Friday, June 19, 2009

Image is everything…yes, even in retail.

By Doron Levy

My retail spidy senses are always tingling and I love hearing stories, good or bad from friends and colleges about their retail experiences. My friend Brad changed his Facebook status to this: is frustrated that it takes 6 times longer to return defective goods to a retail outlet than to buy them in the first place. Naturally, I sent him a message asking him what was what. He speaks about his latest experience at Canadian Tire and a less than adequate light fixture they sold him. His reply and it has been censored for public consumption: …I literally waited in a line of 15 people (one rep at the counter) for 45 minutes to return it for a refund… Meanwhile - dozens of staff are wandering aimlessly about the store… No manager available…. Grrrr…. Why is retail in Canada so “third world?”

Well there you go. When I say image is everything, image really is everything. How many times have you stood in line at a bank with only 2 windows open and a bunch of people hanging around or sitting at desks behind the counter? Are you really thinking: ‘They must be busy doing something else essential to the survival of this bank‘? No you are not. You are thinking: ‘I don’t care what they are doing, they only thing they are doing is NOT helping me!‘.

I would say customer service is a priority in any industry that has customers. But in retail, it really is ALL about the customer. If you cannot effectively convey the message that customers are your number one priority, you will loose some of those customers. I was always trained to stop whatever I was doing and engage the customer no matter the task. Especially when retailers should have a 5 foot rule implemented.

I wonder if my friend Brad would experience something like that in other chains? I have returned merch to both Lowes and Home Depot and usually have never had issues. Long lines are common but you don’t see swathes of associates mulling around. In fact, the newer Home Depot location near us has a completely sealed off returns desk. You can’t see anything outside of the returns cluster (not that this is a good thing either, we are basically putting blinders on our customers and telling them to return their stuff and get out).

Getting back to Canadian Tire and Brad’s problem. This has got to be a leadership issue. Those associates that are just standing around (even if they are engaged in work) know that they can get away with it because management does it (or in this case is non-existent).

Leadership breeds ownership, especially in retail. Whenever I took over a location, I made it a habit to thoroughly clean the bathrooms (note to future clients: I don’t do that anymore, my charm is how I win you over). I can honestly say that I never had to clean the bathrooms ever again at any of my stores. In some cases, lower level associates would take over bathroom detail because ‘the boss expects the john to cleaned a certain way’.

Doron Levy is president of Captus Business Consulting. Captus provides support to the retail industry. His blog can be found at and can he can be reached at

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