My love/hate relationship with The Hudson’s Bay Company (comparable to Macy’s in the United States) just took a turn. I want to scream “I told you so”. When I heard the news they’re laying off thousands of people in response to declining sales I felt an immense sense of sadness for the sales associates who work there at low wages and will be losing their jobs. But what about the customers? In all matters relating to retail, the number one factor that gets ignored in the equation is the customer. The experts and execs say the cuts are necessary because customers are resorting to on-line shopping. No bloody wonder.
I love The Hudson’s Bay Company and have their limited edition Barbie doll to prove it. As Canada’s oldest retailer (350 years+), Hudson’s Bay has been my default department store since the days when Robert Simpson Company occupied their stores. Over the years, I’ve written snail mail letters to the executives, emailed store managers and blogged about their abysmal customer service. Obviously they weren’t listening to me—the customer—after all, what do I know? Shopping at Hudson’s Bay Company is an experience right up there with shopping at Costco, minus the giant carts. Their stores offer an overwhelming inventory of great, good and not-so-good merchandise, crammed into unimaginative space with minimal eye-appealing merchandising, no visible sales associates to help customers and tiring lineups at the few available check-outs. What’s crucial is we expect better from Hudson’s Bay.
The bean counters have deemed that the problem with The Hudson’s Bay Company can be solved by reducing the payroll. Brilliant! That’s like closing the barn door after the horses have left. And replacing them with wooden replicas. I’m going to really love shopping at a store where the service is even worse (is that even possible?) than before. As the humble generator of business and the total raison d’être for Hudson’s Bay to exist, I, the customer would once again like to offer my suggestions for improving sales and ultimately the bottom line:
- Audit and edit your merchandise. Get rid of the crap no one wants to buy. Pare down inventory. This might require editing your buyers as well. Are your buyers truly tuned in to your customers?
- Use the money saved from getting rid of excess inventory to hire more sales associates to help me find sizes, assist with “looks” and suggest options.
- Put these new additional sales associates on the floor to actually help customers, not just be chained to the checkout desk attending to lineups.
- Expand the use of tasteful displays and mannequins. I’m often inspired to purchase by creative merchandising displays. Downtown flagship stores are lovely but suburban mall stores frequently resembles a jumble sale. Make the shopping experience more (dare it say it?) enjoyable. Unfortunately . . . see Item 2.
- Pay your staff enough that they enjoy what they’re doing and take pride in being a sales associate. Provide better training. Paying overworked sales associates minimum or low wages only causes resentment. This can be financed by following Item 1 above.
Amp up the store environment. Improve strategic lighting and deep six the blanket fluorescent lights treatment. How about placing a few comfortable chairs with side tables offering inspirational fashion brochures from manufacturers or current fashion magazines. Maybe some videos of how to put outfits together?
- Send employees to the Nordstrom school of retail training.
- Always search above and beyond what’s available on the floor. When you don’t have my size, offer to find it. See Item 7 above.
- Don’t ever forget who ultimately pays your bills—me, the customer.
- Check with your customers once in a while to see how we’re doing? In all my fifty-plus years of department store shopping, I’ve never once had a retailer ask me what I want. It would be so easy to survey customers through accounts or on-line. I’d love to have the opportunity of being heard by serving on a customer council.
As someone who once worked for Eaton’s at their College Street store in Toronto, I have experience on both sides of the counter. Is anyone listening? Or are your customers irrelevant? Therein lies the problem. I told you so.
Here are some links to previous blog postings about Hudson’s Bay and general retail concerns:
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