business. Ms. Grayston may whine about Bermudians not stepping up to the plate to give handouts to the retail industry but the real truth is people will buy from the place that makes the most sense. Retailers need to find ways to better appeal to their customers and offer more advantages than are available buying online.
For example, yesterday I went into Brown & Co to look for a book I’ve been wanting for a while. It is presently ranked #50 in the Investing category on Amazon.com so I don’t hold out great hope that it’ll be carried on island anyway. I didn’t see it so I asked at the cashier. They tried looking it up and had never heard of it. Now, had I been offered that they could bring it in for me I would have happily asked them to do so. This is the second bookstore I’ve checked for the book and have spent over a half hour looking for it in what will take me less than a minute to order online. Is it any surprise that I’ll end up doing so even though it’ll cost more in shipping?
Ms. Grayston suggests “People complain there's no selection in our stores, but they'll complain more when there are no stores.” You won’t hear this writer complaining. When you have a need for size 13W shoes even off island shopping can be a very harrowing experience. Over the last couple years every once in a while I’d forget, walk into a local store and see a couple pairs of shoes I really like. I’d ask the salesperson if they have my size, or even a size close to it. “Oh, we don’t carry sizes above 11/12 but we do have…”. No I don’t want the single shoe that is so hideous there is a reason why it has not been sold in years. Is there not a simple solution? Either A, offer to take my measurements and order me a pair with the next shipment or B, start carrying ‘display’ shoes that I can try on and order in. What did I do? I downloaded 5 different shoe sizing charts, measured my feet, read online reviews of the fit of various shoes and ordered 6 different pairs online. Problem solved. (Of which, I had excellent service from www.shoes.com and won’t be buying again from www.shoebuy.com, though in all cases the shoes have exceeded my expectations)
Ms. Grayston suggests “I'm not surprised but shocked by the continuous decline”. Ms. Grayston have you had your head under a rock? Let’s go back to February 2007 where Ms. Grayston was pictured in an article titled “’Frightening’ rise in value of overseas purchases”. Let us revisit her quote from that article:
Kristi Grayston, co-chairperson of the Chamber of Commerce's Retail Division, said: "It's nice to see that retail sales are up, but the overseas spending figure is always the frightening one.
"Although sales were up 4.8 percent for us, overseas goods were up 14.5 percent — and that's only the items declared at the Airport. That sector is growing and growing."
Here’s a glaringly obvious question: What did you do when faced with this statistic Ms. Grayston? It was a booming economy back then, business was up but you were being outpaced by overseas purchases.
As for what Bermuda's retailers can do to stem the tide of overseas competition, Ms Grayston said it was a question of awareness.
"We'll be launching a campaign at the end of this month, an extension of the 'Buy Bermuda' campaign, focusing on education," Ms Grayston, owner of the Pulp and Circumstance stores, said.
"The message will be that a dollar earned in Bermuda and spent overseas is not coming back. When you buy in Bermuda, you invest in Bermuda.
Ok, so now we’re in a recession, Bermudians are even less likely to spend their money and your strategy clearly did not work. What do you do now? Oh right, you blame the customer! That’s clearly a winning strategy. Let’s revisit what this blog suggested in response to that article.
- Change store hours so that you're open till 7pm in the evening at the minimum. I shouldn't have to inconvenience myself by leaving work to shop.
- Convince the government to let you open on Sundays. Being forced to only be able to shop on Saturdays is very limiting as many people have things they like to do on the weekends. Having two days to shop makes it a lot easier to run out and grab something.
- Ensure you're employees have a good attitude and know the value of customer service.
What we can add to that list today is another suggestion:
- If you don’t have it, offer to order it and if possible carry display samples.
Really, I’d rather not have to deal with shipping and customs hassles but I do because of the lack of alternatives.
Now, while I’ve railed against retailers I would like to take a moment to point out that I do fully understand the implications of fueling the local economy. Indeed, I’m a rather frugal person in good times so that in downturns like this I can take the opportunity to spend more than normal in an effort to help out the economy. For example, a couple weeks ago I decided it was time to buy a new suit. I found a basic one that fit my needs at the English Sports Shop and overall am pleased with the experience. They’re a retailer who I’ve found offer reasonable prices on many items I go looking for and their service is quite good so I’m happy to give them my business. This in comparison to what an expat friend suggested which was spend a little extra to get a trip off island and a suit for $200 which will be near the same. Now, I don’t know suits but I can say I feel I made the right choice. The English Sports Shop so far has earned my continued business and I’m happy to return and help Bermuda’s economy by shopping there. Other retailers could do more to step up.
So in summary let’s review. If Bermudian retailers are serious about staying in business they could learn the value to providing better service. This namely includes being more creative in how they solve customer problems by offering better value, service and convenience. Oh, and let’s not forget the golden rule that should be common sense to a 3 year old: Don’t insult your customers.