What’s Wrong with Retail?


I am asked this question a lot. Because of my background in retail, people (retailers, suppliers, and even shoppers) seem to want to know my opinion. Realize this, I enjoy watching the art of good retailing. I’m a guy who loves to go shopping, just to be in stores. My wife reminds me, "You’re not consulting today, so take that hat off. We’re here to have fun!" But, most the time, I can’t help myself. I was well-trained in this art and I walk the sales floor with a critical set of eyes.

What’s wrong with retail? Quite simply, it’s too boring, too predictable, and too forgettable.

I had three wonderful mentors in retail — Joe, Mel and my Uncle Lloyd. Joe was my first boss in retail, Mel owned a tremendously successful store in my home town and my Uncle Lloyd owned two shoe stores in Roseburg OR. All of them preached the same message — when customers have fun, they spend more money. Unfortunately most retailers today forget this message. They focus on sale prices, not the customer. They focus on sameness, not passion. And for some reason, they refuse to focus on creating a memorable experience.

We have a local chocolate store. It is a fun place to be, not only for the divine chocolates, but the atmosphere the store creates. It’s fun, you can share a great moment with a friend, and you can enjoy some wonderful chocolate. You, as a customer, create a memory — an experience that you want to repeat. So guess what? We spend money there.

Unfortunately department stores have been overtaken by sameness. Visit Dillards, Marshal Fields, etc. and you get the same rather bland environment. They do nothing to differentiate themselves, they just send out sales flyers. Any you know what? Most customers will pay extra for great service, and a memorable experience. They don’t always need a sale. Look at Kohl’s and how they have recently slipped in business as they become so fixated on sales events. There are other reasons people shop — unless of course you own a Wal-Mart or Target.

Mel Coburn owned a men’s store in my home town. His clothing lines were very expensive, but he had the best sales staff, the best tailor and the best atmosphere of any store in town. As a teenager when I shopped for my father, Mel’s people treated me royally. They loved helping people. Mel was before his time — he kept a running, hand-written, record of every size of his customers as well as a record of purchases. Need a tie for dad? no problem, the last time he bought these color suits, this sports coat, here are some great ties. Boom, ring the register. He mailed regularly and he created an oasis for harried business people. You enjoyed shopping at Mel Coburn’s Men’s store.

So, if you are a retailer, what are you doing to create experience? How are you helping already time-crunched shoppers while they are in your store? Do they find a memorable time that will drive them back? Do you focus on the customer’s heart, rather than trying to be like other stores that are quite frankly, just boring? Believe me, you can do this.


2 Responses to “What’s Wrong with Retail?”

  1. Yesterday, I visited the Apple retail store in Green Hills (Nashville, TN). It was truly a memorable experience. Apple understands the importance of the user-experience when it comes to designing their computers and software. They also understand it when it comes to retail. They had a wonderful kids section to keep the kidos occupied while Mom and Dad shop. They have a “Genius Bar” where you can get your most difficult and vexing tech questions answered. And they display their products in ways that invite you to give them a whirl.
    The retail industry cold learn a lot from Apple.

  2. Jose De Hoyos says:

    You mention in your post Mel Coburn. My father used to be a tailor for a Mel Coburn’s Men Store in San Bernardino, CA. Is this the same Mel you’re talking about?

Leave a Reply

  • Search

Trust is the winsome wedding of faith and hope.

Brennan Manning

©2014 Wayne Hastings. All Rights Reserved. Site by Birdsong Creative.