Lousy customer service sank Best Buy and Sears, not the Internet

Customers choose retailers that respect them

Customers shopping at Sears' Vancouver store on March 9, 2012 (Photo: Simon Hayter/Profit)

Customers shopping at Sears’ Vancouver store on March 9, 2012 (Photo: Simon Hayter/Profit)

More than 1,600 retail workers lost their jobs on Jan. 31, as Sears Canada laid off employees and Best Buy Canada closed 15 big box stores. Retail experts quickly blamed the increase on Internet shopping and the imminent arrival of Target in Canada for the job losses. But Best Buy and Sears wouldn’t be vulnerable to these threats if not for a more fundamental problem: Lousy customer service. The big story in Canadian retail right now isn’t really about the rise of e-commerce or a new competitor. It’s that one of the central tenets of shopping—the customer is always right—is once again a life or death commandment.

Customers, of course, are not infallible. But the “customer is always right”—coined either by Marshall Field or Harry Selfridge—suggests shopkeepers must always remember that they exist to serve consumers, not the other way around. But shopping at a Best Buy, or one of the company’s Future Shop locations, is most often an exercise in annoyance rather than respect. Customers complain that sales staff were difficult to find and unknowledgeable or pushy when they did materialize. Sears suffered similar problems; in some locations, you are more likely to spot a Yeti than a sales associate. Both Best Buy and Sears trailed far behind competitors like Costco and Sam’s Club in pleasing their patrons, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), an annual survey of 70,000 shoppers. More tellingly, they also scored far behind Amazon. And so, yes, customers are fleeing big box stores because shopping online is more convenient and cheaper. But they’re also switching to a competitor that actually treats them better.

Target also received exemplary grades from customers. As Richard Warnica explained in a recent issue of Canadian Business, the American chain has built its brand on offering a pleasant, enjoyable shopping experience. Each aisle in a Target store is wide enough to accommodate two shopping carts side-by-side and there’s no annoying Muzak. Marketing professor Robert Kozinets told Warnica: “Department stores aren’t known for being pleasant, but Target manages to do that.”

This is where the opportunity is now for brick-and-mortar retailers. They may not be able to compete with e-commerce for inventory, convenience or cost, but they can offer atmosphere, service and expertise. Consider Apple stores, with their Genius Bars dedicated to helping Luddites navigate technology, or Lululemon, where friendly staff ease first-timers into their yoga pants. Neither the Internet nor Target killed Best Buy and Sears. They just gave consumers a chance to flee to stores where they were, once again, always right.

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9 comments on “Lousy customer service sank Best Buy and Sears, not the Internet

  1. Very bad customer service…should have kept our service in Canada..oh well that’s what happens when these company’s get to greedy!

  2. Terrible customer service. Worst company ever to deal with


    Would never use Sears again!

    We ordered a stove (almost $2,000) and we were promised it would be delivered on Thursday between 5:00 PM and 9:00 PM. The delivery guys were supposed to call us before they arrive.

    No call, no delivery.

    We called at 9:15 and were told that they contact the truck by cell and that they would be 15 minutes. The same info was give at 9:30 and at 9:50. At 9:50 wee were told to call back in 15 minutes if they didn't show. They did not. Called back in 15 minutes as instructed and – guess what – the call centre is closed!

    Why tell us to call back in 15 minutes when they know they would be closed???????

    No delivery by 11:30 PM (2.5 hours late) so we went to bed.

    Called back at 8:00 when they opened, on hold for 25 minutes and the less than useful "customer service rep". first said that the truck broke down. at 11:00 PM. She said the driver called into the centre at 11:00 PM to report it – the call centre closed at 10:00 PM! And why – if our delivery was to be between 5:00 PM and 9:00 PM wasn't the stove delivered by 11:00 PM??

    The "customer service rep" couldn't follow that logic and was very confused.

    Then we asked why the driver didn't call us when they would be late – the "customer service rep" said that they didn't have cell phones.

    Hold on – we were told 4 times that the had contacted the driver by phone regarding our delivery the night before, then the driver called the centre to report that the "truck had broken down", but some how THEY DON'T HAVE A CELL PHONE NOW??????

    So…we had to cancel the gas technician who was to come in on Friday to hook up the gas stove. Guess what – we had given less than 24 hours notice – so we are being charged $160.00 late cancellation fee.

    Is Sears going to cover that??? Guess what – NO.

    It is now noon – and we were told that someone would get back to us at our work numbers with the information within 30 minutes. That was at 8:30 this morning – almost 4 hours ago.

    Guess what – NO CALL

    No return call from the sales rep either.

    So we called back and said….don't deliver it as we are cancelling it and going to get a refund.

    Guess what – THEY SAID WE CAN'T

    Wanna bet!!!!!!!

    They can try and deliver it, no one will accept it.

    Any wonder why Sears will be gone by years end????????

  4. Rude, arrogant to me when ordering appliances. Felt like I had to cater to their flippant and vexatious attitude. Buttered me up to keep a customer base but that extremely callous.

  5. I really like the dress but know you would seem fab in both! I cannot believe every thing in the store will probably be 1/2 off! WOW, wish I lived closer because I really like The Limited.