Retailers Are To Blame For The Retail Apocalypse
Without question, we are in a retail apocalypse. Sears, Macy’s, J.C. Penny and many others are closing stores in 2017. Others like HH Gregg, The Limited and Payless Shoes are closing all of their stores. Once thriving shopping malls are void of consumers, leading to smaller store struggles.
So what caused this tsunami of insolvency? Why are brick and mortar retailers struggling?
I want to be clear from the start that I am an e-commerce proselytizer. Shopping malls don’t appeal to me, and I only go to brick and mortar stores when necessary. But my agency has retail clients, so this brick and mortar sales problem is one we are working on solving.
The primary difference between brick and mortar retail and e-commerce is with the consumer. Brick and mortar retailers are retailer-centric. Consumers need to conform their behavior to the retailer. Whereas, e-commerce is consumer-centric. Online, the consumer is in control and determines what experience will satisfy them and where they will spend their money.
These struggling retailers can all trace their problems back to putting themselves first, before the customer. With choices, the customers have spoken and are choosing not to shop with them. My recent experience with Home Depot reaffirmed my analysis.
Putting The Customer Second
We needed new storm doors and wanted to replace sliding door with French Doors on our house.
“Can’t we do this online?” I asked my wife.
“No. I have to see my options. It will only take a little while. Besides, we can see the options and then look online if we don’t like what they have.”
She is right. For an item like this, you probably need a qualified person to guide you through the process. I am not the handiest person so probably the best idea.
So I measured the doors and off we went.
Service Is Gone
We walked up and down the aisles for about 20 minutes looking at doors and taking pictures of the ones we wanted. Not one person from the store came within 25 feet of us, and no one asked if we needed help.
We finally picked out the doors we liked the best. Since no one came to us, we went up to the desk in the windows and door area. Two women were speaking at the desk. I stood there assuming one was a customer and she was ahead of me. About 5 minutes went by before one of the women looked up and asked, “Do you have a quick question?”
“No, I have a long question. I want to buy four doors. Two storm doors and two French doors. We took pictures of the doors in the aisle, so we know what we want. My wife is over there looking at hardware.
The saleswoman stared at me as if I just said all of that to her in Greek. Just then my wife walked up. The saleswoman looked at my wife and said, “I have no idea what’s going on.”
My wife stated what we wanted just as I had. The saleswoman looks at us and asks, “Are the doors you want in stock?” I shook my head as I tried to talk myself out of my next statement. “How am I supposed to know what is in stock? Is there some sort of inventory management system that the customers check before shopping?”
We all walked over to the door aisle. I asked my wife, “Can’t we do this online? Apparently, we are disturbing this saleswoman from her job.”
We showed the saleswoman the doors we wanted, gave her the measurements and the hardware preferences. This took about 5 minutes since we had spent the better part of a half hour figuring it out already. So, we went back to the desk where the other woman, who I thought was a customer, was still sitting.
The saleswoman wrote up what we wanted. She told us she would have the company go out and measure the doors, so we know the exact measurements.
One door was an odd size, so we knew it was going to be a special order. Once they complete the measurements, she would call us with the exact pricing. Meanwhile, she would work up the order and estimate and email that to me. It became apparent to me at this point that the other woman at the desk was also a Home Depot employee.
We left with the entire process taking about an hour. “I can’t believe we couldn’t do this online,” I said to my wife. “The people in that store made me feel like we were a bother to them. Their jobs would be so much easier without the customers bothering them.
Later that day, I received the detailed quote for the doors we selected in my email. The quoted price was pending size verifications from the installation company. The price was satisfactory, and now we just needed the size check, and we would be on our way to getting these new doors installed these new doors.
I got the call from the installation company, just as the Home Depot sales woman said I would. They came and measured a few days later. I expected a revised sales order in my email. As long as I agreed to the changes, I would sign it and move forward. But it never came. Finally, by Friday I began calling. Never try to call a store like this. It is an endless loop of holding, transferring and getting cut off. I called again on Saturday and finally got to speak with someone.
This saleswoman was very helpful and was able to pull up my order. But she didn’t have the final measurements. She explained that they were expecting them anytime. She would call me back when thy received them. “Don’t you have a system where they can load the sizes right into the order?” I asked. She replied, “No. They fax them over to us, and we have to review them and enter the information. I will call you as soon as we have it done.” Fax?? Really? It’s 2017!
About 4 hours later I got a call from Home Depot. The same saleswoman told me that they had everything in and all we would need to do now is come by and sign off on the purchase. “I already did that. You sent me an 8-page purchase order. I signed it and sent it back. Why do I have to come in and do it again?” I asked. “Well, Sir!” (now she was no longer pleasant) “We aren’t going to take a credit card for thousands of dollars on the phone!”
“Wait, what? I can buy a car online with a credit card, or furniture or televisions, but I can’t pay for a door? What has changed? Is it dramatic? Is the price that much different than originally thought with the new measurements?”
“Sir. You have to come in. That is our process.”
“Well, thanks for yelling at me and making me regret my purchase decision. Paying a lot of money to be condescended to is always a good sales tactic. I will be in tomorrow.”
The next morning my wife and I went back to the store. We walked straight to the desk in the windows and door area and sat there waiting for someone to help us. It was a Sunday morning, and the store wasn’t busy, so we expected it to be quick. It wasn’t. About 20 Home Depot people walked by us. All very busy doing their work. Heaven forbids they should stop what they are doing to find out if those two people need any help.
Finally, someone from Home Depot sat down and asked if we needed help. My wife took over because if I had to respond, the answers would be a little snarky. She told him that we had an order in the system and we just needed to finalize it. He took our information and looked up the order.
He seemed to find it no problem. But then he started asking us if we wanted to go over to look at doors. I said, a little out of patience, “All of the information is in the order!” His response was classic. “How am I supposed to know that sir!. I just got involved with this order.” As I pointed to the order on the desk in front of him as well as the order on his computer screen, I said, “Because it is right in front of you and this is your process.”
Now we sat there for 34 minutes while this guy reviewed the order, mumbled to himself and input some information into the computer. We have now been sitting there for over 45 minutes. Finally, he printed out the revised sales order. Which, it turns out, was the same as the original. And he proceeded to go over each line, which we had already done the first time.
Then he had the images of the doors and asked us to verify which side of the door we wanted the handles and doorknobs. I pointed out our signatures already on the sheets showing where we wanted them.
By now I am overly frustrated that we have made two trips and three phone calls to go over the same information we provided the first time. What was the point of all of this? Can’t this all be done online?
We got to the last page, and the price was the same. So what changed? I asked the salesman, “Why did we have to come here at all? Couldn’t you just send me a pdf of this and I could ok it and sign it online?” Of course, that was followed up with the snooty, “We had to have you verify the information in person and sign off on the design.”
I handed over my card and paid the same amount that we were quoted a week before.
My wife could see my head about to explode, so she grabbed me and said, “Thank you. We will wait to hear from you when the install is scheduled.”
“No, you will hear from the install company. They will contact you when the doors arrive.” said the salesman.
“No one from Home Depot will contact us?” I asked. “We should have done this online,” I said to my wife as we left.
What Is The Point?
My point is not to complain about Home Depot. They are no different than any of the other retailers struggling today with a migration to e-commerce. The smart ones are taking an omni-channel approach to servicing customers. Using stores and e-commerce together to provide an exceptional customer experience. Had we gone into the store, selected the doors and set up the order and the next phase was all done online, I would have been speaking about Home Depot as a brilliant retailer.
Instead, the customer is made to feel like they have to change to fit into the retailer’s methodology. As customers, we are intruding on their workflow.
Retailers have lost site of the fact that they exist for the sole purpose of customer satisfaction. The customer does not exist for the retailer.
After all of these issues with Home Depot, the next morning I woke up to an email leading me to an account where I can track the progress and make changes. I can also verify the product information, and I can pay for items. I thought, “Maybe no one at Home Depot understands their systems. Or they just decided to make the customers life as hard as they can.”