Business Issues  



Retailers Respond to Consumer Complaints

MY PREVIOUS COLUMN, “WHY DON’T PEOPLE BUY MORE FURNITURE” PROVOKED SUGGESTIONS FROM SEVERAL OF OUR READERS THAT I CONTACT A RANDOM SAMPLING OF US RETAILERS, RANGING FROM NATIONAL CHAINS TO LOCAL INDEPENDENT DEALERS, TO SEE HOW THEY WOULD RESPOND. IT WAS A GREAT IDEA. HERE ARE SOME OF THE RESPONSES I RECEIVED. I HAVE CHOSEN TO MAKE THEM ANONYMOUS.

By Joseph F. Carroll


OVERLY AGGRESSIVE OR INQUISITIVE SALES PERSONNEL:

An owner of a national retail chain replied, “We are here to assist people, not harass them.” A local dealer says his salespeople are asked to greet customers, find out what they are interested in, then let them look around on their own, checking with them periodically to see if they need help. Most salespeople work on commission, on what is called the “UP” system. (The first sales person to arrive in the morning gets the first customer and rotates with the other sales people throughout the day). All stores said that their salespeople would be glad to answer questions whether or not it was their customer. One store manager expressed it this way, It’s the sales associate’s job to transform a customer’s dreams and ideas into their own personal living space. The sales associate must be part designer, part business adviser and literally part marriage counselor. It’s important that they ask the right questions, make efficient use of the customer’s time and present solutions that meet the customer’s style and budget requirements.” Some customers complain about being asked to fill out a registration card before they can begin shopping. This information is used for marketing purposes to determine if the retailer’s advertising is reaching its target audience and how the customer found out about the store. Customers can opt out of this request and are free to walk around the store on their own if they wish.

SALES PEOPLE TOO OFTEN LACK PRODUCT KNOWLEDGE:


Every store I spoke with agreed that their main goal is to have good, knowledgeable salespeople. Most stores hold constant training sessions which often include a presentation from the manufacturer’s sales representative. Today, more and more stores are hiring only experienced professionals with design degrees, sales or industry background. One national chain requires that its sales associates complete a nine-day training course, followed by a six-month intensive training program. At stores where the average salesperson has worked there 15-20 years, less time is spent on the “basics” and more time devoted to familiarizing themselves with new product.

One store manager told me, “We train our people to listen – to find out what the customer wants. He pointed out that today’s customer is bettereducated than ever before. They have studied the home decorating magazines for ideas, searched the Internet; gained ideas from their friends’ homes, hotels and vacation resorts.” His advice to the customer is “Don’t come in to the store intent on buying a specific item. Tell your salesperson what you are looking for, about how much you want to spend and let them find it for you.”

WHY DOES ONE SOFA COST MORE WHEN IT LOOKS JUST LIKE A LOWERPRICED SOFA?

One retailer explains it to his customer this way: “Although two sofas may look alike, several factors influence the cost. Very likely the fabric may be more expensive. Unseen costs lie in the construction, such as eight-way hand-tied vs. drop-in spring units, the type of wood used in the frame, etc.”

The same philosophy applies to wood furniture. One dealer likes to say to his customer, “You can’t imagine the steps necessary to build a quality piece of furniture. For example, over 1000 steps are required to produce a single, quality dresser.”

WHY IS FURNITURE ALWAYS ON SALE?

Various stores have different responses to this question. The larger, national chains import their own furniture under their own brand name in order to offer lower prices than the competition. They believe in everyday low pricing. Other stores believe it is more effective to conduct several major store-wide sales each year. An upper end independent retailer I spoke with chooses to operate on low margins. They take the wholesale cost and place their margin on it, rather than taking the suggested retail selling price and working down to a sale price.

WHY CAN’T RETAILERS GIVE A DELIVERY DATE AND TIME YOU CAN RELY ON?

The retailers all agreed that delivery is one of the industry’s major sore spots. Better furniture is a custom product, ranging from a large selection of woods and wood finishes and hardware to thousands of different fabric grades, colors and patterns. Every piece of furniture goes through a supply chain. When the dealer places his order, he is relying upon the manufacturer to either have the fabric in stock or to be able to quickly order it from his distributor. These variables alone make it difficult to know the exact date the sofa will be assembled at the factory. Then the manufacturer faces the problem of transportation. Can the the carrier be depended upon to deliver the order on the specified date – and, most importantly, undamaged? One solution to ease the customer’s anxiety is for the dealer to send out automatic weekly status email updates and contact the customer directly when there is going to be a delay.

It is ironic that today’s furniture offers better quality, a greater variety of styles and looks, and lower prices, than at any time in the past 30 years. It all boils down to how well we we communicate its value to the customer.


JOE CARROLL,
former Publisher of Furniture/Today, is co-founder of the International Alliance of Furnishings Publications. He is an international marketing consultant. He can be reached at joecarroll@ triad.rr.com