Forget Technology: Most Retailers Still Need To Master The Basics

The retail world is abuzz with discussions and investigations into the latest technologies that can "transform" stores into surefire profit centers that will take back the ground lost to successful e-tailers like Amazon. Few ever really implement new technologies that truly leverage mobile, big data and real cross-channel merchandising. But retailers do spend a lot of time considering — and making it known that they are considering —"tricking out" their stores with the latest and greatest technology to make shopping fun, exciting, meaningful, satisfying, efficient, convenient (choose your adjective).

In reality, many retailers can achieve these same lofty goals without technology, at least initially. They simply need to focus on mastering the basics of customer service and user experience, as did visionaries in the non-tech heyday of retailing (Macy, Field, Wanamaker, Ward, etc.).

I'm a proponent of innovative retail technology, but I'm also the first to admit it will fail if built on a foundation of poor service and apathetic C-level management — all too often the situation today. 

It gets worse when decentralized management (which often seems like a good idea) is structured so that store-level problems are kept from corporate's awareness.

Take Whole Foods: the corporate PR machine spins stories of satisfied customers and innovation like self-guided shopping carts, while store-level service failures get washed away with the tide.

Personal example: after reporting two ongoing issues with a New Jersey store via the corporate website, seven days later(!) an e-mail arrived from the local store's associate store team leader, Darreck. Another eight days passed with nothing resolved, so I placed a call to the Northeast Regional Office, talking to Jason. That inquiry went the way of what can be described as Jason covering for his buddy. Rather than investing more energy (and weeks) into hunting down John Mackey, our grocery shopping has moved elsewhere.

So doesn't it make much more sense for corporate to be sure that their house is in order? Wouldn't investments be better dedicated to focusing on customer desires? That they have a headquarters through checkout aisle management hierarchy that checks and rechecks that consumer needs are always the focus? That they have open and effective channels of customer communication and problem resolution all the way to the top — before ... way, way before ... they delude themselves that tech solutions are the key to customer happiness?


SPIA is a 2012 UX Award Winner!