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I had half an hour between meetings in the city of Melbourne today – and I had some gift vouchers that I had received from my American Express membership rewards program; I thought what a great idea – I will have a little shop to get out of the cold and use these vouchers.

I selected the items in less than 10 minutes…. 1 hour and 20 minutes later I was still standing at the cash register….

Ironically I had just done an interview with CMO magazine – this marketing publication was wanting to know my thoughts about trends in marketing. I said “One of the most important things is to respect a customers time.

“In the online world customers expect us to have an understanding of what might interest them based on their previous actions on the site. Amazon is famous for this.

“Customers want to be served what they are likely to want – they are asking retailers to be their curators – presenting things that are likely to appeal. If we are quick and efficient, as well as knowledgeable and professional, the customer is far more likely to buy and ultimately might even become an advocate talking about that customer experience.” I said.

Every business understands that customers have different purchasing power; discounted pricing is not what all consumers are looking for. I would never travel half an hour to save $20 on an item – even if I really wanted that item my time is far too precious. At some point there would be a sweet spot of how much would I need to ‘save’ in order to travel to purchase a product.

The reality is if I am looking for savings I will buy online – and not have to pay for petrol or parking – nor loose my valuable time.

What gives me hope that traditional retailers have a future – is that they can delivery something that is much harder to get online – human interaction, professional opinion and ‘entertainment’. Alas this is not what I got today – and definitely not the norm for retailers in Australia.

I have not named names; who kept me waiting for more than an hour…. because that is not my intention to embarrass one particular retailer… it was an opportunity to learn from this experience – then at least my hour was not a total waste of time.

(The untrained sales assistant made more than 12 phone calls to other stores trying to work out how her computer system worked to use these vouchers– and she wanted to give me a discount by way of apology for wasting so much of my time – but of course she did not have the authority to do that – and did not know how the system worked to get it to happen anyway.)

So ‘high ho high ho’ it is back online I go – and when I find myself with half an hour to keep warm in Melbourne next time – I will go for a coffee instead.



Reader Interactions


  1. What a terrible experience, unfortunately it happens all the time. You only need to travel abroad and see how good the retail experience to know how bad the Oz retail environment is. Many of my clients hire me just so they don’t have to deal with the poor customer service.
    You can’t go wrong with a good coffee in Melbourne!

  2. Unfortunately I have experienced this too but have not waited to be served – in the end I’ve put the items down and walked away. I have to agree that in most instances, it’s quicker, easier and cheaper to buy online – with close to the same level of service. It can’t beat a great in store experience but these days they are few and far between, most retailers aren’t consistent.

  3. So sad and so true. I’ve just started at an organisation that prides itself on not f$#king the customer, and it’s refreshing to see how this manifests itself in what we do. I purchased a phone and mobile contract from a well known telco in Australia 3 weeks ago, and after 10 e-mails, 8 calls and numerous broken promises, we nearly got a solution. Nearly. The problem was, despite having faulty product supplied, I was made to feel like I was the one who’d done wrong. When someone ties you into a contract these days, you seem to the their best friend in the build up and their poor second cousin once the ink is on the paper!

  4. Great blog and I have a great example of someone understanding this – also in Melbourne.

    I was at a Telecommunications company getting a new cellphone contract. I entered the store and was told the wait would be 10 minutes and did I mind. 12 minutes later the person said it would be another 5 minutes and, to apologise, would I like a free coffee at the coffee shop 3 doors down. He gave me a pre-printed voucher and the coffee shop looks great so going back next week for dinner (its a restaurant/bar). Great result all round.

  5. It’s not any different in the USA. One particularly large globally known retailer continuously hires clerks that don’t have a clue on what their selling, always sells at the lowest price, takes me $2 or more in gas for me to drive to, has a wait of at least 1/2 to 1 hour to get through the check-out, typically hires young works and then doesn’t train them on how to use the register, often runs out of items, and sells foreign products that are so cheap that they often fall apart within a month. They also sell mid-priced products that will hold up at a good prices. How one differentiates between the better products and the terrible ones is left up to the customer! The result of their global efficient retail system is that I often by from a local in-town retailer and pay more. For instance, our local pharmacy will deliver prescriptions in town for free, automatically take the time to call my doctor to get a lower cost drug substitute, has a drive-up window, and will notify me when my prescription is about to run out. Needles to say, my local pharmacy saves me more than the global retailer even if I pay more for the prescription.

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