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RETAIL STORE HORROR STORIES

Authored By: Jim O'Donnell

Most people, at one time or another, have had an unpleasant shopping experience at a retail store. They may have been badly treated by sales clerks and store managers or they may have had difficulty with store policies, inferior products or poor customer service. When something like this happens, the customer may never complain, but they will silently resolve never to patronize that store again.

Described below are a number of "Horror Stories". These events have actually happened and reflect the failings of many retail stores. They happen in many stores and in many towns and cities all over the world. Fortunately, there are lessons that can be learned through the mistakes of others. Read them carefully and learn the lessons that are contained therein.

How sweet it is! One day I bought a candy bar at a gas/convenience chain store. As part of a national contest, the inside wrapper showed I had won a free candy bar. I tried to collect my free candy bar from this store and they refused to honor the coupon. The store claimed they were not participating in this contest. The candy bar clearly showed the advertisement for the contest and they took my money for the purchase of the candy bar. My assertion was they participated in this contest when they offered the candy bar for sale and when they took my money. A brief argument followed and they still refused to honor the rules of the contest. The store does get reimbursed for both the retail cost of the candy bar and the postage. Before this incident, I regularly purchased milk, gas, candy, newspapers, and coffee from them. Now I no longer patronize this store. They lost far more money than the cost of the candy bar.
Lesson: If you don't want to participate in a contest, then don't offer the product for sale. Don't argue with a regular customer who spends hundreds of dollars with your business annually over a $.60 candy bar.
 T.S., Greenland, NH

Show me how much you really care about me! I was standing in the checkout line of a store that is a national office supplies chain. The clerk asked the person in front of me "Did you find everything you needed"? The customer responded that he couldn't find "item X". The clerk ignored him and continued to ring up the purchases. The customer just shook his head in disbelief and smiled at me as well as the person in line behind me. When it was my turn, the clerk again asked "Did you find everything you needed"? I said I couldn't find the same "item X" and just as before the clerk ignored me and continued to ring up my purchases. I smiled to the person behind me. When it was this person's turn, he also asked for "item X" and was once again ignored.
Lesson: Teach your clerks to capitalize on potential sales opportunities. Teach your clerks to acknowledge customers. Teach your clerks not to use disingenuous phrases like a robot. All this does is upset the customer and communicates that you really don't care about their needs.
 R.W., Portsmouth, NH

Round N' Round we go! I tried to find a parking space to patronize a small downtown convenience store in a city where it is difficult to find parking. After circling the block several times, I finally found a parking spot some distance away from the store. As I approached the store, a young man exited the store, put money in a parking meter that was directly in front of the store's entrance, and then went back into the store. When I entered this store, the young man was the clerk behind the counter.
Lesson: Have your employee's park in a parking lot away from the store rather than utilize prime parking spaces. Make it easy for your customers to find parking so they can conduct business with you.
 L.R., Portsmouth, NH

I am sure glad you invested your money in a Customer Service Area just for me! I was trying to purchase $500 worth of custom printing at a national office supplies store and I was the third person in line. The two people in front of me were there to return faulty products that had nothing to do with copying or printing. I had to wait an unnecessarily long time to conduct a purchase as well as listen to two people complaining while they were exchanging items and receiving a credit. I noticed the Customer Service Area was not staffed and customers with problems were sent to the copy center.
Lesson: If you have a customer service area, then staff it. Don't pretend to be service oriented and not provide a service representative to handle customer problems. I don't want to waste my time standing in line to purchase $500 worth of product and listen to customer complaints.
 S.J., Manchester, NH

Don't call me, I'll call you! I placed a fairly large special order with a national office supplies store that was time critical. Since the order was to be completed in approximately two weeks, they promised to call me as soon as my order was finished. Nearly three weeks later they had not called even though the order had arrived early. Additionally, I tried to call them and their phone number was not on the store receipt. When I picked up the order there was no apology and they blamed another clerk.
Lesson: You all work for the same store and it is everyone's responsibility. No phone number on a receipt sends the message that you really don't want customers to call you. Keep your promises and make it easy for me to both buy from you and communicate with you.
 S.J., Manchester, NH


Retail Store Self-Assessment Checklist: Retail storeowners and managers can now conduct a thorough "Self-Assessment" of where their operations stand today, and then, based upon the results of this analysis, implement sound business strategies for accelerating growth, reducing unnecessary waste, and improving their profitability. This unique management tool features 979 tactics, strategies and action items for evaluating twenty three different operational categories ranging from store image to customer service to operations management; all designed to bring your retail store to the next level of growth and profitability. For a more detailed description and sample pages, go to Retail Store Checklist.
Retail Price: $69.95


You mean I should get a parking ticket! I was shopping in a small, downtown boutique type store just as the stores were opening for the day. A man parked directly in front of this store and checked his pockets for quarters for the parking meter. Since he did not have any quarters for the meter, he came into the store and asked for change. The storeowner refused to supply change and the man drove off angrily. I asked the storeowner why she didn't provide change and she said it was a store policy. She indicated she didn't want to bother going to the bank for change, he wasn't going to buy anything, he was taking up a space for one of her potential customers, etc. This attitude is from a storeowner in a small city that is trying to establish itself as a "destination" city.
Lesson: If you want to be a destination city, then you need to be friendly and accommodating to visitors. One of your customers may have to park in front of another store and may also require change for the parking meter. If that storeowner didn't provide change, then you would probably lose that customer. Stores in "destination" cities should learn to cooperate with each other.
 D.A., Portsmouth, NH

OK, you won this time! It was my wife's birthday and although I had already purchased her a gift I had not found the "right" birthday card yet. My plan was to buy the card on the way home after work. A late afternoon meeting ran much later than expected and I drove to a card shop in the downtown area. Just as I walked to the entrance door, the storeowner locked the door at 6:00PM sharp. She smiled as though she had won some type of contest in that she had closed the door before I was able to come in. Although I tried to plead with her, she just walked away and ignored me.
Lesson: She may have won the battle, but she lost the war. I have a large family and buy lots of cards, gifts, wrapping paper, etc, but never again from this store. This storeowner clearly did not understand the concept of the "lifetime value of a customer" (how much money a customer will spend at your store over his/her lifetime). Her actions are one of the reasons consumers don't bother shopping in a downtown retail district and will instead go to the mall. To compete effectively with the mall stores, a small retail store must be more flexible, friendlier, and offer outstanding service.
 W.M., Portsmouth, NH

You mean you really don't know that! Although I don't have a specific problem with a specific store, I do have a general problem with many stores. I go into a retail establishment to buy an advertised item only to find: (if you can even find a sales associate) no one knows where the item is, or they are out of stock and don't know when the item will arrive, or they know nothing about the sale. Even if none of the above occurs, the item frequently rings up at the register with the wrong price.
Lesson: The sales associates and often the managers really don't seem to care. Management should require that all employees know what is being advertised, where it is in the store, and if it is out of stock, when it's expected to arrive. Also, the advertised prices should be posted and updated in the point-of-sale system.
 R.F., Portsmouth, NH

May I borrow a cup of GAS please? I was running on empty and stopped for gas at a local gas station and convenience store. I pulled up to the pump, took off the gas cap and turned to insert my credit card, only to find a sign taped over the slot reading "Please pay at the pump". It was impossible to pay at the pump because the credit card slot was covered with tape. I went into the store and said, "I don't understand your sign". I was told the credit card machine was down and just to pump the gas and pay inside. When I suggested the sign was not clear the response was "Whatever". This comment was from a middle-aged woman who obviously has never had any customer service training. I began to pump gas and the pump stopped at 78 cents worth of gas and would not start again. I returned to the store and reported the problem. The clerk replied "That will be 78 cents please". After I had paid her, she smiled at me and said, "You have a nice day ma'am".
Lesson: There were three employees in the store and I was one of only two customers. At least one of the employees should have offered to either check or reset the pump. At the very least there should have been an apology for the inconvenience and the sign should have been changed. I tried to spend my money in this gas station and it seemed they weren't interested in my business. From now on I will give my money to someone who wants it. Employees need to be trained to respond to customer complaints as well as take advantage of sales opportunities when they are presented.
 T.J. Saugus, MA

Let me count the ways I can ignore you. Not once, not twice, but thrice! I needed to have two items laminated and drove to a large national office supplies chain store. Not sure whether they offered this service, I first approached the service desk. There was one employee at the service desk, and there were no other customers waiting. As I approached the desk, the employee looked at me, then picked up the phone and made a call. When it became apparent I was being ignored, I walked over to the copy center to find another employee. There was a customer at the copy center with a return and a lengthy complaint. A sign over the service desk clearly states "RETURNS AND REFUNDS", however people are referred to the copy center with returns. Therefore, customers at the copy center stand in line and listen to complaints while waiting for service. I simply wanted to know if laminating services were available, so I got in the check out line to ask the clerk. When I was next in line, there was a problem with the front doors and she left to fix them. Laminating services were offered and it was done efficiently, but it took thirty-five minutes to have a simple question answered.
Lesson: Returns and refunds should be handled at the service desk. It is idiocy to require customers to stand and listen to the complaints of others while they are waiting for service. Additionally, customers should never be ignored, at the very least acknowledge that someone will be with you shortly, or call another employee to help.
 M.O., Kingston, NH

Editors note: This is the fourth time this store has been mentioned.

Just a minute please (or 10 minutes, 20 minutes, ...)! I stopped to pick up dry cleaning at a business where I am a frequent customer. When I approached the door there was a sign taped to it reading "Back in a minute", and the door was locked. I started back to my car and noticed the store manager walking along the sidewalk at the opposite end of the strip mall where this business is located. She was carrying a cup of coffee and a bagel. She waved to me and I waved back and waited. As I watched and waited, she passed a video rental store, held up her index finger indicating she would be there in a minute, and entered the video store. After a somewhat lengthy wait, she came back to her store and it was obvious she had rented videos while I stood on the sidewalk in the January cold and waited for her to return.
Lesson: Personal errands should be done on personal time. Customers should not have to wait while employees take care of their personal errands. Coffee should be picked up before reporting for work. This store is part of a regional chain and I have to wonder what type of customer service training she has received and why she is qualified to be a store manager. Customers always come first!
 R.T., Plaistow, NH

So, you really think you're going to get your money back don't ya? I have several complaints regarding a store's policy of giving store credits only, even when I have a receipt. A Christmas present purchased at a downtown boutique shop was only returnable for exchange or store credit even with a receipt in hand and returned in a timely fashion. I purchased a pair of shoes at noon break only to get home that night to find they would not work out for my outfit. The very next day I was only able to return them for store credit or exchange even with a receipt in hand. Additionally, I don't understand why stores close during the lunch hour. They should plan ahead for their lunch and be open when the lunchtime shoppers are out with their money.
Lesson: The policy of giving only store credit does not make it inviting to shop at these stores. When I have limited time, I make an effort to shop downtown during my lunch hour to try and support local merchants. I sometimes make a hurried and wrong selection. With this policy, I am stuck with my decision. I would much rather shop at a store that refunds my money. I would shop there more often and feel free to spend more because I know if something doesn't work out, I can always get my money back. These policies are from several different stores in a small city that is trying to establish itself as a "destination" city. These merchants are always complaining about the competition from the malls, but with their unfriendly policies, they are actually encouraging us to shop at the mall.
 L.T., Barrington, NH


Retail Store Self-Assessment Checklist: Retail storeowners and managers can now conduct a thorough "Self-Assessment" of where their operations stand today, and then, based upon the results of this analysis, implement sound business strategies for accelerating growth, reducing unnecessary waste, and improving their profitability. This unique management tool features 979 tactics, strategies and action items for evaluating twenty three different operational categories ranging from store image to customer service to operations management; all designed to bring your retail store to the next level of growth and profitability. For a more detailed description and sample pages, go to Retail Store Checklist.
Retail Price: $69.95


I think I was taken to the cleaners! I took about 20 garments to a dry cleaner to be cleaned, including three that had spots on them. I pointed out the spots to the person who took my clothes, who supposedly marked them for pre-spotting. After being cleaned and picked up, I noticed that one sweater still had stains on it that were quite visible. I brought the sweater back, asked them to pre-spot and clean it again. Additionally, I had another pair of slacks that had a visible stain on them, asking for that to be pretreated also. When I picked up the sweater and the slacks, the sweater that was black and white, was faded to a mottled dark gray and white, with the stains still on it. The stain had not been removed from the slacks either. To make things worse, the sweater was borrowed from a friend and was now ruined. The clerk said that he was sorry about the sweater and offered to re-clean the pants. I told him no because I didn't trust a re-clean after how they had butchered the sweater. I asked to speak with the manager, who of course, wasn't there, about a credit for the sweater, and for the pants, so that I could take the slacks elsewhere to have the spots removed. However, the clerk gave me the manager's hours, and suggested that I come back when she was there. So, I did - twice, and each time during "her hours", she was off running an errand. The clerk finally told me that it was really a waste of my time because the manager didn't have the authority to reimburse me for ruining the sweater, and that she would have to get clearance from a regional office. He said he would have her call me about the situation. To this day, two months later, I still haven't received a call from her, even though I have tried to contact her numerous times. The loss for the dry cleaner is that I won't ever use their services again.
Lesson: Reimbursement for the sweater without any hassle, as I understand that sometimes, mistakes are made, and a future credit on dry cleaning services to try to keep me as a customer. If this had been done, we'd still be customers, but now we're not - resulting in lost regular revenue for the cleaners, and lost goodwill. The other lesson is that store manager's need the authority to provide immediate customer satisfaction.
 L.H., Lexington, MA

And a child shall teach them! We recently went shopping for ski equipment for our two sons at two different ski shops looking for Snowblades for one son and used snowboard equipment for the other. At a national ski and golf franchise store, the clerk refused to sell us the Snowblades we wanted stating authoritatively "they were the wrong size". The clerk also didn't offer to order what he felt was the right size or indicate that additional stock would be available anytime soon. After sabotaging that sale, the clerk then began to query our other son about his snowboarding ability (he's a beginner). His comments, although meant to impart his self-proclaimed vast knowledge about the sport, were arrogant and condescending to our son. Ultimately, the clerk concluded that they had no used equipment for his size and ability in their inventory. We left the store annoyed at the attitude of the clerk and without any ski equipment. We next went to a local ski shop on the same mission. Immediately a clerk enthusiastically took my son over to the Snowblades and picked out the same size pair we were refused at the first store. When asked about the size, the clerk showed us the product literature and assured us that they were not only the right size, but that he would be able to use the skis until he weighed considerably more than he does now. Sold! Next a different clerk showed our other son the inventory of used snowboard equipment and offered him several options appropriate for his ability. The clerk then offered to have his staff remount the snowboard bindings free of charge and teach us how to adjust them. He insisted that our son get a helmet if he wanted the snowboard (something I'd been harping on, so I didn't mind the "up-sell"). We left there with the merchandise we came to purchase, plus four free ski passes to an area mountain, free mounted bindings, free stickers for the skis and a feeling that they were supportive of the boy's enthusiasm for the sport, and that they wanted our repeat business.
Lesson: Be sure that staff is well informed without a know-it-all or arrogant attitude. Kids as well as adults need to be treated as valued consumers. Devise strategies for staff to demonstrate proven knowledge of and enthusiasm for the product, especially in an area where there will be future opportunities for repeat sales. Lastly, sometimes (especially with kids) a free service that doesn't cost the company much or a promotional freebie can be effective in retaining and attracting customers.
 N.C., Rollinsford, NH

Speak to me! I went to a national electronics chain store during my lunch break to make a "quick" purchase of a new speaker. Four "sales" people were at the counter doing internal paperwork and chatting. Although there were no other customers, they completely ignored me for the first 5 minutes. One noticed me, finally, and came over. I told him I was looking for some new speakers in the $500-$600 range. The clerk showed me some speakers, most of which were out of my price range, then he had to take a phone call that lasted for 5-10 minutes, and next decided to chat with his buddies. When he finally noticed I was still there, he brought over a CD of music he liked and said he probably couldn't stay around. I told him I had only 10 minutes remaining in my lunch hour, I listened to a couple of speakers, and then left never to return to that store or any of the others in the chain.
Lesson: Acknowledge a customer immediately after they enter the store. Have another clerk take a message for your phone calls. If an interruption is necessary, return promptly to the customer, instead of wasting his time. Don't tell the customer you are too busy to help him, and that he'll have to fend for himself. Don't assume that your taste in anything is the same as the customer's. Help the customer - many come to buy, and most do not have time to waste.
 P.J., Manchester, MA

All of these stories have been published in a document entitled Retail Store Self-Assessment Checklist. If you are a retail store owner, the tactics and strategies contained in the checklist will help you more effectively manage your store.


Retail Store Self-Assessment Checklist: Retail storeowners and managers can now conduct a thorough "Self-Assessment" of where their operations stand today, and then, based upon the results of this analysis, implement sound business strategies for accelerating growth, reducing unnecessary waste, and improving their profitability. This unique management tool features 979 tactics, strategies and action items for evaluating twenty three different operational categories ranging from store image to customer service to operations management; all designed to bring your retail store to the next level of growth and profitability. For a more detailed description and sample pages, go to Retail Store Checklist.
Retail Price: $69.95



 

 

 
 
 
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