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Where Did We Lose the WOW in Retail?

  |  January 6, 2014   |  Comments

Have we really fallen so far that simply doing the job puts us in the category of wowing a customer? Columnist Mark Quinn examines the WOW factor in retail.

Like many of you, I spent some time shopping retail over the holiday season, and I was really disappointed. All the items I found were okay, and the service was fine (in spite of it being busy), but one thing was definitely missing: the "WOW."

I was just reading a past article published by Forbes in which they dig into the factors that make for a great shopping experience. The first thing they talk about is "being polite and interested in helping, acknowledging and listening." REALLY!?!

So, in other words, the retailer should do the job they were put there to do? Have we really fallen so far that simply doing the job puts us in the category of wowing a customer? Being in stock, shortening the checkout line, solving problems, and upgrading quality were also mentioned, but again I say, are these things not table stakes? What happens if you don't do these things? You go out of business, right?

Mediocrity is Not a WOW

If you ask me, wowing a customer should be much harder. Companies like Jordan's in Boston wow their shoppers with an experience that gets talked about by customers, neighbors, and co-workers. If you visited their store this holiday season, you could have taken a few laps on their new indoor ice skating rink, or your kids could have been transported to the North Pole on their new 4-D Polar Express ride. Now that is a WOW!

I understand that not everyone can build an ice skating rink for their customers, but there are other ways. How about arming your sales associates with a mobile payment device so I don't have to wait in line and your team member comes to me? What if you had the local school choir come out and entertain your customers with a few carols? How about hiring a massage therapist to rub willing, weary shoulders during the peak shopping time? Do you think Mrs. Jones would tell her friends about that?

WOW Leads to Recommendations

It really bums me out that people in the retail space have so little creativity when it comes to capturing and keeping their "valued customers." It is no secret: shoppers who get referred to your store by a friend or family member are more likely to make a purchase.

I can ask someone where to buy furniture and they might rack their brain for a few minutes and come up with a store name and a mediocre recommendation. Or, they might say, "I went to Jordan's today and you are NOT GOING TO BELIEVE WHAT HAPPENED!" I am pretty sure I know which one sells better.

The definition of WOW should be "an emotional state that is triggered when a business far exceeds the norm, and blows you away with their thoughtfulness, creativity, desire to serve the customer, and near-perfect execution."

At What Point Did "Good Enough" Become WOW?

What really cracks me up about this is that there are examples all over of companies that WOW their customers and enjoy incredible results because of it, yet the rest of the retail space still doesn't get it. How can this be? It's because they are too busy simply meeting expectations to realize that exceeding the expectation is where the magic happens.

I do think that over the years, we have just been trained to accept really crappy customer service at retail. Calling a customer service phone number after a purchase and staying on hold for 10 minutes used to cause outrage, but is now something we have come to expect in many ways. How about the clerk that waits on you and does just enough to get by and get you out of the store? Our expectation has fallen; the retailer knows it and in many cases caused it.

So I say to you, champion of the retail space that WOWs their customer and creates an experience we love and appreciate, customers are here to reward you for the effort. We will forever favor you with our business over the others because you work harder, care more, and show a genuine interest in making us happy.

As a matter of fact, I would even pay a little more to buy from you because of that effort. So the next time you hear someone talk about a WOW moment, let's make sure they are using our definition and not one that has been diluted during the last decade.

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Mark Quinn

Mark Quinn is a Segment VP of Marketing with Leggett & Platt and has more than two decades of experience. Quinn writes a bedding industry and marketing blog called Q's Views.

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