Should we mourn the loss of bricks and mortar retail stores?

It’s no surprise online shopping is replacing bricks and mortar stores.

Were fashion retailers reading BOOMERBROADCAST and actually paying attention? A recent full-page writeup in The Globe and Mail, Video Fashion, by Odessa Paloma Parker got me thinking that somewhere, someone might actually be recognizing that consumers are where the money is in retail. It’s a shocking realization, don’t you think? In the six+ years that I’ve been blogging, retailers and department stores, in particular, have been regular targets of my anger and frustration. With the total lack of constructive sales support and respect for the customer, it’s no wonder the joy of mall shopping has been replaced by letting our fingers do the walking through the internet for someone online who actually cares about earning our business.

The Hudson’s Bay Company is one of the worst offenders. I’ve literally had to stand in the middle of the floor at one of their stores and yell for someone to come and help me. They seem to have one sales associate per store in the suburbs and she’s usually on her break. It’s like being alone in an airport hanger looking for signs of life during a pandemic.

Hello? Does anyone work here? Could you possibly help me?

I’ve suggested retailers forego a couple of ugly sweaters in inventory and use that money to hire additional sales associates to help us put outfits together or source alternative styles and sizes. After years of shaming, emailing, snail-mailing various executives at The Hudson’s Bay Company, nothing changes.

In the British and European department stores, sales associates are everywhere and nothing is too much trouble for them. Nordstrom is somewhat better than most on our side of the Atlantic. I love the way the sales associates at Nordstrom respectfully walk around the counter and graciously hand me my purchase in a quality silver shopping bag rather than just slapping a plastic bag on the counter before attending to the next person in the lineup. Would it not make more business sense for retailers to be paying more attention to their source of income—the customer—rather than less?

In her article, The Globe and Mail’s Odessa Paloma Parker stressed the importance of greater customer engagement. What a radical concept! There’s bound to be payback from having a sales associate show you how a certain blazer or top can be accessorized or the look altered by pushing up the sleeves or turning up the collar. Sometimes all it takes is a little tweak or the addition of an accessory. Canadian brand Comrags is gaining traction by employing their own staff to act as models in-store for their fashions—real people with different body shapes and style approaches. It’s not complicated but it is effective. I know that whenever I walk into a store and an employee is wearing something from their inventory that I like, I inevitably try it on and often purchase.

In-store displays are somewhat helpful but nothing beats the personal touch.

The closest thing to seeing the kind of creative assistance I’ve been advocating for exists in window displays or in-store mannequin displays. That helps for sure but having a knowledgeable sales associate who is fashion-savvy and not pushy would so beneficial. Even having video displays or more floor mannequins of particular brands in their respective departments would help in the absence of live sales associates. There are so many subtle and inexpensive marketing tricks available that are not being utilized. A few comfortable chairs and side tables with fashion magazines or manufacturers’ brochures of the full line would be inspiring. I’m often influenced by the in-store mannequins. Change rooms are improving but what about placing more full-length mirrors throughout each department. That would allow us to place an item of clothing in front of us for a quick appraisal without wandering around looking for one and giving up.

I love the Canadian brand Kaliyana. Even though I’m not tall enough or thin enough to wear most of their fashions, every once in awhile I see something on their Facebook page that grabs my attention. I’m not handy to one of their retail outlets but I can order online, which I have done. My favourite brand of shoes, FitFlop, has me in their thrall with their unbeatable comfort, ever-improving new styles, and great seasonal sales. They’re available in limited styles at Hudson’s Bay. But, rather than wait forever for that sole (get it?) sales associate to become available, only to be told they don’t have my size, I always order online and usually at a better price.

If I were an Instagrammer I’d no doubt have even more options. Since I’m not, I’m managing just fine and doing plenty of damage with what I can source through Amazon, Shopstyle or specific retailers online. Most of my own fashion style inspiration comes from observing street fashion and following certain Facebook and fashion blogs for my baby boomer demographic. They “get” me.

It’s hard to feel sorry for retailers who have ignored the importance of customer service for years and expect us to stay loyal. If only the mall stores paid me a little more attention they’d get me and my business back too. It goes beyond sales staff ambushing us with fake flattery to reel in a commission. It takes a genuine love of fashion, understanding proportion, a sense of taste and willingness to be of honest assistance. I’ll repeat—customer engagement. Here’s hoping more retailers try it. Is anyone listening?

1 Comment

  1. Inkplume 9 March 2020 at 7:52 pm

    We’ve gone from one extreme to another. I remember days when several store staff nearly tripped over each other to ask if they could help. Sometimes one would follow you around, which was more uncomfortable than helpful. I do a little online shopping, but I like to shop in person so I’d hate to see most stores disappear.

    Reply

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