Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Benefits of Exceptional Service in Retail Stores

I have recently had a classic example of the value of exceptional service in a retail store. I needed to buy a triathalon/swimming wetsuit (different to a surf wetsuit) as I am competing in a few triathlons over summer. Unfortunately I could not find anywhere in Ballarat who specialises in these, so I had to go to Melbourne. I visited three (planned on visiting four) stores to enquire about the different brands and options. The first two I visited were not busy (I was the only potential customer in store) and I had to ask for assistance as this is the first time I was buying one. When I got their attention they came over, asked for my weight and height, checked against the sizing tag on the suit, handed me a suit and said that's your size. I could have done that myself online.

At the third, (AquaShop in South Melbourne) when I walked in the lady immediately greeted me and I told her my situation - that is being new to long distance open water swimming and looking to buy my first wetsuit. She asked my name, introduced herself and gave me a bit of background on her and her husband (the store owners). I quickly felt comfortable and could establish that she knew what she was talking about from their experience. I was asked a range of background questions, like how strong a swimmer I was, what I would be using the suit for, my budget, etc. With that information she was able to narrow the choice down to a couple options that suited my goals/budget. Once I had a suit picked out, we then discussed sizing and I picked a suit to try on. Getting into one of these is quite tricky, and I felt like I was 3 again with her all but dressing me - quite an intimate experience considering I had only met her minutes earlier!! She gave me tips as to how I can quickly and safely (without tearing the suit) get in and out of it. She understood that wearing a suit for the first time might be awkward/uncomfortable, and said that if I was not happy after my first couple swims just to bring it back and swap it for a different size/style (as long as I didn't write my name on it or get sunscreen on it).

My intention was to visit four stores and think about the options. Well after the service at the third store, I was sold and happily bought the suit on the spot. Unfortunately that meant the fourth store missed out all together..

So, could I get this level of service online? No. Would I have bought at the first or second store if I received this level of service? Yes. Would I have visited the fourth store had I received the same service at the third as the first two? Yes.

I understand that online sales are hurting local retailers, but online sales still only account for ~5% of all retail sales. I don't think my situation described above is overly unique. Customers walk in and out of shops un-attended frequently. I am not a retailer, but from a consumers point of view, surely a quality experience and service level in store, expert product knowledge, mixed with a strategy to introduce online sales will result in a higher conversion rate and make up for this ~5%.

Following is a link to the NAB Online Retail Sales Index which provides an in depth analysis of the online/offline retail landscape:

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