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Merry Customer Service


With all the exciting new trends and technologies in retail supply chains, it’s easy to forget that the supply chain exists for the purpose of providing excellent customer service. Fortunately, there’s nothing like holiday shopping to open our eyes to this retail reality. Here are my top 10 take-away messages from holiday shopping with my family:

Biggest customer-service shock: On the first Saturday in December, J. Crew and Victoria’s Secret did not have gift boxes at the stores we visited. In-stock positioning applies to every aspect of the store!

Best overall in-store experience: No surprise here. Crate & Barrel excels at everything—merchandising, employee assistance, superior customer service and efficient checkout despite the longest lines of any store visited.

Most hospitable customer service: Friendly and efficient cashiers at Dollar Tree and Target proved retail doesn’t have to be high dollar to be high quality.

Most knowledgeable service: At two recently converted Macy’s stores, the associates did an outstanding job of locating inventory in back rooms or other stores. Kudos to Federated for transitioning new stores to Macy’s protocol in time for superior holiday shopping experiences.

Least knowledgeable service: Unfortunately the ladies in pink are making the list again—although the Victoria’s Secret associate was very nice and wanted to be helpful, she was at a total loss when it came to finding inventory. That would be a training, not a personnel, issue.

Multichannel myth-busting: My assumption that merchandise in catalogs would be available on line proved false. J. Crew does not include all its merchandise on its Web site—but a call-center operator provided outstanding service and located the item with minimal information.

Multichannel excellence: This same call-center operator provided SKU item numbers and talked me through an Internet visit so, although the product was not available at, she and I could see that we were talking about the right merchandise.

Warning signs: I always feel a twinge of fear for retailers on my “personal favorites” list when a store is empty but competitor stores are packed. Here’s hoping J. Jill was vacant in early December because husbands waited until the last minute to shop, and perhaps Smith & Hawken was having an off day.

Generation gap: A 14-year-old girl will turn standing in line at Starbucks into a social event; a 79-year-old grandfather will never understand why anyone (much less a crowd) would stand in line for 15 minutes to spend $4.00 on a cup of coffee.

Opportunity begging attention: Retailers wanting to take customer service to the next level must think outside the box—literally! Parking-lot congestion and poor access to shopping centers is a huge deterrent for shoppers who don’t want to spend 20 minutes sitting in traffic. Valet-parking services address only a small percentage of the problem. Tenants should negotiate to have CAM charges dedicated to this problem—possibly with shuttle service from remote lots or hiring off-duty officers to direct traffic so it flows more smoothly.

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