Independents and customer service

I like to support our local independent retailers. Unfortunately not for the first time they’ve come up short on customer service.

I recall it well. The task in hand was to buy a new mattress. It’s not the sort of thing we buy every day, is it? One in-store poster suggested we should all be changing our mattresses every 8 years. We’d had the one in question for at least 10 years, if not longer. So its days really were numbered. It was time for a change.

You’d have thought that with such an infrequent purchase cycle we’d have been jumped on by the nearest assistant as soon as we entered the shop. This was of course pre-Covid. Not so. It wasn’t as if they were particularly busy that afternoon. In fact, the shop was empty when we arrived. No other customers came in during the 15 minutes or so we were looking around. The shop wasn’t small either, having full displays on two good-sized floors.


The scene

The assistant eventually came over to us but didn’t really seem to understand what to do.

“Who is the mattress for?”

“What size bed is it?”

“Do you have any preferences for type of mattress?”

“And do you have a budget in mind?”

“Have you looked at any of the items we have in our 25% off sale?”

These might have been some of the questions we were asked, but unfortunately, we weren’t asked any of them.


customer service

It was left to us to sort of interrogate the sales assistant. To get basic information out of her. It then got worse. Her answers were vague and unclear. To the extent that when I asked how long their offer was running she could only say “Oh, it might still be on at the weekend.” Although we managed to find something suitable that met our brief, was in stock and was also in the sale (remember the one that might or might not finish at the weekend) we left the shop feeling that we really hadn’t been served at all.

With a bit of time on our hands that afternoon, we jumped back in the car, We drove to an out-of-town Retail Park where we found a national bedding retailer. The assistant was the exact opposite of the one in the first shop. She was quick, friendly and knowledgeable. She pointed out details of their latest sale. And all without being pushy. Not only that but we were able to choose a mattress at an even better price than the one we had intended to buy in the first shop. (The mattress itself was delivered for free just a few days later).


In conclusion

The point of this story is this. Whilst we might want to support our local independent shops they do have to make a bit of an effort to serve us. We accept that they probably can’t compete on product range, or on price. Although they may be able to play the local card that really isn’t enough. I would argue that they have to give more attention to customer service. I wasn’t expecting to be wowed, but I wasn’t expecting a ‘self-service’ approach either. I can after all, get that online.

Maybe there’s something that independents can learn from the national retailers. And it’s around standards of customer service. Or maybe paying closer attention to the shopping behaviour and opinions of their customers would give them some ways to improve.

Unfortunately for them, in this story, the chain store got the sale. I’m sure I’ll give other local independents a try. But when it comes to a new mattress, well in our case they’ll have to wait for at least a few more years yet.

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