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7 In-Store Customer Experience Annoyances

Brian Cantor

Today may be the do-it-yourself age, but the restaurant concept remains relevant, valuable and fascinating. Few can replicate the culinary experience – and virtually none can replicate the atmosphere – from within their own homes.

Today may be the digital age, but the brick-and-mortar store remains relevant, valuable and fascinating. No website can replicate concepts like face-to-face product conversations, handling the product prior to purchase and gaining instant access to the good upon completing the transaction.

While the value of the in-store retail experience endures, many of the drawbacks persist. Factors long identified as annoying continue to annoy. Shortcomings long identified as problematic continue to create difficulties.

The drive for customer-centricity, which should extend to all commercial channels, has somehow failed to correct these points of frustration. The matter needs to be remedied.

That rode to rectification begins with identifying some of the most annoying parts of the in-store customer experience:

1) The Hoverer

There is nothing wrong with offering assistance to a customer. There is everything wrong with hovering over his shoulder.

Widely parodied, the hoverer is one of the most frustrating elements of the retail experience.

While not always mean-spirited – some employees truly do want to help the customer select the appropriate product(s) – it is almost always tone-deaf. The agent’s reason for offering assistance is to improve the customer’s experience. When the lurking serves to make the customer feel pressured or uncomfortable, it is clearly doing the very opposite.

Retail employees need to be able to read and understand customers. Some customers will appreciate – and stand to benefit – from employee hand-holding. Others truly want to be left alone.

Honoring the customer’s explicitly or implicitly communicated wish is a key tenet of customer-centricity.

2) The Biased Advice

In addition to creating a sense of uneasiness, the aforementioned "hoverer" is often guilty of providing biased or inaccurate advice.

Driven by ulterior motives – additional commission for a certain product, a company directive to move a certain product, personal preference for a certain product – such employees will shill for products without sincerely believing they are best for a given customer.

With the hope of driving a higher-cost purchase, they will similarly badmouth sale-priced (or simply lower-priced) items.

There is nothing wrong with recommending products to customers. Such advice is problematic, however, when it does not come from a place of sincere customer-centricity.

3) Cash Only

This is 2015. It is the paperless age. Retail businesses need to get with the program.

While there is still merit in letting customers use cash – some find comfort in knowing they will never spend more than they have – there is no merit in forcing customers to do so.

Thanks to the rise of the mobile payment option, many of today’s customers do not even want to carry cards. Asking them to carry bills and coins in addition to their cards and mobile devices is asking them to endure a burden that is absolutely unwanted – and one that realistically should be unneeded.

Electronic payment is more comfortable and more convenient for customers. It also expedites the checkout process (no fumbling with bills or counting pennies) and thus creates a stronger overall retail experience for all customers.

While it presents some theoretical security issues (people can "hack" electronic payment systems; they cannot hack cash), it also provides significantly better protection. A lost or stolen card can be cancelled and replaced at no charge to the customer. Lost cash is (in almost all cases) money lost for good.

Even if electronic payment did not present as many clear advantages, refusing to honor a common customer preference is the antithesis of customer-centricity.

To publicly defend their cash only policy, businesses will cite the transaction fees associated with card payments. Those fees, they argue, would need to be trickled down to the customer.

The problem with that logic, however, is that plenty of businesses do unconditionally accept cards. By still managing to offer fair prices, those businesses prove that either a) customers are willing to endure the extra cost for convenience or b) eating the credit card fee is a necessary cost of doing business in today’s age of competing on the customer experience.

The fee argument is, consequently, not a valid excuse. Other common excuses for cash-only policies – cash payments produce instant funds or cash payments allow businesses to play "loose with the books" – are obviously of no direct concern to the customer.

4) Multiple Lines

First-come, first-served is an effective policy. It is an agreeable policy. It is a logical policy.

Why, then, do some retail businesses opt to spit in its face?

Rather than adhering to a single line system – which would assure customers are served in the order they arrived – some businesses setup multiple queues that feed to separate clerks at the counter or register. This multiple line system turns the checkout process into a guessing game; customers have to predict which line will move faster. If they choose wrong, they will be served after people who arrived later.

Businesses should always adhere to a single line system. Position the customers in a single queue based on the order in which they arrived. When a spot at the counter becomes available (whether the counter is staffed by one employee or multiple employees), invite the next person in line to complete his transaction. You maintain the same degree of efficiency but avoid the problematic guessing games – and associated injustices – inherent to the multi-line system.

5) Opposition to Omni-Channel

In today’s omni-channel world, customers are demanding a singular experience across all touch points. That demand extends to retail purchases.

The price advertised online should mirror the one advertised in-store – and vice-versa. Price-matching promises, similarly, should account for relevant brick-and-mortar and online competitors (asking customers to account for shipping costs is reasonable in some cases; asking customers to pretend Amazon does not compete with brick-and-mortar stores is not).

6) The Early Close

Stores and restaurants almost always post hours of operation in their windows and on their websites. For some reason, many such businesses feel no pressure to honor those hours – to the letter.

Some restaurants will stop making food at a certain point before the stated closing time; even customers who planned to order takeout – and could thus leave prior to the official closing time – are out of luck. Some retail stores will stop letting customers in at a certain point; even customers who know exactly what they wanted – and would thus be able to leave prior to closing – are out of luck.

While some other restaurants and stores do allow entry until the stipulated closing time, they effectively shut down the experience early. They stop offering certain products. They shut down most of their checkout aisles. They shutter some departments. They intrusively clean even while customers are still shopping or eating. They, quite simply, provide a considerably less valuable without charging a considerably lesser price.

All such examples are maddening. The fact that they can all be easily remedied – and persist nonetheless – is even more maddening.

If a restaurant wants to truly close its doors at 11PM, it does not need to advertise an 11PM close time. Say the restaurant closes at 10:30PM (or at least note that the last meal will be served at 10:30PM) and use the remaining half hour to shut the store down.

Customers should not have to guess when the shop truly closes. They should not have to rush to a location, get there before the closing time, only to be told that they either cannot access or will have to accept a lesser experience. They should be able to trust the business to communicate clearly and honestly.

7) Staff Relaxation

Rarely is an in-store experience – or any experience – too efficient and effective.

A customer should never, therefore, encounter a group of staff members that is socializing – or relaxing – instead of making a contribution to the customer experience.

If there is a line building at the register, packs of employees should not be standing behind the desk chatting and goofing around. They should not be attempting to impose "assistance" on customers who are simply browsing.

They should open more registers – or at least assist the staff members who are manning the available registers.

The reverse is also true. If there is no line at the register – but numerous customers waiting around to try on shoes – there should not be a surplus of employees loitering at the register. At least some should identify other areas in need of their contribution.