Don’t ask me why retail is ailing

The following column is an anonymous everyday consumer look at experiences in the marketplace the columnist feels would benefit marketing people.Anybody out there wondering why retail is suffering? I'm not.On a Sunday afternoon, I went to Large Department Store A.I knew...

The following column is an anonymous everyday consumer look at experiences in the marketplace the columnist feels would benefit marketing people.

Anybody out there wondering why retail is suffering? I’m not.

On a Sunday afternoon, I went to Large Department Store A.

I knew that store had a particular small couch I wanted in its catalogue but a) I didn’t possess a catalogue so I couldn’t order by phone and b) there was no branch near me, so I had travelled 45 minutes across Toronto on public transit specifically to shop in this store.

I went to the catalogue desk. I had never ordered from the store’s catalogue before, so, innocently enough, I said to the person behind the desk: ‘I’d like to order this couch.’

‘Oh, that’s from our out-dated catalogue (which was still sitting on the counter), but you can check and see if they still have any in stock,’ the store clerk said. ‘You have to call in the order yourself. Use that direct line phone over there.’

‘Okay.’ (So why are you here?)

Ring, ring. ‘I’d like to order this couch. Do you have any left?’

‘Yes,’ said the voice on the other end of the line. ‘What’s the number of your This Store credit card?’

‘I don’t have one. Here’s my Mastercard number.’

‘I can’t do Mastercard sales and I can’t take c.o.d. sales on such a large item as we’ve had problems in the past. Tell the people at the catalogue desk to ring the sale through as pre-paid and to call the order through themselves.’

‘Okey-dokey.’ (Distinct note of irritation in my voice.)

To catalogue desk people: Blah blah. ‘This is what she told me to do. I want to pay by Mastercard.’

‘This store doesn’t take Mastercard.’

‘You’re kidding, right?’

‘No.’

‘So what you’re telling me is that I’ve used this card in tiny shops in the South Pacific and the Far East but I can’t use it at a major North American department store in the middle of the largest city in Canada?’

‘I’m afraid not. Do you want to apply for an instant This Store credit card?’

‘No, I have enough trouble keeping tabs on one piece of plastic. I’ll go to the bank machine and pay cash.’

Blank stares. ‘But I don’t know how to do a pre-paid. Do you, Lorraine?’

‘No, Babs.

(To me:) ‘This is Sunday. We’re skeleton staff. Come back tomorrow and Eunice will ring it through for you.’

‘But, I live half-way across town.’

‘Well, I’m sorry, ma’am, but we don’t know how to process this sale.’

Moral: h.q. can devote itself wholeheartedly to its new focus on customer service, but if the people on the floor are not given the tools to carry through on it, the customer is still going to leave the store in a snit.

Reader participation time. How many of you think I schlepped back across town to buy the couch from Eunice? Raise your hands.