Insult the customer? That’s your winning strategy????

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.

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9 thoughts on “Insult the customer? That’s your winning strategy????

  1. Had to read it three times to get your jist.
    Your right.
    And it starts from the top, meanders down and thats why we are where we are today.
    Amazing that the ones that started it ( retail) and the last hangers on still try to define.
    Greed.

  2. 3 times? Reading it over now I grow bored half way through. Unfortunately it was a lot of rambling and I was slow getting to a point. Clearly I need to focus more on editing and structure rather than pushing out streams of consciousness.

  3. I agree about more creativity being need to solve the customer’s needs. You don’t have to carry a lot of items but be willing to get it. Avoiding the hassle of customs is worth it to me. By the way, what investment book were you looking for? I am always looking for one but there are so many. Thanks!

  4. Wildchild,
    I actually linked to the book above, it’s called Bailout Nation. It’s written by my favorite financial blogger named Barry Ritholtz (www.ritholtz.com), I highly recommend his blog. I wouldn’t recommend his book for someone interested in learning about investing as it is more so about what went wrong in the recent collapse, the folly of bailouts, how we can learn from our mistakes and what we still have to look forward to.
    Instead I would recommend giving a read to a series of articles he wrote a while back, they’re excellent. They’re called the Apprentice Investor (http://www.thestreet.com/files/tsc/landingpages/apprentice/.

  5. Retailers seem to have this sense of entitlement, that they’re doing us a favour or something and are aghast that their numbers are falling without taking steps to improve.
    No, glitzy remodelling isn’t going to cut it. Heck, even the so-called “we sell at US retail prices with no sales tax” gimmick is lame.
    Like you pointed out, it’s more about convenience, selection and customer service.
    If stores are open later, people will stick around town. And that helps not just store owners but restaurants and other stores.
    Being open on Sundays if even for a limited period of time can work in a similar fashion. While probably harder to achieve, it shows an effort to be more available to the customers.
    As for customer service, sheesh. People are too busy filing their nails or yakking to their friends instead of offering a simple “Welcome to our store, how may I help you” to people when they walk in. Learn from even simple overseas retailers like Gap or Victoria’s Secret.
    I like your newest suggestion as well. Yes, you probably can’t carry everything in stock but by offering an ordering service and samples to try on it keeps the customer around and they’d be likely to return.
    It all seems like common sense but maybe the retailers know something we don’t. Let the contractions continue.

  6. Why not just patronize the stores that give you good service, and complain to those that don’t? I find that a letter or email to the manager/owner of a store detailing either the good or bad service I received does wonders for the next time I visit.
    I have had great service from Brown & Co, for example, but I would not use them for books. I would use Bermuda Bookstore. I would use one of the shoe stores on Dundonald (the names escape me at present), as they have provided good service too.
    Denis, you have tweaked on to the first rule of business, and that is EVERY business is a service business. In fact, service level is really the only thing businesses can compete on locally.
    Tryangle, good points about longer operating hours and extra days. That’s not always easy for people with families, but it should be an option during school holidays when students could do the later shifts.

  7. I would hate to be in retail right now, but you hit the nail on the head Denis, I have ranted on this before, and won’t get into it again, but the problem with retail is not the customer, and no, I would not miss them when they are gone. Someone new would rise to take their place and slowly intelligent individuals would work out what is needed to survive. Natural selection. Gone are the days when you could bring in junk and mark it up 300% and rely on the overpaid international execs to keep you afloat. Time to cater to the customer and make them want to shop at your establishment, not try to berate them into patronage. Good luck with that mindset.

  8. I live in Bermuda and truly sympathized with your situation. Bermuda generally have terrible service and hours. I can walk laps in a store 5 times and no one will ever offer to assist me. Even though it’s a recession, I still shop. I believe in supporting local economies, but the stores here rarely try to meet my needs. Once I get a sour taste of poor service, I refuse to spend my money there. It’s a point of principle. I would love to see stores open till 9pm like they are in North America in addition to Sundays. If they want to be closed a day, close on Monday – not many people shop on Mondays. Lovely article by the way.

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