Is Customer Service the Key to Killing Showrooming?


Image courtesy shopsavvy

Moving requires Sarah and me to be good little consumers and spend money. It’s inevitable that there are household items that need to be purchased or upgraded, and we have countless lists of “to buy”. We’re trying hard to watch our bottom line, and yes, we’ve definitely engaged in what has been called “showrooming”, or checking out items in a store and then purchasing them online for less money. But there have been a few times when we’ve been impressed enough with the customer service we encountered that price became less important than having a smooth, easy transaction. When retailers got it right, we walked away very happy and intent on shopping there again … when they got it wrong, though, they managed to get it very wrong.

The first positive experience came from Target, where we went to buy a television. The employee in the electronic’s department was polite and quickly located someone to get the TV from the back. When it took more than a moment, he updated us that the issue was the location of the TV (high up on a shelf), and it would just be another minute or so. Once we went to check out, we received the requisite REDcard pitch, and after I said no, he didn’t bring it up again. At the end of the transaction, he even had a flatbed hand truck handy to bring the television right out to our car. We were in and out in no time at all, and we didn’t even have to lug a very large item by ourselves through the store.

Then we went to buy a vacuum from Sears. You would think buying a $100 vacuum would be even easier than buying a relatively high ticket item like a TV; you’d be wrong. Apparently buying a vacuum from Sears means the employee puts you through 20 questions so you can sign up for their “Sears Rewardpoints” program, and they make it as difficult as possible. Plus the employee was very worried that I didn’t opt for the extended service plan (only $24,99! For a $100 vacuum…hmm…no.) I had to explain repeatedly that we weren’t interested. On top of that, we had a gift card we wanted to use for the bulk of the purchase, and the register had trouble with the card. It took several tries to get us rung up, and no one apologized or was remotely friendly about the delay. We only went into Sears because we had a gift card, and that experience was enough to turn us off from ever shopping there again. The Sears customer service was horrible; there’s nothing worse than being upsold repeatedly after saying no, except maybe standing there wasting time while someone tries to figure out how to scan a gift card. Honestly, I would pay more to buy something online just to avoid ever shopping in Sears again, which is probably not the experience the store was aiming for.

Rounding out our big box experience was Buy, Buy, Baby (owned by Bed, Bath, and Beyond). I was trying to track down a gift for someone, and I called the store with a question. At this point, I’m pretty well-trained to navigate the complex world of phone menus. “Press 1 for store hours. Press 2 for directions. Press 3 for our website. Press 4 to repeat these options. Press 39420030-2-1-1–1-1 if you’d like to speak to a customer service representative, or just wait on the line. The estimated wait time is 500 minutes.” Surprisingly, someone answered the phone on the first ring at Buy, Buy, Baby; I called twice, and both times someone answered at once. On top of that, the people I spoke to were helpful and knowledgeable. Again, the customer service and overall experience made it convenient and pleasant to deal with the store over the website, and that was what made me want to shop in-store, not pricing!

It’s easy to hold up price as the scapegoat for what’s killing retailers, but price is a narrow part of the equation. Being treated with respect, an acknowledgment that I don’t want to waste my time, and something as simple as answering the phone make a retailer a desirable place to shop. The reverse is also true: without friendly staff, or when aggressive sales tactics are used, I’d rather just skip the retail experience altogether. Cutting prices may help short-term, but hiring and training friendly employees is what will make the difference in the long run!

Do you base your shopping experience on customer service? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

Categories: Editorials


1 reply

  1. You know I am an instant gratification kind of guy. Plus once I get the clearance from the wife to buy something it either gets BOUGHT or ordered right then and there. Depending on what it is depends on where I go. Am I willing to wait? Usually not especially when it comes to tech purchases. As Amazon and Google ramp up to offer same day delivery of purchases the Big Box retailers have to do something. The biggest thing that these big box retailers are missing is experience and smarts. They hire anyone off the street and put them on the floor with little to no training. What I would do if I were them is to make it EASY AS PIE to get help. When the help arrives, make sure the person help you knows that YOU are the most important person. Not the phone. Not YOUR cellphone but you. If the customer asks you questions….be ready to answer! If you can’t, then the store should have a computer where you can get the answer. Yes yes that means give your store employees access to the web. Or at the very least an app. That way they can get the answers that they don’t know. Also, and this might sound crazy, but pay the ones who DO provide great service what they are worth. If a customer service rep constantly gets good feedback from the customers give them a pay raise! Cultivate an environment where people can move up the ladder if possible. Provide incentives…not necessarily monetary either. Provide the BEST service possible. You do that, and I am likely to buy from you EVEN if Amazon has it cheaper.

    My favorite places to shop:

    Cafe Brioso (mom and pop cafe in the downtown who also offers up fresh beans to take home)
    Kroger Marketplace
    Byers Chevrolet (where we bought our Cruze)
    Walmart(for when I just want to go get it and be left alone)

    Place that I used to like that provided good service to the end(they are all closed):
    Saturn Dealerships (I miss Saturn)
    Service Merchandise (Catalog store from the 80’s….again miss them).
    Best Products (Similar to Service Merchandise)

    Places I set foot in ONLY at a last resort:
    Best Buy (I cannot think of a WORSE place to go. Always get crappy service. )
    Radio Shack (I miss when they had knowledgeable people staffing the store….the only thing they know now is cell phones and they barely know that….)
    Firestone(it seems they always seem to find an obscure light that’s out….when I never noticed it before….plate light or whatever).

    Online Places with GREAT service: