I have been writing for several years now about the need for retailers to fully integrate their online / digital and in-store services - i.e. evolve a properly joined-up service solution. Most high street retailers still maintain several different disparate inventories - physical stores, online and outlet for instance. This usually means that there is typically no correlation between what you search for on your desktop or mobile and what is available in-store. It usually means that you receive some kind of marketing mailer or social alert - announcing new goods, which you click through to view on the website, but when you physically get to the store they are either not stocked locally, not arrived yet, or already sold out - in your chosen size, colour or otherwise. I am beyond frustrated with so many of my in-store retail experiences. Shop service has markedly dwindled for me these past 10 years, most noticeably at M&S which used to be the bastion of good service. My local Waitrose is now where I get the most consistently good service, while I find John Lewis not quite as good as is used to be and service can be inconsistent.
I have lost count of the number of times I have been told in-store that something I was after was ’not-in-stock’. Fair enough, and understandable, but what is not understandable is that you typically get no follow-on - so OK, it is not in stock - is it back in soon? Available somewhere else? Are there like-for-like alternatives? Only once in these last 12 months have I received what I would have thought should be standard service - and this was at T.M. Lewin on Jermyn Street. I had started out at their Strand store - which is where their website directed me to go for the item in question. The Strand store staff told me ’not-available-in-store’ and said I should check out their flagship store on Jermyn Street. Here I was met with courteous and well-considered service, as it quickly transpired that the item I wanted was only available ’online’. The lady shop-assistant swiftly retrieved an iPad and walked me through the whole ordering process for next day delivery - all beautifully and efficiently done, and exactly as I would expect in this day and age.
Yet how many times have I had to eke out, bit-by-bit any kind of service in-store - having to cajole and prompt a shop assistant into action, and nudge them to keep trying for another store to see if an item was in stock there. A lot of this is down to poor training, but a lot of it is also down to archaic practices, inadequate systems and poor attitudes. How it should work is that your online and in-store purchases should be wholly seamless and all tagged against your user account. This is quite evidently still not the case as I can login on various websites to see my previous online purchases, but there is no record from the same retailer as to what I may have purchased in-store - even when loyalty / points cards have been tendered. There also seems to be very little intention to help the customer actually find what they are after, often with shop assistants trying their damnedest to force you to buy something unsuitable / inferior from available stock.
I have been using Clinique products for more than 20 years now, and know very well what products I use / need. I was in-store just the other day at the Westfield Boots trying to replenish part of my usual order - where a key item turned out to be ’out-of-stock’. Instead of suggesting other availability or re-supply, the shop assistant was adamant about selling me the wrong ’oily skin’ product rather than the usual ’regular’ that I take. She and her colleague then ganged up on my as if dealing with a novice and demanded what skn type I really thought I was. I replied that I had been using ’Regular Soap’ for more than twenty years now, to which one interjected - "actually it’s just called ’Face Wash’ now" - a factually incorrect statement to add insult to injury - I immediately left the store post haste and in a quite perplexed state of mind. Clinique do themselves no favours by overly regularly re-packaging and re-naming their products, but as a regular consumer of their products, I am pretty well up-to-speed on what’s what. There’s nothing worse than a patronising shop assistant, bar a rude, ignorant, patronising one. The difference in attitude and quality of service between my T.M. Lewin and Boots experiences are miles apart. Yet the latter experience is the more common one. It seems that too many shop staff care little for the consequences of their delinquent actions - I now buy Clinique online, cutting Boots entirely out of the equation.
I’m not saying that online is necessarily always better - I have had several issues with Amazon this year, who normally are pretty flawless for me. Most of these issues have been to do with their new Amazon Logistics delivery service which I am far from impressed with so far. I have also had several issues with Amazon Marketplace purchases, with the wrong items or even no items arriving. I’ve also had prolonged periods of no service for Marketplace purchases - i.e. no response to queries at all - Amazon sometimes seems reluctant to step in on those issues, and if you’ve been left hanging for an unreasonably long time, you can’t simply cancel a Marketplace order, you can only ’Request Cancellation’ which, if the other party is not being responsive, doesn’t really help matters.
What I have been expecting for at least the last 5 years now, is for someone to fully crack the Seamless Shopping Experience - where you can have constant access and communication with your favourite stores through an App or Responsive Website Interface - something where you can add favourites / reminders to your account both in-store as well as online, and have access to services from both sides, as well as view ALL your purchases, recommendations and offers - both when you are shopping in-store as well as when you’re shopping online. The service component seems to have slipped somewhat - direct communications with Amazon staff for instance are still somewhat buried on their site, and they don’t yet have an official, pictured Customer Care Officer, or specifically named Customer Care Department.
As global commerce will continue to get more competitive, it cannot all be about the price any more - sure you can always buy cheaper somewhere, but just like people are getting fed up with the somewhat punitive services they get from Ryanair and EasyJet, so many people are growing tired of the low level of service still offered up by much of the high street. The technology is there, the processes exist, and we all know what needs to be done - it’s just very strange that we are still waiting for this to happen?
PS - Another thing I think all retailers still do quiet badly is substitutions / alternatives - particularly Health and Beauty companies. Many times has a product I have been using been discontinued - yet on the company’s official website, there is no info to say why the product has been discontinued or if there is something which now replaces it. As a result of this, several companies have lost my business over the years, as I once more have had to go through another discovery / testing process on my own to find viable replacements. Possibly there were replacement items for those incumbents, but for the life of me I could not find them with any similar keywords.
PS2 - Ocado sometimes perplexes me too with it substitutions - for instance all the loaves of bread on my favourites list are wholemeal / granary, yet when my ordered loaf was not available it got substituted for a white one? What gives? Where is the logic in that? Surely the substitute should be from the nearest equivalent in accordance with the consumers’ preferences / favourites list therefore?