An Open Letter to Retailers - une femme d'un certain âge

An Open Letter to Retailers

“So tell me how this sounds..”

Dear Mr. and Ms. Retail Giant,

I know times are tough. People are sitting on their wallets, and even though you’ve been wooing us with discounts and free shipping, we’re just not falling for your charms the way we used to. We know you’re hurting: Saks sales are down 16%, Neimans and Nordstroms down almost 30%. Sure, it’s the economy, but some of you aren’t helping yourselves with some of your business practices.
Like what?, you ask (if you’re smart).

Well for starters, customer service. Especially at the upscale end. At brunch last Sunday with a group of friends who are regular shoppers at Neimans, Saks, Nordstroms and designer boutiques, the topic turned to service. The number one complaint was that your Sales Associates, your ambassadors to the public, don’t know your merchandise. They don’t know what colors and sizes will be available from the Spring collection, even though the information is available on the corporate website. They tell us “no, that bag will not be available in the medium size,” only to get it in the following week, and sell it to someone who just walked in the door. They tell us, “it’s never been available in that color” and won’t do a search even though someone we know bought one last week in the Chicago store. They don’t always seem to be interested in being, well, helpful. They heave a heavy sigh when we ask to see something in the display counter. They look around and talk to their co-workers while we’re waiting to ask a question. They don’t offer to show us something similar that might interest. They act like they’re doing us a favor just being there. So when we do find someone who gives good service, we stick with them. We ask for them, and pass their names along to our friends. I know we’re all not spending like we once did, but especially now, the difference between making a sale or not could boil down to that person with your company logo on their name tag. You can’t afford for them to be snooty, uninformed and apathetic.

When it comes to your e-tailing effort, for the love of Pete, will you PLEASE LOSE THE FLASH PLAYER. Yes, I raised my voice a bit there. We know it looks slick and edgy and you want to show off your hotshot web design team but it makes navigating your site more difficult, and for those of us who might want to recommend something to our friends or blog readers, makes it almost impossible to share your product pictures and direct links. You’re missing out on some free advertising, and who’s crazy enough to pass on that in this economy? Keep the flash for the zoom and pan feature, but give us pictures we can grab and post. Worth a thousand words, remember?

And a note about your pictures, I can’t count the number of times I’ve posted a picture on my blog with the disclaimer, “this actually looks much better in person.” I’m not a professional photographer, and I know that trying to keep up with the merchandise is a daunting task. But maybe showing in natural light, showing the item from different angles, I don’t know. But I think some e-tailers get it right, like Neimans and J.Crew; check out what they’re doing.

If you’ve read this far, thanks, and I’m always available if you need any more feedback.

Une femme


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  1. November 21, 2008 / 6:24 pm

    Well said, Miss Pseu. Miss J sincerely hope this is actually being sent to some peeps.

  2. November 21, 2008 / 10:40 pm

    I’m with you — hate flash-heavy sites (I have a little flash intro but if you click something you can stop it). A great sales associate makes all the difference in the world.

  3. November 21, 2008 / 11:30 pm

    and, i might add in a begging voice, for the love of all that you hold holy, DON’T play *christmas* music 3 weeks before thanksgiving! it just gives shoppers the heebeejeebees… or at least, it does me. i walked into the store, heard the first sound of “Silver Bells” on a day where it was 63 degrees and 3 weeks before thanksgiving (i emphasize again). i promptly got overwhelmed and walked out.

    stop it retail stores — if *you’re* scared, just think how we consumers feel!

  4. November 21, 2008 / 11:39 pm

    Very very direct and to the point. Retailers, and specifically the sales associates need to step their game up.

  5. metscan
    November 21, 2008 / 6:31 pm

    Hi! Things are worse down there. I can´t blame the service I have had up here. But then again,I seldom` go shopping´. I try to`save´by not buying much. Bags don´t count. I only buy from one place and that is YSL Berlin. I have had excellent service via phone and my personal SA takes photos of articles that might interest me. I have never been to the shop and never seen `my man´in person,but he is so polite and keeps me well informed of very special YSL stuff. I am totally satisfied with the service in Berlin.

  6. Kalee
    November 21, 2008 / 8:10 pm

    Very well said. And it isn’t just in the States. England’s economy is not so great either, yet try walking into Harrod’s. My husband and I were interested in some things in the designer part of the store, but to get a sales associate to even look at you I think you had to practically shake them. They were grouped together (from the different designers, so not even where they are paid to be) and when I approached one counter where I was looking for particular Dior sunglasses they didn’t even look up. Same at Hermes. It was extremely frustrating, and reminded me why I tend to refuse to pay full price for an item in store when I can find it online cheaper, and quicker, with no frustrating salesperson to deal with!

  7. November 22, 2008 / 4:18 am

    Miss Janey – thanks, and I’m thinking about it.

    metscan – it sounds like the YSL Berlin shop has some excellent customer service. That’s what I’m talking about!

    kalee – exactly, I mean what are they thinking?

  8. November 22, 2008 / 4:22 am

    wendyb – it’s not the flash intros that are the problem, and your site is GREAT to navigate (and clip to Polyvore…you’ll be seeing a few of your pieces in some of my upcoming creations…)

    bonnie-ann – you’ll be happy to know that the Nordstrom’s nearest me has a big sign up in the window saying basically “We believe in celebrating one holiday at a time and our Christmas decorations won’t go up until the day after Thanksgiving.” I’m with ya on the Christmas music too…I’m usually sick to death of it by early December.

  9. November 22, 2008 / 4:24 am

    Cas Ruffin – yes, now isn’t the time for them to phone it in.

  10. La Belette Rouge
    November 22, 2008 / 5:37 am

    I am with Miss Janey. This letter needs to be mailed.

  11. November 22, 2008 / 5:16 pm

    I was in Macy’s last week and the sales associates don’t even wear name tags! And they dress very casually. That way, they can hide among the (few) customers, I guess. This was in Boulder, CO, I wonder if it’s that way in other areas.

  12. Couture Allure Vintage Fashion
    November 22, 2008 / 12:44 pm

    The big muckety-mucks need to go shopping in their own stores incognito to observe what is happening. When I worked in retail, a visit from the District or Regional Manager was always announced in advance, so we were well prepared and on our best behavior. To this day, if I go in to a store and receive good service that is out of the norm, I can usually assume that the store is getting a visit from headquarters that day. Sad, isn’t it?

  13. November 22, 2008 / 9:28 pm

    Customer service is key, even more so in difficult economic times. Any store that doesn’t offer value in terms of a price point or customer service is going to lose business to the internet.

    Another good call on the use of Flash. I consider the use of Flash the online equivalent of poor customer service.

  14. November 23, 2008 / 2:31 pm

    May I add a PS to your great post?
    Your return policy should be at least 30 days, or cover the holiday season. I was going to buy a sweater as a gift today (Nov.23) till you told me I could return for exchange for credit for 14 days. In the same breath I was asked it I want a gift box.

  15. February 14, 2012 / 2:23 pm

    One more thing….please quit packing so much merchandise in that you can hardly shift through it. Macy’s…wow, so much cheap junk. And, alas, I always loved, so many holes on the shelves and more jam packed racks…so hard to shop.
    I detest, when at the check out….I’m asked, “did you find everything you need?”…well, too late now! Don’t bother to ask, and please, say THank you. I realized that I used to thank them…no longer..I wait for a thank you.

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