Customer Experience: why haven’t more retailers gone bust?

Plenty of UK based retailers have failed during the course of 2012

According to the Centre for Retail Research, some of the bigger names that have failed in 2012 include:

  • JJB Sports – the struggling sportswear retailer with 4,000 staff and 180 stores;
  • Game Group –  largest specialist video game retailer in Europe with 1,300 stores and 10,000 employees;
  • Clinton Cards  – 628 Clinton and 139 Birthdays stores,  8,500 employees;
  • Julian Graves – natural food store,  around 189 stores and 755 employees (mostly part-time);
  • Allders of Croydon – third-largest department store in the UK, 300 employees;
  • Peacocks –fashion chain, 550 stores and 9,600 employees;
  • La Senza – lingerie retailer with 146 stores and 2,600 employees;
  • Past Times – modern antique-based business selling retro Wm Morris, Pre-Raphaelite etc merchandise, 100 stores and around 1000 employees.
  • Blacks Leisure – outdoor sports, camping and recreational stores, there are 98 Blacks stores, 208 Milletts shops and 3,885 employees.

These failures come on top of another notable list of failures in 2011: Auto-Windscreens, Barratts (shoe chain), MFI (furniture retailer),Comet (electrical retailer), Jane Norman (womens fashion chain), Habitat (homeware), Focus (DIY chain), Oddbins (wine retailer)…..

As ‘bad’ as this may seem, I continue to ask myself: why haven’t more retailers failed?  Are you wondering why I ask this question?  Let me share some recent experiences with you.

I turn up at Currys keen to buy and leave disappointed

My sister needed a laptop and she didn’t have the confidence to buy the right one.  After quizzing her I found out that she needed a basic computer for her and young son.  As time was short, I did not have the luxury of buying online and waiting several weeks (my perception) for the laptop to arrive.  So I did something that I do not do often – go to a physical retail store.

After browsing for a while at the local Currys store (formerly a Dixon store) I selected the right laptop.  And whilst there were a number of sales folks in the store, there was no person there to help me.  So I approached the chap at the counter, he listened and went to the stock room.  On returning, he told me that the laptop on display was the last one in stock.  Noticing my reluctance to say “Yes, I’ll take it!”, he offered to take 10% of the price, I didn’t bite.  It was what come next that surprised me.

This helpful sales chap accessed his computer system and told me that a number of stores around the area had that particular model in stock.  Yet, he did not offer me the option of placing my order there and then and having the laptop delivered to me, say, the next day.   I may have been delighted or at least satisfied with that option.

The Strategist and Customer Experience consultant in me, cries out: “Why not?  Why are you making it hard for me to buy from you?”  Furthermore, I ask myself: “Why do you have a product on display that you are not in a position to make available to the customer who wants to buy it?”   So I left that store disappointed, my need/desire to buy a laptop thwarted by retailers who simply do not think/act in terms of the customer experience.  Retailers who are still flogging products and who do not think/act multi-channel.  I could not help asking myself: “Why has this store not gone bust?”

I turn up at PC World and experience frustration

It was the last day before I was due to travel over and see my sister.  So I was clear that I absolutely had to find the right laptop and walk out of the store with it.  The PC World store that I walked into occurred as huge and left me with the impression that the store would have what I was looking for.  After browsing a little while I found the right laptop.  Great, now how do I buy it?

I looked for sales assistants and I could not see any.  So I walked several aisles and found someone that looked like a sales assistant.  He told me that it was not his job and would find the right person for me, then walked away.  I waited and waited.  I remember thinking “If I did not have to buy this laptop, I would not wait any longer!”.   Some 10 minutes later someone did arrive.  He has helpful and yet it struck me that he was not in any hurry to get what I was looking for: our perspectives on time were out of sync.

Once he returned from the stockroom he got busy cross-selling software.  Given my experience of ‘having to fend for myself’ and ‘being at the mercy of the store and their way of doing things’ which did not match my needs, I was no mood to listen to the sales pitch.  I paid and was delighted to have accomplished my mission.

As I was leaving I wondered “What is the point of having such a big store if you don’t put in place the sales assistant to make it easy for customers to buy?”  And again I asked myself “How is it that this store/retailer has not gone bust?”

Kristin Zhivago has the answer to my question

In her book Roadmap to Revenue, Kristin writes:

“Companies always make it too difficult for buyers to do business with them…....

So often, it is the determination of the buyer, and the intensity of the buyer’s need, that completes the sale, rather than any assistance that the seller offers.”

Author: Maz Iqbal

Experienced management consultant. Passionate about enabling customer-centricity by calling forth the best from those that work in the organisation and the intelligent application of digital technologies. Subject matter expert with regards to customer strategy, customer insight, customer experience (CX), customer relationship management (CRM), and relationship marketing. Working at the intersection of the Customer, the Enterprise (marketing, sales, service), and Technology.

7 thoughts on “Customer Experience: why haven’t more retailers gone bust?”

  1. The larger companies you refer above are the ones who are working out of a default future, with employees resigned to the outcome of that future. The Corporation`s need to complete past issues & involve their employees in creation of a future which would excite & involve them. Enabling true commitment from all & a future with great Potential.


    1. Hello Gautam

      I find myself to be in complete agreement with you. Yes, it is the future that calls to us that gives us being in the moment – in the present. And it has to be a future that works for all, none excluded. That is the heart of the matter is it not? For all – when the dominant way of being in the world for managers is to work the system for themselves and their masters – the shareholders.



  2. Maz,

    On the other side of the equation I was very surprised when Habitat went under. I always found their service to be good and their product range to be great. I guess we don’t see what goes on behind the scenes. I would be very surprised if the Curry’s of this world have a sound financial position, but you never know until they go bust.



    1. Hello James
      Thanks for bringing this up. It should make us question our devotion to the shiny object of the moment: the product, the service, the experience? I have been reflecting on this and it occurs to me that ‘reality’ is a lot more complex then we are condemned to simplify it to be. Perhaps, the fashion, the mood of the times changed, and we become less interested in homeware and more interested in electronics. What do you think?



  3. Hi Maz,
    It’s interesting to me to see that firms can’t see that it is their own system(s) that get in the way of them doing busness and delivering the experience that they say they want to deliver.

    Firms need to realise that from time to time much of what they have built will no longer be fit for purpose and needs to be changed. However, myopia seems to be pervasive in many firms and, I fear, that it will only be a matter of time before more firms fail as customers vote with their wallets.



    1. Hello Adrian

      Like you, I am puzzled by how businesses/organisations are ‘blind’ to the customer’s experience of their organisation.

      Yet, what puzzles me more is how many businesses get away with delivering a poor customer experience. Is it that here in the UK we are not that demanding? Or is it that the fuse is lit and it is simply a matter of time before more companies die?

      What I can say is that the ‘internal centred mindset’ is strong and pervasive.



  4. I visited the PC World store in Livingston and expressed interest in a certain touchscreen desktop pc to a sales assistant. He had a look along the display of desktops and told me they didn’t have that particular model and walked away. I walked to the top of the isle and lo and behold saw the desktop I had been interested in on display just round the corner and several boxes of the pc beneath the one on display!!!!!! Yes how do stores like this remain in business when the staff working are not very helpful.


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