Mind the retail gap

Quite a relevant post from econsultancy this week on why retailers need more work on their multichannel offerings. Only recently on the bank holiday a friend of mine, we’ll call her Anna, had quite reluctant assistance in returning a non-functioning hair straightener – we’ll call it XYZ – to John Lewis. The whole episode emphasised a couple of design flaws but more on that later.

XYZ straightener had simply just stopped working after only a handful of uses. Even after allowing it to cool down it would still fail to turn on. Anna referenced a number of online forums to discover it is a prevalent problem. Calling John Lewis (my friend bought it online from the store), she was advised it could return it in store, rather than online.

Arriving at John Lewis Oxford Street, the XYZ counter was abandoned. When someone appeared, they were a XYZ representative, not John Lewis. Perfect, just the person Anna wanted. But no, the company salesperson was in store only for the day and couldn’t advise Anna what to do. ‘You can’t return it in store,’ Anna was told. ‘You need to return it to the manufacturer. You’d best find the store manager,’ Anna was told.

Rewind – Anna would have to what? You’re working in retail. You should know the basic principles. Anna didn’t move and quite rightly asked the salesperson to find the store manager for her.

When the store manager arrived, Anna repeated that she’s been told it could be returned in store. The store manager acquiesced and agreed JL would take care of it. Clearly the call centre and in store staff were ill advised and not aligned on return policy.

At this point, XYZ salesperson finally asked to see the non-functioning straightener – something she’d failed to do before. Plugging the straightener into power, the salesperson concurred that it was indeed not working. And advised that if the straightener heats up over the stipulated 185° it will shut itself off – forever. A key piece of information not very well communicated. Even on XYZ’s product care page, it is not mentioned. Now, I’m no product designer, but doesn’t XYZ have an obligation if they are manufacturing this type of appliance to design it so that it doesn’t overheat?

After learning this, I forget how many times Anna said that she’d just like her money back:
‘We could send it off to the manufacturers.’
No, I’d just like my money back.
‘The new model is coming out. We could let you know when it’s in store.’
No, I’d just like my money back.

Despite Anna and I having just visited the rather lovely roof gardens atop John Lewis, this experience left quite a tarnish on their name for us. Anna got her money back in the end, vowing to never buy XYZ again.

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