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Editor's Desk

What's wrong with retail nowadays?
What's wrong with retail nowadays?

What’s wrong with retail?

A lot has been written about how consumers are shopping online to chase a bargain. However, COLEBY NICHOLSON says there is more to it than that. 
It recently dawned on me why so many people are now shopping online. The answer has been staring me in the face, but I just haven’t seen it until now.

Before I detail my encounters, let me give you an idea of my shopping “profile” so that you can keep the story in context. Firstly, I don’t enjoy shopping that much, which could have something to do with my gender. When I do shop for discretionary items, I am never in a rush – I carefully consider a purchase and I rarely look for bargains.

I do look for value, however, but that’s different from being price motivated – when it comes to essential items like food, for example, I usually choose the more expensive option. I will happily pay more for meat, fruit and vegetables, go out of my way to shop for quality and support small, specialist retailers over large ones.

That said, I don’t accept second-rate service.

Now let me tell you about two of my recent shopping experiences – one was a large, well-planned purchase and the other was a small, spur of the moment purchase. Both involved non-essential items and both helped me to understand why people choose online first.
I decided to buy a new camera. In truth, I didn’t need a new camera, but it was the end of the financial year and I thought it would be good to have a much smaller camera for the many trade fairs I attend. It needed to be high quality while still compact, and price was not important.

I researched options online and settled on the new Sony NEX5, which had great reviews and was over $1,000. I then decided to go into the city to look at the camera so I called a few camera stores to ensure they had it in stock and to ask what price they could offer, given it was “sale” time.

The first store I called didn’t stock that model and the second store had one of those automated phone systems – push “1” for sales, push “2” for cameras, and so forth. I navigated the menu and was soon on hold waiting to speak to someone . After a long wait, an automated voice told me all staff were busy and that I could leave a message and someone would return my call… within 24 hours!

Now, think about it: I wanted to spend over $1,000 that day and I couldn’t even speak to a real person! I did leave a message though; I simply stated the web address of the online retailer on my computer screen.

I called another store and someone answered immediately (phew!). After a short chat, I drove into the city, parked and grabbed a quick snack. Along the way, I passed a bookshop and a book in the window caught my eye. I went into the store and asked the sales assistant if I could put my snack packaging into her rubbish bin because I wanted to look at a book in her window. By the look she gave me, you’d have thought I’d asked to use the bin as a toilet!

Taken aback by her response, I asked if there was a problem, and her face said it all – I was a disruption to her. As she held up the bin for me, I said, “It seems like I’m a terrible inconvenience to you. I will keep the litter, place it in the bin outside, and I’ll keep my money too and go to Amazon.” I then left.

Over the next few days, I pondered these two shopping experiences. Abysmal customer service is nothing new, but it’s certainly odd that it remains at a time when consumers have a clear alternative. Before the internet, my option would’ve been to go to another store where the service might be better, but might even be worse!

Alas, if I wanted the book, I’d have to risk it. Now, however, consumers can choose to avoid the staff interaction altogether. I mean, if retailers aren’t going to provide the human touch they regularly claim is one of their advantages, or if that human touch is unpleasant, then why bother?

The sad thing is that I should be the ideal customer for both these retailers; I‘m not price driven, I want to shop in a physical store and I am happy to pay for specialist service. By the way, I bought the camera from another city store that had great customer (human) service and offered a three hour lesson as part of the deal. You can’t get that from an online retailer!

Coleby Nicholson

Former Publisher • Jeweller Magazine

Coleby Nicholson launched Jeweller in 1996 and was also publisher and managing editor from 2006 to 2019. He has covered the jewellery industry for more than 20 years and specialises in business-to-business aspects of the industry.

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