Charles Howden

December 11, 2006

Do warm customers buy more?

Filed under: Customer Service — Charles @ 9:27 pm

If you work in Woolworth’s you may not have noticed that Christmas shopping has already started in earnest, OK, cheap shot, their national sales figures are down by seven and a half percent so their staff may not be experiencing a frenzy of activity. I was in London through the weekend so I got to experience Oxford Street in full Christmas swing. Selfridges were offering 20% off, Debenhams similar, Next, up to 30%, which got me wondering whether they were cannibalising their own sales figures or taking customers from other stores. Given the collective push, the whole Oxford street shopping area is probably competing for their customers with out of town shopping centres.

So on Saturday afternoon, after a canteen lunch on Brick Lane (fast, easy, sit-down, at Sweet’nSpicey, two Indian meals for a fiver, can recommend it,) we set off, shopping list in hand. First stop, not on the list, was at the Atlantis Gallery, hired for the weekend for a handbag sale. Bright, welcoming lots of space with boutique clobber for sale. I was pleased I hadn’t just bought a two hundred pound bag for two hundred pounds. Seeing it marked down to £50 might have left me feeling a bit bruised.

With only one checkout for a large room full of people the queue could only be long, combined with no facility to use a charge or credit card; who carries that much cash around with them these days? There was a large pile of identical gloves piled up by the till, “how much are these please?” (I had a pair too) “Forty pounds” and so my pair added to the growing pile. Even if I had thought that their sale value to me was forty pounds (I didn’t), I didn’t happen to be walking around with a bundle of cash or a chequebook. If I had see that they were forty pounds when I first picked them up, I would have left them there, and been happy. That I had picked them up (they were unpriced), considered how great they would have been for my goddaughter, and only then discovered the price, I then have a sense of disappointment to add to the experience. Never smart to disappoint customers or to make it difficult for them to pay.

Then down to the small boutique style shops on Cheshire Street, shops taking the style of a converted front room in a Victorian terraced cottage. “Please knock,” said the sign, “not sure if I can be bothered” was my internalised response. We did, and after an irritating pause the door did open and we managed to gain access to the shop where everything was just a little too much trouble for the pre-occupied sales assistant. Placing obstacles to potential customers has never been on my list of smart things for retailers to do. Security on the door of a Sloane street designer store may add to its allure, especially if you can see the goodies through a large plate-glass window. Knock and wait procedure at the other end of town, where customers may have lots of other places to walk into doesn’t work for me.

Walking through the Dray Walk, where Cafe1001 was heaving with customers inside and out, we noticed two wharehousey spaces either side of the Big Chill. The first space was badged up as “fair trade” merchandise. We wandered in. None of the stallholders seemed particularly keen to sell us anything, though they all seemed to have a warm glow about them. Perhaps that’s the unique selling point of “fair trade” clothing, it’s part of joining a club; you are supposed to get a warm sanctimonious feeling when you buy it, even if it doesn’t look that nice or fit well. Like most clubs, you have to apply to join and we couldn’t find an application form, or anyone to give it to.

The second space, on the other side of the Big Chill, offered a completely different experience. Big windows, well-lit, shiny, music, lots of merchandise, except as we walked in we noticed a sign that read, “entrance £1”. So that’s a charge of one pound so that I can come in as consider buying your goods. Hmm, interesting approach I thought. We weren’t being offered a coffee, or a seat, just admittance, so we declined. Curiously, I felt less affronted by being asked to pay a pound to get into a sales environment that did look vaguely promising, than I did being asked earlier to knock on a dark wooden front door and wait while someone got around to letting us in.

One of the highlights of the weekend shopping was at the end of Sunday afternoon when we were looking for somewhere to eat. Actually we knew where we were going. Busaba Eathai on Store Street, just off Tottenham Court road, is a restaurant that specialises in fast Thai food. Lovely friendly environment recently kitted out in dark brown tables and benches. Warm half lighting, lots of helpful staff, minimal waiting around, huge choice of food served up promptly. Can’t recommend it highly enough, and all for twelve quid a head including a Singa beer.

On the way out I noticed it. On the pavement along side the restaurant, where a queue often forms (well it is very popular) were a line of those outdoors heaters. Those tall gas lit heaters designed to keep you warm when you’re standing around outside at a party wishing you were inside. Heaters to keep their waiting customers warm before they get their seat inside. Now that’s what I call service. Do warm customers buy more? Who cares, nice thoughts like that go along way. We’ll certainly be back.


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