Retail Culture- Does it fit with your Brand?

Hating IKEA and the whole self-service retail culture – I’m at Ikea with Stephanie, who works at Starship, and we’re returning four big boxes which contain one big bookcase, cause it was the wrong color when we opened the boxes, but it said white on the label.

This is because Ikea will deliver, but won’t ensure the items are the right ones and won’t take them back if they are not what you wanted. You have to bring them back yourself. This is Ikea mistake number one. Mistake number one has cost me as the MD (cause Stephanie couldn’t lift them) and Stephanie so far about an hour. That’s probably cost Starship more than several good lunches already.

We ask for ‘returns’ and have to trudge right down the other end of the warehouse/ shop thing in Richmond, trundling these huge boxes with employees literally laughing at us, cause it’s so hard to balance them. I mean that. Not helping. Pointing and laughing. Mistake number two.

We get down to the ‘Returns’ section and there’s about 20 grumpy people sitting around in what seems like a queue. A couple of people notice we are looking perplexed, so they nod towards a number machine (you have grab a number like at a deli). I go get a number, and realize we are going to have to wait a while. Mistake number three. Not valuing the customer’s time.

We wait in semi-polite silence for a few more minutes. I read the designer-inspired wall posters, that say things like ‘love it or return it’, or ‘ask our friendly staff…’, ‘be happy knowing you’ll get what you want’. Sadly I didn’t photograph them, but I may do so if I start the law suit….. but all I can remember of them is they were done by some bastard Danish art-director who was having a dig at the people he knew were going to be standing there, knowing they would hate Ikea even more cause they were so not how you felt. I felt like I’d made a mistake and I hate doing that. So mistake number four, making the customer feel like an idiot.

So picture this – there are three cash registers with no-one on them for about ten minutes with a crowd waiting at the returns counter. Eventually out comes someone to process returns. She moves to her register in slow motion. Like she’s had two Valium. You know those people who you feel like screaming at ‘try coffee’? Mistake number five. Attitude.

She looks up, no smile. And says, in a monotone ‘number 54’. Number 54 gets up and walks over. She asks them what’s wrong with the item. Not a ‘you’re not happy, we’ll change it without questions’ approach, which is implied on the posters, but actually asks what’s wrong with the item, like they have done something bad. Mistake number six. Not delivering on the advertising.

She interrogates every person/couple. She drags her arms and it feels like it’s so painful to help anybody. She takes ages longer than she needs to. She doesn’t care. She’s enjoying being slow. Mistake number seven. Attitude.

We eventually get to the counter. She asks us what’s wrong with the items. We say nothing but the colour’s wrong. They are wood and the box said white. She insists on opening each box and inspecting the whole thing and takes another five minutes.

We ask if there are any of the white ones left. She goes on the computer (this takes ages because she doesn’t want to. I have to beg) and she says they are a discontinued line so basically, bad luck. Only time she actually smiles. Mistake number eight, being happy to disappoint a customer.

We get the money, she doesn’t respond when Stephanie (against my wishes) says thank you. Mistake number nine. Being bloody rude.

We head towards the exit, when I, being the incredibly cynical bastard that I am, stop in my tracks and say to Steph – ‘Hey, why don’t we just go check if they actually are out of stock? They’ve got every thing else wrong.’ So we go to the warehouse shelving section where all the boxes are and we look for the same code number and there you have it, white bookcases. So mistake number ten. Not keeping accurate stock records.

So we grab them, lumber them to the cash register, pay for the right colour, tie the boxes onto the car, and after three hours we get back to the office. Now we have to assemble the bookcase, which takes another half an hour. Three and a half frickin hours on a bookcase…Hideous.

You might argue it’s Scandinavian retail. But it’s pretty indicative of most retail in this country. You go out to get widgets and three hours later, if you are lucky, you come home with them having struggled through an experience, and you think ‘never again’.

The experience isn’t nice

My feet ache if I have to go to Chaddy at the mere thought of it. Way before I even get in the car to start the journey. (Like Pavlov’s dog, salivating before the food comes, out of anticipation.) They know they are going to be in pain in an hour, so they warn me in advance. “Hey, please don’t do this”.

A lot of marketing people talk about experiential marketing. The experience, demonstrated in probably way too much detail above, is unpleasant.

That’s one of the main reasons I reckon people like shopping on-line. They can do it from home, with a cup of coffee, in their trackies, at 7 am or 7 pm and a few days later it arrives, without them wasting any time or putting themselves through physical, or financial or psychological pain.

Given that the biggest complaint most Australians list in many of the research studies published lately is sheer lack of free time, I can’t see why retailers find it so confronting and they stoically refuse to do anything about saving us time and making the experience better.

So that’s the subject of this article, how to turn the bog dumb retail industry around in this country before it smashes into a financial brick wall.

Retail reality

The first bit of the rest of this article is about recognition of fact – something very few retailers have managed so far.

We don’t have time.

We are all busy. Therefore if you take up our time needlessly, we won’t come back. And we don’t stop there. We will bitch about you to our friends on facebook or linkedin and you will have fewer customers.

You have too much competition

So many stock the same stuff. If they are stocking brown couches, stock green or red ones. I know this is hard for fashion-conscious people to get their head around, cause fashion means copying, but seriously, how can you hope to compete if you are carrying the same thing? If you do, you will get screwed on price. Be different.

You source from the same place

The bulk of retail products in this country come from China and a few dodgy ones from strange African republics that didn’t even exist when I was in school. Which means most retailers have gone to the European shows, bought a few items and stopped at China or Zimbabwe on the way home to set up a manufacturing contract to make them. They end up at the same factories. (The Chinese think this is hilarious, by the way. The same interpreters, the same taxi’s/restaurants, the same deals, the same products, the same pricing…)

We are shopping on-line

You know that on-line equals range, convenience and price advantage. Shit. The only thing it doesn’t equal, at this stage anyway, is speed and reliability – cause I can’t try things on and I can’t get them in 20 minutes. But that will come.

We love our brands

People grow deeply attached to locations and shops; retail brands. They love being safe. They love consistency – being able to find that particular pasta sauce at the back of their local IGA. They love knowing the place to get a good coffee at the sunny wing of a David Jones. Brands represent reliability, more than anything else. At its most simple it means this: you know what you are getting. So retailers, change what you stand for and how you are laid out, at your peril. Yes, we get it that this year’s collection will be in pink or cloud, whatever that is, but we want it at the back corner of the store where ladies fashion is always.

We don’t care

Sadly, even though we Australians go along with being mates and nice to each other, just a millimeter below the polished friendly surface, we are nasty, value-oriented buggers, most of the time. Welcome to the real world. You retailers have been ripping us off for years and have made fewer friends than Mohamar Gaddaffi at a Christian feminist convention. If you kick someone in the face a few hundred times, they don’t like you. Regardless of what you say about yourself. You cannot win the respect of the Australian people back with a nice ad campaign. Sorry. You might improve your image to the dumbest ten percent, but you won’t convince the bulk of us you have changed. You have to prove it over years. Given you are judged on quarterly results and no-one on your board truly understands the comings and goings of retail, cause none of them have ever worked on a shop floor, good luck.

You don’t even try when we do come in

I sat on my sunnies. So I thought, I’ll go buy another pair. I found some that made my otherwise fat-filled face look rather desirable, even to me. So I got all excited. But they were $399.00. So I asked for a discount. (The retailers reading this are going to say ‘Don’t give it to him. He likes the product. Screw him for the whole amount’. And you know, you would be right. That should be theoretically what you would do. If you were complete bastards.) The go today is that you give the punter a small discount. It’s policy in many stores overseas for the staff to say ‘Oh, cause you’re so nice, I’ll give you 20 bucks off Mr. Bowll.” That would have stopped me even asking, if she’d got in first. But no, she refused to budge. ‘That’s the price Sir. If you can’t afford those, we do have the Bolle range, there’s some more in your price bracket’. How would you react to that?

How to do retail really well

Experiences should be nice

Like sex, food, music and clothes, we go shopping to enjoy ourselves. Make it so.

Self service is no service

If I wanted self service, I’d have bought my own little farm and I’d be growing my own vegies and milking my own cows. But I live in a city, cause I want to be able to focus on more interesting things like marketing widgets to the public, not getting my hands dirty growing frickin green things. I am not unique. Service me.

Bunnings, some years ago, did research that said people hated not being able to ask someone for help who could, amazingly, help. So they hired old people who knew about things like service and what products do. It works. And old people want jobs and don’t get many offered to them, so they work cheaply, bingo.

You have convenience – use it

The most powerful thing that Australian retail has over on-line retail is so bloody obvious… You are here. They are over there. There’s no way I can get anything delivered from them to me in less than several days. You can therefore have in store sales or instant delivery and they cannot compete with that. In your own on-line stores, help them compete with more edge – like same-day delivery.

You can’t beat the web, so use it

A couple of billion people using the web everyday says you can’t stop the machine regardless of how much your tired old board would like to roll back the years.

Give up. Embrace new technology and get on with the battle that is modern business.

Learn from Zara

Flexibility, rapid change in stocks, doing what the customer wants…..Cool women I know go to retailers who change product several times a season, cause they never know what’s going to be in the store. Exciting, non?

Go Small or Big

Bunnings weren’t too sure if smaller warehouses in the inner city would work. They boom. Tie Racks are often only 4-6 square metres. Big milk bars are seven elevens. Ikeas are just large designer wanker stores.

Opening hours

If they are working nine to five, you need to open five to nine.

Use their brains

Teach your staff to ask other questions than ‘just looking?’. Get them to bundle up deals – “Hey, if you buy the widget with the wadget, I could get you ten percent off.”

Connect with your community

IGA does this very well, but it is not a Unique Selling Proposition. It is a necessity.

On-line, your international community is simply like-minded souls.

SMS or radio

Use media that hits them when they can respond– I have a client who gets a 35-40% hit rate when they send out SMS’s to their database on Saturdays and Sundays, cause working people are actually shopping then.

Mobile me

Smart phone technology, allowing you to send tailored messages to people who are near or even in your stores, is brilliant. Offer them a coffee, but get them to pick up the voucher on the other side of the shop – getting them to walk past all that lovely stock.

Re-design your stores

One of Ikea’s problems is their sneaky marketing trick – you can’t find your way out. Unlike people in Sweden in the middle of their long dark winter, we in Australia don’t have days to shop. So help us get what we want and then leave. The rest of you take note – it’s often cheaper to re-align your stores with customers needs than to paint them or even change your stock.

Treat your staff with respect

The reason the Ikea girl was such a bitch, is cause she was bored out of her brain. It’s the same four walls, day in day out. Move them around. Give them incentives to improve things. Make their day enjoyable and it will pay off with customers.

Think like a retailer

You get stuff in, you sell it on. You are technically just a vehicle for transactions. Don’t kid yourself you’re anything special and you’ll do way better than the wankers who work for most big retailers. To quote Absolutely Fabulous ‘You just work in a shop, love’.

Sack your boards

Why there are often 5 or 6 accountants on big retailers boards and no ex-retailers, who actually do know what it’s like to work in a shop, is because……?

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