Customer experience: Send them to the competition

Image for Retail Closthing Shop Customer Experience - woman-216207_960_720On a shopping expedition for a spring wardrobe tune-up, I discovered what feels like a new, welcome trend in the way retail clothing shop employees have been trained. Not once, but twice, clerks helped me by recommending that I take my business to a different, competitor’s store.

Sound unusual?  Apparently it’s happening more and more often.

 This article, about employees going above and beyond the norm, contains an example of a B.Dalton bookstore employee actually calling a nearby competitor’s store to reserve an item for a customer.

In my case, in one women’s clothing store I’d shopped at over the years, I was looking for a particular type of black dress pants with a side-zip and no back pockets, please.  The young woman who was helping me blurted out, “Oh, we haven’t carried those in years!”

Realizing, I think, that she may have been implying that my fashion sense was woefully out-of-style (which wouldn’t have bothered me; it’s true),  she quickly added, “Oh, I love those, too, and try to find them all the time.”

She did not, as is often the case, waste my time by showing me other style slacks which I would hate, or in other colors, which I didn’t need.  She just quickly listed off a few of the other stores in the same mall where she was pretty sure I might find what I wanted.  She then gave me directions as to which way each of those stores were from hers, and wished me good luck as I went on my way.

My second experience in that same mall involved a sporting goods store which specialized in athletic shoes, but also carried a small line of athletic clothing.  When I described a type of top I hoped to find there, to a male clerk, he knew immediately what I meant and also knew that it wasn’t stocked by this particular chain.  He obviously understood the nuances of a woman’s needs and wants by way of athletic clothing, and he knew exactly which of two stores might sell it.  He recommended one brick-and-mortar store that was in a nearby town, and he recommended an online franchise which carried an extensive inventory. Again, he didn’t waste my time, didn’t try to up-sell me, and apologized that he couldn’t be of more service.

Perhaps retail stores are seeing the handwriting on the wall; personalized customer service is what makes them stand out in this online world.   One wonders if their willingness to suggest competitors was just part of the clerks’ personality or was sanctioned by a higher power within their organizations.  Whatever its cause, it worked for me and left me with positive impressions that will likely result in return engagements with their stores.

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