I am fascinated by how organizations personify the brand experience. It is often so hard to get it right. One thing is promised in advertising but the in store experience is completely different. Company owned stores, however should ‘in theory’ have a far better ability to ensure that the brand is executed consistently at every touch point.
This week I was at the AICD course and one of the female participants said she was desperate to get a new handbag and wallet as hers were ‘falling apart’. I was going to the top of Collins street anyway so we went together. This woman told me she wanted a Gucci handbag and matching wallet, because ‘they last’.
We were both completely underwhelmed by the brand experience. The attendants were wearing ill-fitting brown uniforms that looked terrible (and they had wires hanging out of their ears – the effect was to make them look like security guards – not women of style selling to women of style.
My friend selected a wallet, and the sales assistant said ‘you don’t want that one it has been on display’ I will get you a new one in the box. My friend opened the new box, the wallet looked the same, but she then opened the actual wallet only to discover it had a different internal design. She was a little put out, said she wanted the original style she selected. There wasn’t a ‘new one in stock’. They could put one aside in another store and she could go there… (My friend’s time is scarce) she said – can’t you have it delivered to me…’No’… so my friend said can’t you sell me the display one (implying with a small discount)… the sales assistant’s English was not good – and she did not understand the subtly of what my friend was saying. My friend ended up leaving without a wallet.
She did however purchase a handbag. When we arrived at the course the very next morning – this woman held up her bag (I thought so I could admire it.) Alas no – the handle had broken. (Ironic given she only purchased at Gucci because she thought the bags lasted).
My friend called and asked the Gucci store to deliver a replacement bag to our location. That would not be possible, as the bag might have to go for ‘repair’. By this time my friend was exasperated. I heard her say ‘So you mean I have to come all the way back to the top of Collins street – this is actually your problem yet I have to do the running around to fix it’.
At the time she was on the phone I was flicking through the beautiful Fin. Review Magazine fashion edition – and noted the very expensive Gucci ad, which promised ‘glamour & luxury’ and implied customer experience. My friend just rolled her eyes when I showed her it.
We traipsed back to the top of Collins Street. When we entered the store a shop assistant instantly stated ‘a repair is it?’ As though this happens a lot. My friend stated her case in no uncertain terms, this was a new bag and she was not going to settle for a repair (quite frankly I think she would rather a full refund and never to return to the store – except she then would have wasted more time looking for another bag… and a wallet that she still did not have.)
This was my first (and only) shopping experience at Gucci – and it was not even my purchase. If these luxury goods businesses have such high margin’s I wonder how much training their staff receive. My friend would have received far better service if she had purchased online. Traditional retailers need to consider carefully why people choose to purchase in a store. Perhaps it is so that they as a consumer feel that they have ‘touched the brand’ or been a part of something, felt glamorous for a few moments.
Anyway we get to vote with our feet. But these ‘old’ businesses need to get over themselves and come into the new world where the customer does have a choice – we want to be part of a brand experience when we visit a retailer.
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Linda Quinton says
While a company having very high margins may be able to go the extra mile, for the general small retailer, some of these requests are simply not affordable.
If a small retailer were to replace or refund a faulty item instantly when the manufacturer insists on repairing faulty items, the small retailer then gets stuck with a second hand repaired item that they have to sell at cost or below. Likewise, the request to have a faulty item picked up from a customers location, maybe for a high margin retailer this could be possible, but for the general small retailer it is not affordable.
While it would be a nice luxury to have more than enough stock in every colour and every size, it is a nearly impossible task. A retailer could have a green bag sitting on the shelf for a couple of weeks, with a couple of spare ones at hand, then in 2 days they all suddenly sell. While they may order more in straight away, there will be periods when they are suddenly out of stock of different items. While they would like to hold 20 at hand for every item, especially with fashion when things go out of style they are then stuck with stock nobody wants to buy… over how many lines?
With regards to your ideas on how they can improve, such as uniform, a better procedure for when styles change, selling off display stock of old designs (because it certainly isn’t affordable to be constantly selling your current displays at discounted prices, and believe me I am sure they get asked many times daily to do that!), if you don’t tell the business in a constructive manner, via a letter to the appropriate person, how on earth are they supposed to improve. If the managers are staring at the business from the other end on a constant basis, while they might hope to have all bases covered, it is impossible to see everything from a customers point of view. The problem is that customers will either bad mouth the business to all of their friends, or be rude to the shop assistant who is more inclined to defend herself than to see it as an opportunity to discuss an improvement with management, so the poor business owners are left in the dark with a bad reputation. Of the rare letter that might get to head office, rather than being constructive, they are usually rude, and full of unreasonable demands which are hard to approve when you are not being shown the full clear picture.
As a Retailer, I would absolutely LOVE to hear realistic constructive ideas from Customers. We actually have a Feedback Box at the counter, and encourage feedback, and only ever get ‘beautiful store’ which while it is nice, it doesn’t show us where we could improve. I bet those who have not been happy with us in some way, have done the same thing of either being rude to a Sales Assistant or told their friends about it, rather than constructively giving us an opportunity to improve.
Finally, I am struggling with the demand of being able to instantly buy exactly what you want. Mass produced products have really changed the ethics of manufacture and have clouded the vision of consumers. Instead of realising that there are mothers who can’t even afford to feed their children and keep them alive, so to have to wait for a certain design, or deal with a broken handle is actually a blessed luxury, people complain with the ‘I am more important than anybody’ mentality. It is shameful. I would much rather wait for an ethically made, rather than child labour produced, item to be handmade for me. If I did have to deal with a broken handle, firstly I would realise that if I am going to buy a mass produced item, highly priced or not, sometimes these things happen, but I would also realise that I am absolutely blessed to be having that problem. It is shameful that people are so busy complaining about slow service, or these types of so called annoying problems, that they are too self absorbed to realise how lucky they really are and actually show some compassion.
BTW: Some constructive feedback Naomi. Did you realise that when we try to post a comment, if it doesn’t think our CAPTCHA Code is correct or a field filled in properly, it comes up with a one line error message so we have to use the back key. Therefore all that we have written is gone, and many would not feel inclined to type their comment out again (I just had to re do mine twice). You may be losing out on feedback because of this.
Naomi Simson says
Thanks for your insights. I had never been into a Gucci store before so it was a new experience for me. And I was surprised how the Shop assistant changed her ‘tune’ when she realised she did not have the stock. For me it was merely a training issue. Does the ‘assistant’ know what they have in stock… and to ‘sell’ what they do have. I relish the idea of retailers who are able to listen and respond to customers in an intimate way…. and that an organization can trust it’s people to moment by moment be able to be nimble to support customer need. In fact I would argue this is where small retailers have the advantage over the big multinationals.
PS thanks for the CAPTCHA feedback – I will check it out – I had not heard this before so appreciate you mentioning it.
A great blog post. It is amazing just how often the marketing message never gets though to the operations area. Come to think of it – shouldn’t all customer facing ‘touch points’ be part of the marketing message?
I had a similar experience the other night. Myer has spent millions on their Bourke St store here in Melbourne. The fit out is amazing; the range of brands is impressive, as is all the new eating venues.
It is marketed as their flagship store that is bringing back good old-fashioned department store service. Tonight they are celebrating this new store with a VIP 100 year celebration/re opening.
Now lets move past the marketing to my experience. The afternoon I visited the Shaver Department and after a 5-minute wait for service I decided to play a game, it is called ‘find a staff member’. I know, not a game you should really have to play in a company’s flagship store.
Having passed not one, but four cash registers, there was not a staff member to be seen. Half the floor had now been scoped out and not a staff member to be seen. Had the world ended and I didn’t know it? Was the store closed? Nope 4 hours before closing time and a few customers were walking around so the world was still intact.
After 10 minutes I was started to feel very frustrated (actually who am I kidding, I was clearly annoyed by that stage) I decided to ring Myer reception from my mobile and explained that I was on the 5th floor and waiting for service.
Several minutes later a staff member appeared and asked how he could help me. No apology was forthcoming until I said how annoyed I was to have had to call reception from within the store. This staff member had the whole Myer brand in his hands and yet his reactive apology left me wondering what happened to good old-fashioned service. oh and to make matters worse I looked up at the staff members badge to read the title: Store Manager.
While the new Myer store is amazing, I’m still left wondering how long it will take for me to forget my experience.
In the end, no matter what a company spends on branding, it can be all undone by one bad interaction.
Gucci? Really? You could use that money to buy a perfectly good handbag and wallet at any other store, buy some food to eat, and donate the rest to a charity.
Buying products JUST for the brand only shows how good a marketing team the company has and how gullible people really are.
@Scott maybe they were doing a test that day with the security cameras… to see how many people would steal stuff if there were no staff around.
M Atlas says
Nice article Naomi.
I agree with you in that the customer has a far wider choice in today’s competitive markets. These companies need to realize that delivering a good and effective brand experience not just to old customers but to new ones as well is critical if they want to remain successful.
One thing these companies could probably look into is something called a brand experience evaluation. Essentially they could hire another company to “experience” their brand for them as customers themselves. I don’t know about you but I think it would be MUCH better to test your brand and get a poor result based on test rather then have it blown off by actual customers.