Thursday, July 15, 2010

Better Service or Lower Price - The Wall Mart Syndrome

Is service of Value?
I ask myself this question all the time. I don't just work in a store, I am a consumer as well, and sometimes I find myself sliding into what I call the Wall Mart Attitude. I sometimes look for the cheapest Price, and when I find myself doing this I have begun to ask, am I doing the right thing. Sometimes I have realized it not always about me (Me the Consumer that is.) sometimes its about what is right and good for everyone, manufacturer, retailer & me.
Now I am no expert, I don't claim to understand the complexities of the market, the economy or anything else, but I don't think I am all that out of touch with what matters.

I Think SERVICE MATTERS... When we insist on paying absolutely nothing for "stuff" we don't allow the people who sell that "stuff" to provide service, it is inherent in the formula. No profit equates to No Service. It takes money to maintain a selection of goods, it takes even more money to maintain a selection of goods and have someone to sell you those goods who can assist you in making the correct choice for you.

Our store is a perfect example, we sell sewing machines and Wall-Mart sells sewing Machines. Our Entry Level sewing Machines start around the $299 to $499 range. Big Box Store sells machines from around the $79 to $199 range, perhaps even lower. (As an opinionated jerk I wont do a lot of research to back this up, I think I am close enough in numbers to make my point without doing the extra work.) Customer X Buys a sewing machine from Big Box Store, X wants to mend some clothes, perhaps even hem some jeans. X will only use this machine a couple of times a year so Price is what is driving X's decision. Eventually I get to meet customer X in our store, mostly the stories are the same, because X is like most people they either don't read the manual, or they did but it just did not explain it in any form that they could understand. I mean I know what a presser foot is, I even know why its there and what it does, X doesn't have a clue, and probably doesn't want to, X just wants to fix X's jeans. But X tried to speak with someone at Big Box Store about the sewing machine which apparently doesn't work, but nobody at Big Box Store sews, or they do sew, but they are like X they use their machine twice a year and it really is just blind luck they haven't had a problem. Sometimes "they" even go so far as to replace the machine for X, but it has exactly the same problem, because its not the machine, it's X! X does things consistently, just consistently wrong. Eventually, (If I have spoken with them) X finds someone who knows about the store where I work and X shows up with his Big box Store purchase, looking for some help.

(I will digress here) There is a part of me that is much like every other human being on the planet, I want to punish X for making what i consider to be the wrong choice. Part of me feels like asking them rude and inappropriate questions like why the heck would you buy a sewing machine from a Big Box Store? The Smarter Kinder side of me recognizes, these customers have been trained by Big Box Stores to purchase solely on Price. They Don't look at what, they just look at the price. I mean there have been times I get excited by the marketing, I mean WOW a 42" plasma TV for $599? Holy Cow! It's sad, I know that there is NO way a good 42" plasma TV truly costs $599, we are all so spoiled by mass produced crap we have lost touch with what it takes to actually make something.

A perfect example is furniture, furniture these days is almost entirely made up of particle board crap with some sort of fake wood grain vinyl laminate on it. Almost always I hear from customers about how furniture has become so much junk, it weighs a ton, it chips and flakes, you can't repair it etc etc. Now why do you think it is that way? It's that way because some manufacturer somewhere decided that to compete against the other manufacturers he would make cheap crap and sell it at a low price. And Behold! All the other manufacturers saw how successful he was selling cheap crap and making money doing it, so they followed suit. In the End, what do you have? The lowest common denominator, CHEAP CRAP!

So Honestly, is THAT what we all want?

Good stuff is incredibly expensive to make.

Good Service costs money to Provide, in the end the consumers have to pay somewhere for that service. We should all appreciate good stuff and good service when and where we can find it. (End of Digression... :P)

Back to customer X. Now while there is a part of me that resents the money that customer X has put in Big Box Store's pocket, and then there is a part of me that is genuinely dismayed that they have spent their money and received no service or support and because my store is about service I sit down and spend some time with them, I show them how to use the (Cheap Crap) Machine they purchased and try to explain to them why it was acting the way it was. My hope is that perhaps when the machine breaks, and it will, (I don't need a voodoo hex or clairvoyance to know that it will!) that that customer X will remember how helpful I was, or my staff and come into my store and buy the admittedly more expensive machine, because it has VALUE!

And when that entry level Machine breaks I will happily repair it, because if X begins to enjoy sewing, then I have a customer who could spend a lot more money in my store. That is good for me and good for my industry. Sure its self serving, but I am after all trying to make a living, and fundamentally, I want my Industry to not just survive, but to grow and prosper, but most of all I want it to have less of the cheap crap and more of the better quality products and stores.

At a recent conference I was very interested to note that most, not all but most, of the top dealers in this industry all believe in placing customer service first, and they don't always go for the discount sale. There have been times I have even said to Customers like X that I don't want to discount our prices because when customer X comes in with a problem I want to be able to sit down and spend 10-20 Minutes helping him with his problem. To take the time to educate the customer and provide X with the tools to be able to solve the problem themselves next time.

If I have to sell 40 units to make my rent and I have 2 weeks to do it, how generous do you think I will be with my time then? I wont, I cant because it's MY survival, my Life my livelihood on the line. I will become just like the Big Box store, lost in the frenzy of selling the most cheap crap I can because I dont make enough money on them to sustain a "good" business, I cannot afford to spend the time to learn or even promote the good stuff, that is still out there, if you know where to look.

Even if you don't shop in my store, start paying attention to what you buy and where you buy it. Try that little Sewing shop on the corner instead of the Big Box Store, you might be surprised! I think people are starting to see the reality of what cheap crap will bring in the end, land-fills overflowing with cheap crap, closets stuffed with broken toys and tools. Gadgets and gizmos that just make you frustrated instead of doing what you purchased them for.

It takes time to educate a customer, I want to be able to take that time with ANY of my customers. My customers pay for that time by shopping in my store. Customers like X who come to my store and benefit from my customers need to be aware that those benefits have value, I give them those benefits up front in the hopes that they will become My customer and appreciate that value as well. What do you think?

If you have something to say to me or to add to my Blog please email me at under the subject put BLOG response.

Travel RANT

On a recent trip I had the fortune and misfortune to experience 2 extremes in a service experience. On my trip I flew to a conference in Orlando with Continental Airlines. I had great service, I was comfortable, the Continental Staff on board were helpful and happy. When I arrived in Orlando, despite travelling all day I actually remarked to my wife what a wonderful experience that was and that we should definitely make a point of trying Continental again.
Fast forward a week, our itinerary said AIR CANADA flight XXXX so when we reached the airport we went to the Air Canada Desk. We were already a little worried because we had tried to check in online the night before and it had said there was a problem and we were unable to check in and print our boarding passes. At the Air Canada desk we stood in line for 10-15 minutes with a bunch of other people, all the while starting to get a little more concerned. With everyone going on about get to the airport early etc you would think that there would be at least ONE SINGLE Air Canada rep manning the desk to answer questions! Also, there was no listing on the Air Canada board for our flight. More than slightly flustered now we double checked our itinerary again, there in small print under the giant AC XXX flight # was printed "Operated by United Airlines". Ok, so we run off in search of the UA counter. After a bit of running about like the proverbial chicken with no head we find the UA check in counter, and we get to the lovely friendly automated check-in system. (I am being sarcastic in case my writing style doesn't carry that across well enough I decided I needed this note to emphasise this point.) This check in system has several options to find your information, the first one we chose was by confirmation #, the one we had on our itinerary, we entered that long alphanumerical number and were promptly told that it was incorrect. No I would like to note here that it seems that every company that touches the air travel industry feel the need to coin their own terms when it comes to these "numbers" Some refer to it as a booking number, some call it your confirmation Number, some your reservation number etc, etc, you get the idea. If any of your have flown recently you know that your itinerary has nothing BUT these numbers all over it and wouldn't it be so extremely helpful if they used consistent terminology! So Long Story short we then opted to check in with our passports, we went through the menu options and then we get to the part where it shows you scanning your passport on the scanner below the screen. Well My wife tried it and then I tried it, and neither of us could get the darn thing to scan our passports. Finally a UA staff member happened by and I asked him what I was doing wrong, he gave me this look like I was asking why the sky was blue and then he said the Passport scanner is over here sir. pointing to what was obviously the passport scanner 3 feet to the side of the check in screen and in a place which looked NOTHING like what was on the screen. Did I feel stupid? Yes, I suddenly realized I had become one of those flustered people I deal with everyday, I wasn't paying any attention to my surroundings! So finally, success I got our passports scanned and it found our booking! Whee, a wave of relief came over me, I might actually get home after all! Then after confirming that yes I was who my passport said I was, (Kinda silly question really, does anyone else walk around with other peoples passports, and if you were would you admit to the machine that that wasn't you?) (I Digress..bad me!) So now the machine knew who I was and Where I was going and what flights I was on, the grand wizard of marketing waved his magic wand and presto, the selling begins, would I like an extra 5 Inches of legroom for only $48 each? I said no, I really would like the legroom, but I don't feel I should have to necessarily pay for it, not to mention I am already having a bad customer experience so I don't feel inclined to give them any more of my money. I WOULD RATHER SUFFER! Then it asks, Hey well if you don't want the legroom do you want to upgrade to first class? Only another $108 each. Again, I said no. It was a 3 hour flight, I could tough it out! Then it asked if we had any bags to check in, So I said yes, I had a bag to check and my Wife had a bag to check. Voila! That will be $105 Mr Dale. I was GOBSMAKCED! Really!? I felt like yelling at the stupid machine, then I wanted to yell at the travel agent, I Mean really seems Kinda stupid to book flights down which allowed you bags and then the flight bag they extort you at the airport to get your bags home? Its one thing to be aware and expecting it, but this seemed "evil". My wife, whom had experienced this already with UA just paid the bill and finished the check in. I was still sputtering my righteous indignation, almost hissing in fury. She said its just the way they do it. The last and final thing at the checkout which almost sent me into a total tizzy was when it printed the boarding passes, and with them it printed this official looking card with some US Government requirement that asked me to fill out this form... a form that asked me for my Full Name, where I was travelling to, and from, the plane I was on, etc. I said to my wife "You have got to be F!*%$% kidding! Don't they know all this stuff already!..." I said even worse things but you don't need to hear those!

Long story short, I was not as comfortable on my way home as I was going down, I am pretty sure the seats on the UA were closer spaced than the ones on Continental but I cannot be certain as I did have extra legroom on my flights to Orlando. My Wife DID fork out extra money $6 for me and $7 for her for a snack on the flight, I was not happy about it, but hey, my wife is smarter than me and she doesn't want to travel with a hungry grumpy bear any more than the next person.

In summation, I would fly Continental Airlines again, I had a good experience, I will do everything I can to never set foot on a United Flight, not because the flight was terrible. The in flight service was just OK. But mostly because the company (in my mind) seems to be taking the wrong tack with their service approach. It's not perhaps all their fault, but dammit I can be just as insane as the next customer and they should just do better! If your Partner (Air Canada) gives 1 free bag then perhaps when you are operating a Partner flight 1 free bag should be given! I have faith that MOST people value service and are willing to pay a little extra to be comfortable & happy.

I think there are too many companies trying to lure customers in by offering cheap airfare which isn't cheap because you have to pay for your bags separately, or they have FUEL surcharges, (which just tells me they really have no idea how much gas costs to fly from A to B) so really these discount carriers are not $50 cheaper than the competition they've just hidden it.

Does that make me the consumer think you are a better deal?

I don't, perhaps if I didn't have a bag then maybe, but soon no-one will "check" their bags, they will all try and save $50 by carrying them on. I mean the size of the carry-ons some of these people try to get away with is getting crazy! I have seen women with purses the size of a carry on with a backpack and a big rolling bag saunter onto the plane like it's their god given right to use all the storage space, and save $50 at the same time.

It's not going to be long before you have to pay for those too! (Mostly thanks to the people who just try and work the system by NOT checking thier bags) Not to mention you and your 300 passengers will all be flying Naked for Security Reasons! (Isn't that a mental Image that will haunt me for a day or two!)