Retailers Share in Electronic Sales Prevention Award

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Oct 27, 2005
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By Mark Lilien, Consultant, Retail Technology Group (www.retailtechnologygroup.com)


This is the story of Marylou’s search for small stereo speakers for her den.


One afternoon, Marylou and yours-truly went driving around Paramus, New Jersey in search of said speakers.


Our first stop was at Electronics Expo (one of five stores in NJ). The salesman was very nice, but didn’t know how to get the right pair of speakers to play. There was a control panel on the wall, but the buttons weren’t labeled. By trying every button and walking around the room listening, we finally discovered the secret and heard what we needed to hear.


Next up on our expedition was Circuit City. The salesman who waited on us couldn’t figure out how to get the selected speakers to play, so after 15 minutes of attempted rewiring (I timed it), he got someone else to help him. After 30 more minutes, the right pair of speakers could be heard.


Number three on our list of stops was Best Buy. They have well-labeled push buttons for customers to try the speaker combinations. There were three different control panels and Marylou’s were connected to panel one. Unfortunately, it was broken. Having gone into DIY mode at this point, I connected the speakers to the third control panel. They sounded great so we went looking for a salesperson. The one we found demonstrated his customer service acumen by making us wait while he reconnected the speakers to the broken panel. He then went and found that the displayed speakers were out-of-stock.


Next up was P.C. Richard. They had the speakers Best Buy didn’t and we were thrilled. The price was not marked (they were priceless!), but after finding a salesperson in another department, we discovered Richard’s price was almost twice that of Best Buy.


Feeling a bit worse for wear (or is that hear?) at this point, we went back to Marylou’s house. She went online and found the speakers she wanted on Amazon. Within minutes, she had bought them for a price (including shipping) lower than Best Buy, with delivery made in three days.


For their service well below the call of their duty to their customers, we bestow the highly undesirable but richly deserved Sales Prevention Award for October to the consumer electronics retailers of Paramus, New Jersey. 


Moderator’s Comment: How do businesses with successful customer organizations identify and then reduce impediments to better serving customers and correct
them? What does it take to build a culture of customer service and how is it that some companies have it and others do not?

Mark Lilien – Moderator

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13 Comments on "Retailers Share in Electronic Sales Prevention Award"


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Al McClain
Guest
Al McClain
15 years 4 months ago
The electronics category is complicated – as those of us who are technologically challenged know very well. My experience has been similar to Mark’s in that I find sometimes the sales staff doesn’t know as much as even I do. Over the weekend, I visited Comp USA, Staples, and Costco, to buy a flat screen computer monitor and USB keyboard cable. Bottom line is the sales staff at Comp USA determined they were out of stock on what I wanted, and I determined Costco was $50 cheaper, anyway. The only store that offered any advice was Comp USA, and the advice wasn’t that good. The combination of low prices and good customer service is very rare, so the idea of doing research in-store and buying online makes a lot of sense to me. On a separate trip to PetSmart, the associate told me they were out of stock on an item, and suggested trying online. So, even the stores themselves are driving consumers to the Internet. But, how does a company keep prices low, make… Read more »
Karen Kingsley
Guest
Karen Kingsley
15 years 4 months ago

Sadly, MaryLou’s experience is not unique. This is one reason I was so intrigued by Best Buy’s promise a couple of weeks ago that for Christmas this year they were delivering price and service (easy to say, harder to do). I am dismayed that this was announced as a special effort, not an every day policy (although clearly they are not delivering both price and service every day).

It comes down to those things we talk about every day here: making service a priority, training people and rewarding them for paying attention to customers. Increasingly, I see sales staff doing what your Best Buy saleseperson did: handling a chore that would have been better handled after the customer left. Employees appear to be best trained to keep the store functioning despite the pesky intervention of customers. The good news for them is that, if they keep it up, soon they won’t have any of us interrupting the smooth running of their stores.

Ian Percy
Guest
15 years 4 months ago
Stories like this (and we all have them) just make you want to go out to a store and slap somebody! I’m boring even myself I’ve said this so often…it’s the mind-set of retail sales people. With the disclaimer that there are many amazing and engaged sales professionals, the fact remains that most do not see retail sales as their dream job. That means there is little emotional engagement or even intellectual engagement, for that matter. They’re not even driven by greed! On top of that, sales people seem to replicate the shopping experiences they themselves have. No one serves them particularly well; why should they serve others any differently? The new not-so-golden-rule is, “What’s done to me, I’ll do to you.” Finally, we have the challenge of creating an awake and engaging retail culture. Why does it take a customer to point out that the speaker test button doesn’t work? Why, with all the hours employees stand around doing nothing doesn’t one of them push a few buttons to see if the speakers work?… Read more »
Mark Lilien
Guest
15 years 4 months ago

Is it a coincidence that all the major outlets we visited were tops in Sales Prevention? What is it about certain retail categories (auto retailing, electronics retailers) that seem dominated by Sales Prevention?

Rick Moss
Guest
15 years 4 months ago

Interesting question, Mark. I’ll just take a stab at the auto channel (where technical knowledge is helpful but not the primary issue).

The fundamental weakness, as I see it, is that auto salespeople are handicapped from the get-go by the presumption on the consumer’s part that their main tactic is one of deception. Car buying is one of the few situations where non-pros have to negotiate like horse-traders. Whereas, in an apparel store, for example, the gleam we see in an associates eye infers, “How can I make this customer feel good and attractive in these clothes?,” when seeing it in an auto salesperson, we assume they’re making their best effort to keep the selling price artificially high. So it’s a cultural thing. It takes a certain type of individual to handle that type of disdain and paranoia from customers. And, among those, it’s rare to find professionals who can perform in such a way as to leave the customer feeling fulfilled.

Franklin Benson
Guest
Franklin Benson
15 years 4 months ago

The lesson is, unfortunately, that once you found out what the speakers you want really sounded like in person, you should write down the brand and model number, and head home and go straight to the internet.

The downside to internet ordering is that it’s tough to get a “free sample” of whatever it is you are purchasing. Brick-and-mortar, on the other hand, has what should be an untouchable advantage in that they can always offer free samples. Of course, they have to be willing to make sure the samples work, and then they really need to follow through by closing the transaction.

Syed Rizvi
Guest
Syed Rizvi
15 years 4 months ago

This has more to do with our attitude…Who cares? As long as we do not change that, it will keep getting worse. What is more dangerous is that it discourages even those who want to try.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
Guest
15 years 4 months ago

The Apple experiment of selling computers through Circuit City (even with Apple paid employees on location at times to assist consumers) and through Sears didn’t work. The experience and customer service at those stores was not sufficient to engage and assist consumers. Apple did revolutionize the retail environment and open a different kind of store with customer-oriented employees. Apple provides training and mentoring for its employees in addition to the innovative concept of having Mac Geniuses available to assist consumers and have products available for consumers to try. They do not make a claim of selling the lowest priced products but they do have a customer-oriented retail concept. Copying Apple’s concept is not the answer. Providing an experience that your consumers find helpful will make a difference.

James Tenser
Guest
15 years 4 months ago
I’d like to propose to Mark that we get a group of RW commentators together to formalize the “Sales Prevention Awards.” I’d like to volunteer to EmCee the presentation ceremony, which should be held in a tent at the Paramus Mall parking lot on December 23. I’ll set the tone by showing up late and demanding my honorarium in advance. Then I’ll prolong the proceedings by taking several personal cell phone calls at the podium. As the coup-de-grace, I’ll be sure to lose the envelope containing the names of the winners. To make the event even more memorable, we can bill every nominee a “handling charge” for the shipment of their flimsy trophies, which should be engraved with misspellings. In all seriousness, stories like Marylou’s are disheartening. The consumer electronics box stores must surely have a hard time attracting and keeping decent sales professionals. Considering the low status, hours and compensation, most truly competent individuals must be seeking better situations. That said, I don’t even know how to answer the excellent question posed above. I’ve… Read more »
Race Cowgill
Guest
Race Cowgill
15 years 4 months ago
For the last 40 years, our firm has been studying something in every organization called the Master System. The Master System processes all information in an organization at a very fundamental level, and determines what information is used or even considered and how it is processed. This information processing is so fundamental that it determines even the focus of an organization at every level — both the broad strategy of the entire company as well as the focus of divisions and even individuals. Our research has shown literally hundreds of times that if you take someone with a strong regard for customers and put them in an organization with a Master System that is very inward focused, the individual will very quickly take on the focus of the company and forget about customers. Conversely, our research also shows that if you take a company with that same inward focus, and create training programs, company-wide initiatives, incentive programs, and slogans-and-posters campaigns to try to get a customer focus, IT WILL NOT WORK because the Master System… Read more »
Doug Fleener
Guest
15 years 4 months ago
Private Fleener here reporting for General Ian Percy’s retail revolution sir! I believe the revolution begins right here on RetailWire! Interesting enough, I was doing a seminar last week when a retailer asked how they could get customers to quit using their store to gather information and then leaving to order it online. The key is in this article. Every retailer that Mark and Marylou visited was internally focused and not CUSTOMER focused. Retailers who are customer focused would have realized they were holding their customer up so they would have quickly hooked-up the speakers to a different receiver to demonstrate them. Even better, the speakers would have worked on the switching system, but that would just make too much sense. Retailers who make the shopping EXPERIENCE so incredible will have customers begging to do business with you. Today, it is almost the other way around. It is experiences like this that are the reason Bose Corporation opened up their own stores. They can’t get their products demonstrated, although it is the one thing that… Read more »
M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
15 years 4 months ago

When Circuit City curtailed their commission selling system, their best/best informed salespeople bolted for greener pastures. Today’s salespeople there and at every other electronic retailer that doesn’t reward individual knowledge, effort, and performance are seriously under-qualified. Not just in Paramus, but everywhere. Thank Heaven for the Internet. (Shame on you, Mark, for beginning Marylou’s shopping trip by burning gasoline!)

Mark Lilien
Guest
15 years 4 months ago

James Tenser’s awards ceremony is a great idea, but can’t be coordinated because the Sales Prevention Institute has an unlisted phone number.

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