The Little Things Matter Most in Retail

Discussion
May 17, 2005
George Anderson

By George Anderson


Staples’ chief executive officer Ron Sargent said success in retailing comes down to attending to “thousands of little details.”


In a Boston Globe report, Mr. Sargent explains how the office supplies retailer has focused on the little things to make the business run more efficiently, improve workplace conditions for employees and ultimately serve the consumer better.


One example cited by Staples’ CEO was a change in how the company moved product from the warehouse to stores. Previously, the company had the warehouse fill up space on every truckload to maximize efficiency. Upon closer inspection, Staples discovered that, while it was packing trucks to the ceiling, store associates were spending more time in the backroom logging deliveries and picking up product spilling out on the floor while customers went unattended on the sales floor.


By making a change whereby fewer cases are loaded onto trucks and associates are no longer required to check product in immediately, said Mr. Sargent, Staples has happier employees and company surveys show more satisfied customers, as well.


Staples sales were up 11 percent last year.


Moderator’s Comment: What are the little details most often skipped at retail that offer the biggest opportunities for improvement? What are your thoughts
on Staples?

George Anderson – Moderator

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10 Comments on "The Little Things Matter Most in Retail"


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Patricia Harris
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Patricia Harris
15 years 9 months ago
After more than 20 years in customer service/employee relations for the retail and restaurant industry, I have found that the best customer service starts at the corporate level. Whether or not corporate has a program often has little to do with the end result at the store if the manager is not actively involved. Store management must make customer service their top priority, which means that customer satisfaction must be the key component in any manager’s bonus. Once the manager’s direction is set, you must hire the right employees, and teach them, starting with the interview, why working here and the position they are applying for is so important. Rather than simply training them, we must ‘teach’ them about the industry, the products, the needs they service, the clientele they will manage and where they fit within that information. The best way to accomplish this with customer facing employees is with simple games, like trivia and treasure hunt, in which employees earn points and or prizes for participation, as well as correct answers. Learning can… Read more »
Al McClain
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Al McClain
15 years 9 months ago

A quick follow up to Don Delzell. I think having clean restrooms is still very important for two reasons: 1. It sends the right message, especially to older (25+), more affluent customers and potential customers, who are more likely to be worried about germs and the like. 2. The second reason is that there are so many poorly maintained restrooms at all sorts of retail outlets now that it stands to reason health problems will result.

It never ceases to amaze me how restrooms, parking areas, and elevators are treated as second class parcels of property by their owners. It’s as if they feel that these areas aren’t on the sales floor so they don’t matter. But, all customers see them and they can make a big impression one way or the other.

Nikki Baird
Guest
Nikki Baird
15 years 9 months ago

I think the varied examples of service from the same retailer mentioned above are a perfect example of how important consistency is in delivering service – not just consistency at the same store, but consistency across all of your stores. If I can rely on the experience I’m going to get, then I’ll keep coming back – like when I drive past the FedEx Kinko’s closest to my house in order to go to one that I know will take care of me.

But on the flip side – I just returned from an office supplies trip to my closest retailer – OfficeMax – and found myself irritated by the associate who kept asking me what I was looking for. Granted, she was helpful. She helped me find things faster than I would’ve by myself, but I’ve been so trained by retailers to expect to be on my own, that I had to stop myself from telling her to go away. It’s a sad world when basic customer service is a surprise.

Tom Shay
Guest
Tom Shay
15 years 9 months ago

I don’t see the changes in Staples. My last experience was an “attempt” to purchase a postal scale. After chasing down an employee, it was a bother to him that I asked to look at the scale. He had to ask a manager and then had to get it from the lock up area. It was a further bother that I asked to open the box and look at the merchandise. When I asked about a power adapter to replace the batteries, he again had to ask the manager who quickly answered, “We don’t have it.” End of possible purchase.

In the office supply industry, I don’t see anyone doing an outstanding job of customer service. The staff is “trained,” not “educated.”

Example: “Did you find everything you were looking for?”

“No.”

“That will be $17.45 total.”

Carol Spieckerman
Guest
15 years 9 months ago

I often go to various Staples locations when in my Manhattan office and I have to say, I’m just not any more impressed there than I am at my local Office Depot or Office Max. That is to say, service is terrible and I’ve come to expect that. The service at Office Depot, in particular, is so bad that I dread going there and place most of my orders online. Office Depot and Office Max announced customer initiatives a while back, installed customer comment kiosks and comment card stations, yet nothing changed. Don’t you hate it when that happens? Compare that to a store like Best Buy. Great service before; better service after their Customer Centricity initiative was implemented. If you’re going to put a spotlight on service, see it through or you’ve got a double negative on your hands!

Al McClain
Guest
Al McClain
15 years 9 months ago

There has been a change for the better the past few years in the Staples stores I frequent. There is more sales help on the floor, they are friendlier and better informed, and more checkouts are open. Staples seems to have turned from making efficiency their top priority to putting the customer first, and efficiency second. That’s the way it should be.

Art Williams
Guest
Art Williams
15 years 9 months ago

I keep hearing good things about Staples so I am looking forward to when their new store opens close to me. There is none presently within driving distance, but I have an Office Depot and Office Max very close. Office supplies are a very competitive business and I would expect that attention to details and the little things could make a big difference. Employee morale is very important to improving a customer’s shopping experience and it sounds like Staples understands that. Nothing is more demoralizing to an employee than to have their thoughts and suggestions ignored. Even if some of them aren’t practical, having a company’s management respond with respect and appreciation makes employees feel they are an important part of the team. Working together that team will blow away the competition.

David Livingston
Guest
15 years 9 months ago

Let little details and little problems be solved by lower level employees. An example I saw yesterday was a man returning milk to a large supermarket chain in Milwaukee. They had to get a supervisor to OK the return and make this poor old guy sign his name and phone number. At another supermarket where I shop, all you have to do is tell the cashier and not even bother with the awkwardness of returning the spoiled milk. Let low level employees handle small dollar problems on the spot. I go to one car dealer that I don’t like. However, they keep handing out free oil change coupons. The service tech is allowed to do this at his own discretion. Basically, give every employee an opportunity to use their own judgment.

Don Delzell
Guest
Don Delzell
15 years 9 months ago
The question asked by the commentator was, “what are the little things” a retailer can pay attention to that have the biggest payoff? The example Mr. Sargent used would have been generated by a reasonably good traffic management system and process analysis. It is, however, to his credit that they acted on it, and drew the proper conclusion. From an operational perspective, I can offer only a blanket “attention to detail” response. Little things simply are not noticed without overall attention to detail. Store presentation maintenance is a result of so many small details being executed well that shelf stays unkempt when a few of them break down. Already mentioned are training, management oversight, consistency, commitment, and “real” initiatives as opposed to public relations ploys. In my very young days, I managed a McDonald’s while paying for college. At that time, the “little detail” of most import was the cleanliness of the restrooms and the eating space. Having a clean store and attractive restrooms significantly improved the impression of the quality of the food and… Read more »
Bernice Hurst
Guest
15 years 9 months ago
Little things can easily turn into big things if they are done right – or wrong, for that matter. When I ask a question in a store of the nearest salesperson, no matter what he or she may be doing, their willingness to either show me the item I’m seeking or go find it for me or check the information if they don’t know it themselves, is what inspires loyalty in me. A general unwillingness to be bothered, or pointing to a vague aisle several along, just irritates. Shelf filling is also important. The small convenience stores near where I live always have aisles full of things waiting to be unpacked. Unfortunately I have little sympathy for managers who cannot organise their albeit limited staff (numbers and intelligence) to get things off the floor so I don’t trip over them and onto shelves where I might see them and be tempted to buy them. Insufficient stock is one of the main reasons cited for Sainsbury’s declining popularity in the past few years. Not the number… Read more »
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