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The perfect example of why retail is declining

SOMEWHERE in the corporate headquarters of retailers, meetings are taking place.

Entire executive teams are seated around the boardroom table, laptops open, spreadsheets and sales charts as far as the eyes can see. No doubt the scent of caffeine permeates the air because everyone knows these meetings can be quite tiring.

The first slide comes up on to the wall and shows sales on a steady decline. Some of the stores this retailer operates have had days without making a single sale.

"It makes no sense," opens the property development manager, "the shop is in an ideal location and the centre is really busy at the moment. There's loads of passing traffic."

"We have ample stock and the product range is up to the minute," adds the planner.

"So why aren't we selling any shoes?" wonders the sales manager.

It must be highly frustrating for this bunch of suits. They must be wondering why their businesses are not making money, and I know the answer.

Recently I went shopping with the express purpose of buying a pair of boots. I knew what I wanted; colour, style, price point - I had the whole thing sorted.

I was so confident in my pursuit I even wrangled my husband into joining me, there was going to be no endless dilly dallying, no hours spent browsing - just me and my credit card going into a shop and exiting with a pair of short-heeled, brown ankle boots.

The first store we went to didn't have them. No drama, there is a shop across the way from them that seems to have an extensive collection of winter boots.

The fact that the stores are this close together doesn't surprise me, I know the head honchos at headquarters like to position their stores in proximity for this very reason - if I don't like what the first shop offers I am primed and ready for the next shop selling brown boots.

I enter the store and immediately see the boot I like. I also see the sales woman standing at the counter peering at her laptop. I take the shoe off the shelf and look to see what size it is. The saleswoman takes out a highlighter and starts to highlight things that are much more important than customers.

I walk over to her and ask her if she has the boots in my size. My husband asks her if she has a pair of socks that I can try them on with. She says no. It's the only word she has said to us and we're not sure if she's saying no to the socks or the boots.

But then she reluctantly leaves her computer to retrieve the correctly sized boots which she thrusts at me before returning to her desk. I assume the no was for the socks. Clearly she is very busy and far too important to be selling shoes.

In fact she's far too busy to serve customers. This I know because while I am trying on the boots two more customers enter the shop and she ignores them as well.

I'm not suggesting that the woman employed by the company to sell their products should fawn over me or tell me my feet look perfect in the boots. It's just that the sale of product under her watch goes some way to paying her salary. Is it too much to expect her to assist the sale in some way?

Maybe she had really important documents to read and highlight, documents that couldn't wait a single minute. But she lost my sale and the other two customers also walked out empty-handed.

Sadly she's not alone in her refusal to sell the products she's employed to shift, in fact she's just one of the many people I encountered sitting behind their counters that day.

And before you blame Millennials or Generation X or any other group who you'd like to point at, let me assure you that the people refusing to help customers by actively avoiding contact with them, do not belong to one demographic or age group.

This is a retail issue. And with Amazon literally primed to enter the Australian marketplace and completely change the retail landscape surely it's time for bricks and mortar businesses to step up the service a notch.

Somewhere in the race to be competing online it seems likes these businesses have forgotten to train their staff, or at least to incentivise them to do their jobs.

I eventually went online myself where I didn't except any service other than an easy-to-load shopping cart. But I can't help thinking about those people in head office who are wondering why their shoes aren't being sold in their physical outlets.

It's simply because no one is selling them.

Lana Hirschowitz is a blogger, writer and reforming toast lover. You can follow her on Facebook.

Topics:  boots editors picks online shopping retail

News Corp Australia


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