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.”

CX / UX: why one etailer won a £500 order and the other one didn’t

Exec summary:  the nugget to chew on

Make it easy for potential buyers to buy from you.  How?  Take the time to understand how people buy.  Design your interaction interfaces and the supporting infrastructure to enable just that.  And that is not enough.  You have to care! Why caring provides the fuel that generates insight and enables actions that make the buyers life easier.  It is the source of “wow”. This is particularly important on digital channels.  Why? Because the buyer, the customer, cannot easily tell you if the interaction is not working for him.

What is the fundamental principle of good customer experience design?

Work with human nature so that ‘effort’ does not show up in the (target) customer’s mind.  Steve Krug wrote a book and I believe the title was ‘Don’t Make Me Think’ – that is exactly it.

What is that we tend to overlook, to get wrong, in customer experience design?

We are not present to non-linearity: that little things can have a huge impact. So we don’t pay attention to the little details, we assume that they don’t matter. We fail to do what Steve Jobs did relentlessly – go for perfection and ensure that each of the little details was taken care of.  Isn’t that the essence of design – to take care of the details so that 2+ 2 = 200 in the users world?

Now that you have the nugget you can leave (and get on with life) or you can come along with me on my latest customer experience with two etailers (PC World, Comet).

My experience of buying a television online

You may remember that I bought a television from Amazon: the television was faulty and the returns experience a most interesting one. I thought I had got away with it and I did for several weeks.  And then my family were on my back about having a bigger television.  So I took another like at requirements, did some research and narrowed my search down to one television.

Who do I buy it from? Using a comparison site I got a list of sellers and prices.  First, I ruled out Amazon – as a result of my last experience I made a decision not to buy bulky stuff from Amazon.  Second, I narrowed my list down to three vendors: PC World, Comet and Dixons.  Why?  All three of them are selling it at the same price and all three of them are notable brands – I can’ tell them apart.

I start buying from PC World

Clearly I had a preference, I just did not know it consciously.  How do I know I had a preference? Because I went to buy from PC World.  Is that something to do with the helpful chap who went beyond the call of duty last time I visited PC World?  Or could it be that the PC World logo stands out more than the other two logos?  Or is it that I have it that PC World is more modern than the other two?  Or is it that PC World was at the top of the list? I suspect one or all of these factors played its part.

The comparison site did its job and I arrived at the at the PC World site I was all ready to buy. This is what I saw and I was pleased with what I saw:

The web page was well laid out, easy to see and understand. Comfortable with what I saw I hit the “Checkout” button; it stands out – someone has been thinking about the design, I say to myself.  And I end up here:

My automatic reaction: “For goodness sake, why have you put this here. This should not be here!  Let me get on with buying the television.” As I am not an existing customer I hit the “continue” button under the “new customer” section of the web page.  And I ended up here:

Why would a sane customer experience / ux designer put this here?  It simply occurred as an obstacle – too much effort! And it showed up as “I am not here to populate your CRM system, I’m here to buy a television. And you’re not letting me so I’m going elsewhere!

I arrive at the Comet site

As I have my comparison site web page open, I hit the button for Comet and arrive at this page:

I love this layout:
it occurs as simple, cleaner and focussed on my needs.  I have high expectations and hit the home delivery button.  The next page asks me for my postcode.  I type in 7 digits and the webpage throws open a list of addresses on my street.  I pick mine: Freshfields.  Easy.  Once I have done that, this page turns up:

“Fantastic”, that is my reaction. 
The layout appeals to me: I like the way that information is presented.  Notice, it is easy for me to choose the delivery option that best suits me.  Notice, all the relevant details are well laid out: the product that I am buying; the price; the address it is to be delivered to.  And notice that the x-selling of products and services is related to the product that I am buying AND does not get in the way of me buying.  For example, it only takes up a small portion of the web page and I do not have to untick any boxes: no effort required!

I make my delivery selection and hit the “continue” button and I arrive here:

Now I am in awe. 
I absolutely love the thought that went into the design of the customer experience, the purchasing process.  Notice that the designers have taken the information I supplied/confirmed (postcode, house name) and pre-populated the form so that I only need to supply the missing information!  What is my thought at this point? “How thoughtful!”  I supply the rest of the details and hit the “continue” button.

I arrive at the “Payment” screen – again this is excellently laid out.  I select one of the pre-defined, well presented (images) payment options.  The designers have been thoughtful again:  by ticking the box which says that my delivery address is the same as my credit card address, I avoid the need to enter my address again.  I supply the credit card details and viola: up pops the order/payment confirmation screen.  This screen is also well laid out and plays back all of the key information: product, price, delivery address, delivery date, order confirmation number. And it shows my email address and tells me that an email confirmation has been sent to this address.  I open up my email and sure enough all the relevant details are there.  Fantastic!


Comet got my order because they made it EASY for me to buy. Specifically, the designers behind the Comet site:

  • have studied / thought about how people buy – in detail.  And then they have designed the buying process to work with human nature.  In the real world, I’d turn up at the store, choose the television, tell the salesperson what I wanted to buy and pay. Ask if they would deliver it to my home, when they could deliver it and how much delivery would cost.  If I am happy then I would pay.  Then I’d end the encounter by supplying the delivery address and asking for paperwork as proof of our agreement.
  • have given considerable thought to how to reduce the effort that customers have to put into buying.  This includes: the layout (look, feel, structure) of the web pages; the sequencing of the web pages; the content displayed on each page; and using information that the customer has supplied so that the customer is not asked for and thus does not have to enter the same information twice.

The designers behind the PC World site have clearly not done their homework – they have not looked at the buying process through customer eyes.  And so they have put up a big barrier to purchasing right up front.  I wonder how much revenue PC World are losing by working against the grain of human nature?

Questions for you

  1. How much effort have you spent observing, studying, questioning the process that your target customers go through to purchase the products/services you are selling?
  2. Have you designed the purchase process such that it works effortlessly for your target customers and they are left with a pleasant experience?
  3. Have you rigorously tested this purchase process to make sure it actually conforms to the design specification (“the customer experience”)?
  4. What are you doing on an ongoing basis to spot the flaws and the opportunities to improve the customer experience?
  5. Are you allowing and encouraging users / prospects / customers to let you know what is and is not working for them?

Customer Experience: 6 lessons from personal experience

The Post Office: the personal touch makes a huge difference

My son is an eager eBay trader and had a large bunch of parcels to post.  Being an empathic human being (most of us are) I decided to help him out.  I took eleven parcels and headed to the local post office – which just happens to reside in the back of the local grocery store.  Truth be told I don’t particularly like going to this local post office because the grocery store is rather dull, the people behind the counter don’t greet anyone coming into the store and I have to navigate around people and shelves to get to the post office counter and inevitably there is queue.  This time I timed it perfectly and there was no queue.

The woman behind the counter greeted me with a smile and we struck up a conversation – a plain old-fashioned conversation.  I shared that I was helping out my son who loves business – buying, selling, dealing with customers, earning a fair reward for his risk taking and hard work.  She went on to tell me that she knew my son, that he’s  such a gentlemen, that he helps out at the local charity shop, that he is likely to be a millionaire.  What really touched me was “You should be proud of him!” Our conversation took around fifteen minutes – it takes that long to ship eleven parcels.  By the time I left the place we were both smiling and each of us wished the other well – genuinely.  I am still smiling inside and out and I can clearly picture that woman in my mind and she has a place in my heart.

Lesson 1:  never underestimate the power of the human touch to deliver a great customer experience and build goodwill between your customers and your organisation

McDonald’s: there is more to good design than making stuff look pretty

My ten year old daughter turned 11 this week and where did she want to go for her evening meal?  McDonald’s.  So that is where we headed and when we got there (around 7pm) it was almost empty.  Whilst my daughter was ordering for the family I was busy taking in the look and feel of the ‘restaurant’.  I got the green, healthy thing by looking at the furniture and the menus.  I also noticed that the seating area was smaller as a young childrens play area had been put into one end of the store.  Whilst I got that the place was in tune with ‘green, healthy, children, family’ mantra I could not help but notice that it felt cold.

With the food trays in our hands we headed to the seating area where the five of us could sit together – two on either side (on the wooden benches) and one to the side on a round stool.  Getting seated was harder than you might imagine.  I had to navigate around the round stool and slide onto the bench on one side of the table.  It was not easy, I struggled – there was not enough room between the bench and the table!  Then we found that we could not place our food trays on the table.  Once I got past my frustration I realised that McDonald’s had reduced the width and the length of the tables. And reduced the distance between the tables and the wooden benches on either side.  I did not enjoy the eating experience and was delighted when we left.

Lesson 2: there is a lot more to human-centred design than looks – you also have to make it easy for your customers to easily (and comfortably) do what they came to do

Radissan SAS: deliver the core services that your customer expects

Whilst I was doing some consulting work in Ireland I stayed at a Radissan SAS.  The hotel was ideally placed for work – only twenty minutes walk from the client’s offices.  The bedroom was clean and spacious. The hotel had free wi-fi, room service was prompt and the hotel staff were friendly and helpful whenever I approached them for some request.  So why am I writing about them?  What are the some of the key moments on the customer journey?  Let me suggest a few: arrival and check in; getting a good nights sleep; breakfast and dinner; and checking-out. I noticed that each time I came to check in (it was in the late evening) there was no-one at the check-in desk and no instructions on how to get hold of someone.  On several occasions there was no-one to ‘great me and seat me’ for breakfast and dinner.  Yet, what ‘upset’ me the most was not being able to get a good nights sleep.  Why?  Because I found that the pillows did not work for me.  I could not help thinking why the Radissan does not offer the option of different types of pillow.

Lesson 3: customers hire you to provide services, figure out what these services are (it is not that hard, really) and get them right including building in flexibility so that you can treat different customers differently.

Santander: be human and helpful

I rang up Santander to request a new chequebook and pretty quickly got through to a friendly chap.  He was patient and friendly with me whilst I walked about the house finding all the stuff I needed to get through the security details.  When I mentioned that I was not in a hurry but I might be driving up his AHT we told me to relax and take my time.  And we talked about call-centres – he works in one and I help improve the way call-centres work to improve the customer experience.  Once he had ordered the chequebook I was ready to say thank you and hang up.  My friend on the other end was not finished.  He had noticed that I had failed the IVR security check and so he asked me if I wanted him to send me over new security details that would allow me to navigate the IVR.  He went further and told me how I could work the IVR in case of certain scenarios – information that I found useful.  Most of all I really appreciated that he was helping me rather than selling stuff to me.

Lesson 4: put yourself in your customer’s shoes and provide information, advice and tools that help your customer – do this without being asked, sense the need/opportunity and resond appropriately.

PC World: don’t assume, check

I order the wrong PC fan from Amazon and did not have time to send it back and wait for a new one.  The issue was not the fan but the connector.  So I headed to the nearest PC World superstore and started to look for a converter – something that would allow me to convert a three pin into a four pin.  I found something that looked like it might work.  Wanting to make sure that it did work I headed to the service/repair desk and asked for help.  The chap on the other side of the desk was cheerful and helpful.  He categorically assured me that it would work so I opened the bag an tried fitting the converter onto the fan – it did not work.

The chap behind the desk got into action. He left his counter and went looking for other converters.  He found one and told me that it should work – I opened the bag tested it out and it did not fit.  The friendly chap recognised his mistake, took his time and found another converter.  He was categorical: this will work – no doubt about it.  I tested it out: it should have worked but it did not work the designs were compatible but bits of stuff got in the way and so the converter would not fit onto the fan cable.  The friendly chap was not put off – he went to work and found another converted.  This time he opened up the bag and tested it out with my fan.  It worked!  I thanked him – truly grateful for his help – and left the store.  Next time I needed something I headed to that exact store and looked for that friendly chap.

Lesson 5: don’t assume, check – build a prototype, try it out, check what does and does not work, refine until it does work; and remember what should work in theory does not necessarily work in practice.

Lesson 6: if you want to cultivate gratitude and generate repeat business then focus on being totally committed to helping your customer get his needs met.

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