A true story: not long ago, I walked into an electronics store in Manhattan Beach, Calif. It was the release day for a new computer system, and I had cash in my hand. The store didn't have the configuration I wanted, though, so I asked the salesman to call a sister store in nearby Woodland Hills and check its stock. The salesman blanched. "Are you crazy?" he said. "Have you ever tried to call our stores?"
This is more than just a cranky anecdote. It is a veritable Bruegel painting of inept retailing. It illustrates so many frustrating aspects of a bad shopping trip--lousy sales support, shallow inventory, poor use of technology--that it's almost thrilling to think of all the potential for improvement that it suggests. With many retailers struggling in this slack economy, you would think they would redouble their attention to the basics--and the best chains and local managers are doing just that. But industry experts share my amazement that so many stores don't execute well what ought to be the obvious rules of their business. To wit:
--DON'T LET YOUR ADS WRITE A CHECK YOUR STORES CANNOT CASH
The shopping experience starts before customers ever get to the store. Their expectations are created in television and print ads, and the best stores deliver on those expectations. The ones that don't deliver foster a vague sense of unease and resentment. Store designer Richard Russo of Virginia's Hybridia Design cites J.C. Penney's "girl stuff" TV spot in which a hip young mom and her teenage daughter head off for a day of fun at Penney's. While many parents like the value and convenience offered by Penney's, "kids don't feel good about going into that store," says Russo. "It isn't hip like American Eagle or Abercrombie's." Tim Lyons, a Penney's spokesman, counters that its business with teen girls is growing by double digits. "Teens are value conscious," he says. But Russo says the ads, which focus on fun, don't reflect that value message. Target's ads, on the other hand, "communicate a funky, contemporary approach, and people feel it's a hip place to shop for products at a great price." Despite the rapid growth of e-commerce, 93% of retail-sales revenues are collected in stores. If you're a retailer, the store is your medium, so it had better match your message.
--LET IT FLOW