Thursday, July 24, 2008

Where have all the store employees gone?

While a big part of the Internet’s appeal is that customers can use it anytime anyplace, that doesn’t mean all retail should be self-service. In pursuit of lower costs or eliminating customer lines or wait times, some retailers have hollowed out their stores to the point where there are virtually no employees.

Home Depot has customers doing their own check out. Macy’s installed scanners so customers can do their own price checks on the sales floor. At Target, the digital camera desk is frequently unmanned, and there's no staff in the electronics aisles. Each decision has its own logic, and makes sense in isolation. However...

... As a Best Buy district manager told USA Today, "A lot of this [consumer electronics] stuff is commoditized. So what is the difference? It's our people. It's got to be…As the economy tightens, everyone is going to be lowering price to the lowest possible point, so service becomes the most important differentiator between retailers. It's the reason why a consumer would choose to shop at one over another."

Whether or not you like Best Buy, you gotta give them credit for understanding that shopping in a store is a social experience, and an opportunity for a retailer to strengthen its relationship with its customers.

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