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In-store customer service in the online age

by Chris Sutton | January 28, 2012

Saturday afternoon and a little off topic. In this industry we not only meet a lot of business people who are developing new online businesses or have existing businesses that need to move online, but we obviously take a very keen interest in what’s happening with offline businesses.

Over the last 18 months there have been regular articles in the mainstream press, as well as radio and TV exposure, regarding the impact that online sales are having on traditional businesses. The responses on the ground though vary dramatically, and this weekend I’ve had some first hand experience of how different businesses are dealing with the change.

In the first instance, I visited a newly refitted store of a national home wares and electronics chain that has been in the news frequently talking about the unfair advantage that online sellers have. I spent probably 15 minutes combing the store trying to find what I was looking for, but to no avail. In all that time I wasn’t approached once and the salespeople obviously had something very important they needed to discuss as they studiously ignored me. To be frank, while I could have marched up and broken up the huddle and asked for what I wanted, I knew I could get it online quickly and wasn’t much inclined to waste anymore time. My thought as I left the shop was new store, same old service!

The second and very contrasting example was visiting a couple of clothes stores in the city. Now, I hate shopping, and my usual method is to decide what I want before I go shopping, and then get in and out as fast as possible as that tends to limit the pain!! However, I was completely blown away by the response I got in 2 different stores, in the first the nothing was too much trouble for the salesperson, he suggested some options, checked size availability and phoned another store for something he didn’t have. In the second store, they also didn’t have what I wanted in my size, but without any prompting the salesperson checked if a nearby store had they right size, and then went and collected it for me.

In both of these instances, the sales people provided a great service experience that you don’t really get online, and the reality is that that’s how bricks and mortar can compete. If they keep on doing the same old things, as in the first instance above, then in my view it’s only a matter of time before such stores disappear, whereas those that provide a different experience to online shopping will find their niche and probably thrive.

SiteSuite Website Design - Online Marketing Blog Author Chris Sutton

Co-founder and Managing Director of SiteSuite Australasia, Australian pioneers in web design and ecommerce since 1997. For more from Chris you can follow him on Google+ or Twitter, and for further professional musings and thoughts on his other passions in life,

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