...from the desk of       Elly Valas
Issue: 07-07  Date July, 2007

Elly Valas

Biz News You Can Use

When Store Policies Prevent Sales

Quote of the month:

"People don't buy products, they buy the product of those products." ---Nido Qubein

Do your store policies encourage your customers or do they send them to your competitors?  Do they mirror your customers?  Are they current or are they just what you've always done?

I was at a convention in San Diego last week.  After a long day of meetings, I put on some shorts, grabbed my iPod, laced up my running shoes and headed out.  As I always do, I stuck in my pocket my room key, a $5 bill, a business card and my American Express card.  The key and business card would help identify me if the need arose and the credit card……well, a girl never knows when she might find something she just has to buy.

Having walked the harbor for the previous three days, I turned the other direction and headed toward the Gaslight district to see something new.  Forty minutes later I was cruising through the Horton Plaza mall.

I walked right past The Sharper Image when I suddenly remembered that I needed to replace my headphones.  I planned to upgrade to some small noise cancelling earbuds and was sure I’d find them at The Sharper Image.

I was greeted pleasantly as soon as I walked in the store.  The sales clerk took me to a locked case displaying three models.  He immediately suggested that I consider buying the V-MODA Vibe earbuds because they were the most highly rated.  They caught my eye because they came in a cool red color as well as the more standard black.  I asked to see them as well as the others on display.

He handed me the V-MODA headphones in a sealed box.  I asked him to open the box so that I could try them.  He politely said that no, it was company policy and he couldn’t open the box.  I couldn’t understand why only that box was sealed while the other two earbud models displayed were open and I could try them on.  He offered to see if his manager could make an exception for me.

He went to the back room and came back saying no, I couldn’t try the headphones on before buying them.  I asked to see the manager. 

Ben, the store manager, reiterated the company policy adding that the issue was one of hygiene—after all, we wouldn’t want to share our ear wax with others who’d tried them on, or would we.  I reminded him that two others on display were available for a trial.  I also suggested that jewelry stores had solved that dilemma by using alcohol swabs before and after customers tried on earrings.  Ben just shook his head offering me his district manager’s telephone number.

I decided to go ahead and buy the earbuds.  As he started ringing up my sale, my associate reminded me that I had 14 days to return the product BUT, there would be a 10% restocking charge if the package had been opened.

Talk about the ultimate Catch-22!  I couldn’t try the product before I bought it and would be charged a fee if I did try it and didn’t like the sound or the fit. You’ve got to be kidding!

For some reason, I was still willing to buy the headphones.  I told Ben that I planned to get around the absurd return policy and simply stop payment on my credit card and dispute the purchase if I wasn’t happy.  He shrugged and walked away.

The clerk rang up the sale and I handed him my credit card.  He asked for my ID and I said I didn’t have it.  I told him I was out for walk, wasn’t carrying my purse and only had a couple of things in my pocket.

Again, company policy prevailed.  The Sharper Image’ sales prevention department finally won.  They forced me to walk out—after spending nearly thirty minutes in the store—without my purchase.

I don’t usually share poor customer service stories in my newsletters because they’re so common, but there’s a real lesson to this one.

The Sharper Image markets upscale, expensive, high-tech products to savvy, well-heeled consumers.  Their policies, however, made me feel like a low-life.  They may also at least partially explain why the company reported a 21% drop in sales between June 2006 and June 2007. I don't know.

Do your policies reflect respect for your customers or distrust of them?  Have a couple of bad experiences forced you to create unreasonable procedures for the majority of your buyers?

Have you ever collected a bad check because you took two forms of identification?  If not, you might want to consider a less intrusive check guarantee service.

Do your rules give the customer the benefit of the doubt?  Are you flexible enough to consider each unique situation and find solutions as events arise?

Go through your policy manual carefully.  Look at each guideline to see if it really benefits the company by creating customer loyalty.  Be willing to try new things and get rid of unruly policies that are in place because that’s the way you’ve always done things.

Remember that each of your customers influences 250 other people.  You want them to share stories about the positive experiences they’ve had with your company.  You want them to be your most active marketing team bringing others to you.

You never know, the one customer you most disappoint might be one like me—not one who has 250 contacts, but one with a newsletter going out to thousands of your potential customers. I won’t be going back to The Sharper Image anytime soon.  And I suspect they won’t even care.

Business Trends Poll (07-07 ):

Through the first half of the year, are your sales…

___Up significantly from the same period in 2006?
___Up slightly from the same period in 2006?
___Flat compared to the same period in 2006?
___Down slightly from the same period in 2006?
___Down significantly from the same period in 2006?

View this month's and previous month's Trends Poll Results

To participate, click the button to go to
Business Trends Polls
at www.EllyValas.com

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