What’s Wrong With Retail?

During 2020, 12,200 retail stores closed, up from 9,300 store closures in 2019. Another 5,700 retailers closed their doors in 2018, and 8,000 closed in 2017. That is a total of 35,200 stores over a four-year timeframe. Experts have offered several reasons for this trend including the growth of e-commerce as well as the opening of too many stores in years past. Certainly, these are likely factors in the struggles experienced by the retail industry. But there are some basic and fundamental reasons as well. Entrepreneurs would do well to pay attention to how these basics and fundamentals could have an impact on every business – whether retail or otherwise.

We recently traveled several miles to a large national furniture home store in search of a particular kind of lamp we wanted to purchase. When we arrived, there was a grand total of one salesperson on the showroom floor and he was working with a family that appeared to be pondering a significant purchase. I cannot say that I blame him for focusing all his attention on a customer that would earn him a very nice commission. Unfortunately, he did not even acknowledge us or try to find another salesperson to assist us. We waited approximately 20 minutes and then I began wandering the store and came across another salesperson who was arranging a display. He didn’t even ask if I needed help until I finally told him we had questions and would appreciate speaking with a salesperson. I then showed him the lamps that were exactly what we needed and asked him to ring up the sale and we would take the lamps home with us. Not so fast, he responded. The store did not keep lamps in stock and would have to order them. I asked if we could just buy the floor models and he said no. If they did that, they would not have anything to display on the floor. He then informed me that it would be about four weeks before the lamps would be delivered. Disappointed, we told him that we would order them online from a different supplier which we did – and had them three days later.

A friend of ours related another story which she said she has encountered several times. She recently visited a large national department store chain in a local mall. As happens so often, there were no salespeople on the floor, and she had to go looking for them – sound familiar? Once found, the salespeople (remember, this happened on numerous occasions) were uncaring and unknowledgeable. She wanted to try on different clothing items only to find the dressing rooms filthy to the point that she did not want to use them.

Finally, we periodically patronize a large national household goods store. This chain purportedly sells everything under the sun. And yet, we always leave with at least one or two very common items remaining on our shopping list. Why? Because the items are not in stock for one reason or another. We have tracked down sales associates who tell us that if it is not on the shelves, they do not have it. This was understandable during COVID-19, but the problem was occurring well before the pandemic.

So, let’s review. A large retailer does not carry floor items in stock so that customers can take their purchases with them. In fact, a customer must wait longer to receive such items from the store than if they make the purchases through an e-commerce site. Several large, national retailers do not have adequate sales associates available to help customers. And, in several cases the sales associates they do have are of no help. Finally, cleanliness in a few cases is apparently not on anyone’s “To Do” list.

Let’s be clear. There are many retail establishments that are doing it correctly. Home Depot and Lowe’s have plenty of friendly and knowledgeable sales associates who are instantly available to assist. This is not an indictment of the retail industry as a whole. But the fact that so many large, national chains are falling short is baffling – especially considering the existential threat posed by e-commerce.

As entrepreneurs we should understand how critical the customer experience is to our success. This is certainly an obvious statement; so why are so many businesses continuing to fall short with the basics and fundamentals? I am sure as you read this that you can relate your own examples of the disappointing encounters you have had in the retail sector. Just remember to make sure that your customers aren’t saying the same things about your business.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

Wall-Building Entrepreneurs

I’m shaking my head right now. Call it confusion, a lack of understanding or maybe even bewilderment. I’m really puzzled about something that I’ve been observing with more frequency. I’ve noticed a number of entrepreneurs building walls. Not necessarily in the physical sense but metaphorically. And the walls that are being built are designed to actually keep customers OUT! Huh? Why would any entrepreneur want to build a wall that keeps a customer out? You got it – that’s what has me scratching my head.

Let’s start with a sign I saw on the door of a shop in a resort town in northern California. The sign requested that customers NOT bring their dogs into the store because the store owner had dogs of her own inside that were “nervous” around other dogs. I’m truly not making this up. It’s become fairly common in many communities across the country to see people taking their dogs into stores, restaurants and other places of business. And it’s become a generally accepted practice for such businesses to welcome dogs. Rather than leave her dogs at home, this store owner basically told all customers with dogs to stay out of her store. I wonder how many sales she’s lost by building such an unfriendly wall.

Next, let’s talk about credit cards. I know American Express charges fees on credit card transactions that are much higher than Visa, Mastercard and some of the other cards used by consumers. What puzzles me is the fact that some businesses won’t take the American Express card. Costco is the worst large-scale offender. In 2017 the company dumped American Express in favor of Visa – not Mastercard or any other card. In this case Costco made the move to enhance its profitability and not to benefit the customer. I’ve spoken to a number of entrepreneurs who offer the explanation that the fees are just too high and that’s why they won’t accept AMEX. What they fail to understand is that they are also building a wall to keep customers out when they make decisions like this that ignore customer convenience.

It’s Friday night and my wife and I are dining at a restaurant that we really enjoy. Our mouths have been watering all day in anticipation of the Panko-crusted calamari strips on the appetizer menu. But wait – we are informed that the restaurant is “sold out” of the calamari. On a Friday night! How does this happen? I’ve ranted before about restaurants that run out of a particular menu item and I’m going to do it again. Except this time I’ll expand the idea to encompass other products as well. In this day and age of technology, businesses that don’t effectively manage their inventory are really missing the boat. I realize in non-restaurant settings, it may be impossible to carry an inventory so complete that every SKU is always in stock. But care must be taken not to advertise specials on items that are sold out; and floor displays should be pulled when the items are out of stock. I went into a major national pharmacy every other day for a week looking for a particular item that was missing from the shelf. More walls being built . . . my solution – order it from Amazon.

Everyone will be able to identify with this next “wall” and sometimes it can be so huge that there’s no getting over, under or around it. You walk into a public restroom in a store or restaurant and it’s gross beyond belief. There’s an unidentifiable crusty substance in the corners where the wall meets the floor. The trash bin is overflowing; pipes are corroding; soap dispensers are empty; toilets and/or urinals are disgusting; only one dispenser has paper towels and the list goes on. When we start looking around at the public space outside the restroom we notice that it’s far from sparkling clean. This “wall” has been built so high that we can’t even see the top of it (and we probably wouldn’t want to touch even if we could see it)!

I’m sure you have your own examples of Wall-Building Entrepreneurs. Hopefully this will serve as a wake-up call to all entrepreneurs to take a hard look at every aspect of our operations and identify any “walls” we may have erected that keep customers out. Then in the immortal words of Ronald Reagan on June 12, 1987 in a speech given at the Berlin Wall, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 113 – A Mt. Everest Mindset

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.