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By Shane Horn, AdMore Recruitment – Specialists in Retail and Hospitality Recruitment, Search & Selection, Talent Management and Career Development.

I’m a retailer, first and foremost. You only have to ask my wife how annoying I can be re-merchandising a store I have followed her into! I now just so happen to recruit people into the industry I love. Yes, it is tough going, but retail businesses are still looking for great people, that is something that hasn’t changed over the years!

What has changed however is the lay of the retail land. Omni-channel, Click and Collect and the newest buzzword ‘showrooming’ weren’t around 3 years ago, let alone 19 years ago when I started my retail career with Next! But what hasn’t changed is the key focus for all retailers great and small – the focus on the customer and service.

What prompted me to think about this was a pretty poor experience over the weekend where multi-channel retailing resulted in both a loss of sale (and a grumpy wife!)

We were looking to buy a shelving unit in a well known department store. We saw one we liked but were informed that the product was only available to buy online. Not a problem I thought, when I get home I will log in to their website and purchase, select my delivery date – happy days! However, the product wasn’t on the website. It was nowhere to be seen! No mention of it, and no idea if it was out of stock or just old season. So, how can it go so wrong?

Purchasing a product has never been easier. We can do it sitting on a train, over the phone, heck, we can even walk into a store and buy it on our lunch break!  Regardless of the method of purchase this experience falls down with bad service. How often have we heard a friend mention they have ordered a product for it to then mysteriously be sold out? Or received poor, ill informed product knowledge on the high street?

Consumers are an intelligent bunch. There is a lot of talk of the rise of the Mamil, (Middle Age Men In Lycra). Although not quite middle aged, I am one of a growing band of men happy to spend a fair bit of cash on my bike. Halfords have been very clear they are looking to take a large chunk of the market, and have recently launched a huge customer service program costing hundreds of millions on pounds. There is talk of recruiting specialists into each store that ‘know their stuff’ (although Jessops may testify this is not always a great commercial move). Anyone that has recently visited an independent bike retailer will tell you that making you feel like an idiot for not knowing your groupset from your chainset is as just as bad as the sales assistant knowing next to nothing! Consumers want choice, and great service, and the Mamil is tech savvy. They will spend hours reading through magazines, forums and reviews looking for the next product that will shave a few seconds off their PB, or save them a few grams. This, I think, is why the likes of Wiggle, Chain Reaction and Evans Cycles have got it right online. There is choice, they have knowledgeable staff, (you can hide behind an email and not look stupid!) and items are delivered on time or even to store in the case of Evans Cycles.

The Mamil is not just a new breed of male, ahem, ‘athlete’ but a new brand of consumer who wants to be treated well and maturely. It is too simple to expect the customer to come into a store without an expectation of service.

Mothercare have recently commissioned a survey to assess how consumers respond to a smile. Funnily enough they spend more – is this really surprising? It shouldn’t be! If staff need to be taught to smile, then frankly they are in the wrong industry.  It doesn’t matter how much you spend on websites, logistics or stores, if the consumer doesn’t get a warm fuzzy feeling then they will go elsewhere.  The choice is huge for the consumer, it’s competitive and with the help of social media, it is now transparent. If you don’t get it right, your customer will let you know about it!

Customer service is expensive. To have the right people  properly trained is not an easy task but the opportunity cost of not getting this right is huge (the old retail saying  – you’re only as good as your worst member of staff still rings true!).

Retail is, in its simplest form, straightforward. There are a large number of retailers getting it right, and those looking to change focus should be applauded. Getting people to part with their hard earned cash is tough, and as the consumer changes so does the world of retail. But, at its core, Service is key, and that hasn’t changed since I started my retail career all those years ago!

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