The High Street is having a challenging time as high rents, internet shopping and hopeless and ill-informed Council policies disincentivise local spending.
All of this pales into insignificance compared to the damage that some retailers are doing to themselves.
My own experience at British Home Stores last weekend provides a superb example of this.
The story starts with me wanting to buy three new lights for my house.
Wanting to see the lights for real rather than in jpg form, I drove into my local town centre and visited BHS.
I saw some lights on display that I wanted, AND they were on sale … its looking good.
[At this point I’ll gloss over the fact that the service was invisible and I needed to play hunt the salesman]
But … they had the lights and I had my debit card all ready to spend about £300.
“Sorry, sir. Those lights are not in stock”.
And then I started to experience (again) why the High Street is dying.
“No problem”, I said, “presumably you can order them into the store, or have them shipped to my house?”
“Sorry, [that WORD again], those are sale items so we cannot order them in. I can check if other stores have them.”
At this point I was not happy, but I can manage a 20-30 minute drive to pick them up. After all, they were on sale, so I was saving more than the cost of the fuel.
Mr BHS then shows me the stock system on his terminal, I can see that it lists stock in order of those stores which have the lights … not in geographic proximity … so we wade through pages of useless information and guess at which towns are closest. The most basic UI design would have picked this error up. Who is this system designed to help?
“Blackpool may have one model, but not other one. No stores appear to have those.”
Disappointed I give up and go home.
Over the weekend I think about this experience and ask myself a question … what is likely to be true – ‘BHS have no lights that I want – or the computer systems and service at BHS are that poor and useless that they don’t know whether they have the lights?’
So on Monday I called up the central ordering number and asked which stores have the lights.
“Sorry, we have neither of those lights in stock in any stores”.
I know that they do – because I saw them hanging from the ceiling and the BHS system told me that some stores have them, although a pretty useless system it did think about half the stores had at least ONE of the lights.
At this point I was probably more interested in proving to myself how useless BHS was as a shop than actually buying the lights, but I continued.
I called 4 nearby BHS stores to check.
Barton Square … a BHS flagship store: None.
Stockport: One of the lights available, but not the other. Agggh.
Blackpool: “Sorry, can I check and call back?”
“Sure”, I said. Expecting the phone to stay silent.
3 minutes later the phone rang. “Hello, I’m the lighting coordinator. Apologies about your experience, yes we have both lights in stock. Would you like me to reserve them for 48 hours?”
And 10 minutes later I was in the car to pickup the lights.
BUT. And a massive but.
Lets look back over that BHS experience failure and the breakage of pretty much every selling principle in retail.
1) Inattentive service.
Lesson: DON’T take customers for granted. I have made a decision to walk into your store. Thank me and help me.
2) Hopeless stock system.
This will KILL your company. Fix it. It does not take tens of millions. Find someone who knows what they are doing and get a move on.
3) Failing to take my money.
If I want to buy something then SELL IT TO ME. If not in stock, order it in, post to me, at the very least reserve it at a store, print directions, call ahead and confirm. HELP ME!!! A monumental failure is allowing me to walk out when I want to spend money, but this is one failure that characterises High Street stores going into administration – a complete absence of online/offline integration.
4) No sales/service culture in the company.
This problem is not just in the stores, which are often poor, but at every point in my interactions. Even if when I called the Central Ordering number you told me that you had none in stock (which we know is simply not true), why didn’t you offer to send me a catalogue, email me a discount, ask me whether I had seen the new replacement range? and so on. ZERO sales focus. I have called you because I want to spend money … so LET ME SPEND MONEY.
5) Getting the little things wrong.
Little things matter. Those dozens of tiny details in service matter, but in my experience so many were missing at BHS. There are too many basics to list, smiling, understanding my need, determining my budget, timescale to purchase … but here is a simple example of a service culture fail …
I asked for the assistant to write down the detail of the lights and the price [because I had no confidence that BHS were telling me the truth].
He grabbed a used old price ticket and wrote the name and code of the light on the back.
I asked for a pen and added the price.
What I should have left with …
A small paper wallet (or similar) high quality print out containing a picture of the lights, the stock code, the price, details of how to order it, the assistants name, a contact number, an invitation to call him if I had any questions, an invitation to use the website … a link to share my email details and get a discount code …
The irony. I love the lights, but the service failures make me want to avoid shopping in future at BHS. There is time to fix this. It doesn’t cost massive amounts, it is about the basics, about service training; about a caring attentive culture; about computer systems doing what they need to for customers.
But time is running out.