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Comment: Whatever happened to service, let alone with a smile?

Graeme Moran

As retailers do everything they can to attract shoppers into stores, why are so many on the high street offering disappointing levels of customer service?

The Lexicon Bracknell

Starting next week, we will reveal the winners and losers in this season’s Drapers Hit or Miss series, covering menswear, womenswear and footwear. As part of this, the team secret-shops stores around the UK to judge what the biggest names on the high street have to offer, scoring various elements from product and service to shopping experience.

There was one thing that stood out to me as I shopped the menswear stores at The Lexicon Bracknell shopping centre this season and that was the terrible level – and in some cases total lack – of customer service.

In fact, I received a better level of service from staff at Pret A Manger when I bought a coffee than I did in several fashion retailer’s stores. In Pret, one staff member greeted me, another served me with a smile, offered me additional items and wished me a good day. A third said goodbye as I left.

When it came to the fashion retailers, it was a different story.

In some shops, there were no staff in the menswear areas whatsoever – neither among the rails nor manning the changing rooms. Other shoppers and I were left to browse and try on items completely alone.

I am sure if I desperately needed assistance I could have tracked someone down in other areas of the store. But, in this instance, I would not be surprised if shoppers would be so turned off by the experience that – rather than traipse through womenswear and childrenswear areas to hopefully find the help they wanted – they would simply leave and go to a rival retailer’s store. That is what I would do.

Service doesn’t need to come with a smile to be good, but it certainly makes a difference.

Elsewhere, when members of staff were present I was often ignored. Despite being the only person on the menswear floor of one shop, a member of staff walked right past me several times without even acknowledging me. Yes, they were busy arranging products on shelves, but did they not have time for a simple hello?

Again, I could have easily approached this member of staff to ask for help, but having been ignored until that point on an otherwise empty shop floor, it was not a particularly welcoming experience.

With the cloud of doom and gloom hanging over retail – not to mention the continued competition from digital – stores should be doing better.

“Experiential” continues to be the buzzword of the retail industry, but offering shoppers a bricks-and-mortar experience should start with service.

In-store bells and whistles are all well and good, but if a customer makes the decision to come to a shop, face-to-face interactions from helpful, pleasant staff should still be the most important element.

Staff are an asset and remain one the key advantages stores have over online. Retailers should be making the most of what they offer.

I don’t expect high street retailers to roll out a red carpet for every customer, but some of the best examples of customer service during this trip were the simplest things: hellos, goodbyes and friendly comments.

Service doesn’t need to come with a smile to be good, but it certainly makes a difference.

  • Find out the best performers and worst offenders across menswear, womenswear and footwear retailers starting next week.

Comment: Whatever happened to service, let alone with a smile?

Readers' comments (3)

  • If physical stores have any chance of competing, then good service should be mandatory, but is sadly becoming increasingly rare and it is left to Independents to fly the customer service flag.

    The reason? Retail is not an attractive proposition for school leavers. It is (generally) a minimum wage job, often working unsociable hours with questionable levels of advancement. I get that. Therefore it is seen as at best as a short term, 'Stop-Gap', so there is little desire to become invested as they will quickly move on.

    You need staff that have a passion for clothing, working and helping the general public but younger people with that ethos are becoming increasing harder to find. Experienced staff members are worth their weight in gold, but are they affordable?

    In short, there is a lack of youth coming through all aspects of the Industry and that is a concern that needs to be addressed in the years ahead.

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  • Until customers tip or offer a gratuity to retail staff then things won't change. Why should a minimum wage worker go out of their way to provide any extra level of service, and if you where in their shoes you wouldn't have much to smile about.
    Any member of staff that enjoys and are good at interacting with the general public, would leave the retail sector and move to hospitality where they can still be paid the minimum wages but receive extra income from tips too.

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  • Re above OMG !!! Pride in what you do!!!!!! Minimum age worker go out of their way!!!! what to serve a customer in a civilised manner, they shouldn't in be any sector if they cannot manage to do this, like min wage it's min requirement, anyone who exceeds this will not stay as a min wage worker for long, they will start to rise. Aside comment above, great article and something so basic but so essential and so often overlooked.

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