Home economic sector When ‘no, we can’t’ just won’t do

When ‘no, we can’t’ just won’t do


It’s high time that retail companies learn that they need to properly train their staff who deal with customers face to face.

Picture: DigestContent from Pixabay

MORE and more these days dealing with stores and retail staff is becoming an increasingly frustrating exercise. Shopping – something that used to be considered ‘retail therapy’ – has become more like ‘purchase perdition’.

Look, if you are fortunate enough to walk into a store, find what you need, pay for it and leave, then shopping – something we need to do on a regular basis – works just fine.

However, if it so happens that the time comes when you have to deal with under-trained, unskilled, blinkered staff at stores where the only consideration is the company’s bottom line, then you are in for a pretty frustrating ride down the rapids.

I can therefore sympathise with the man who was apprehended by the police and taken to the charge office. There the arresting officer said, “You confessed to breaking into the same dress shop four times. What did you steal?”

The tired, deflated man cut a frustrated figure and answered: “A dress for my wife, but she made me change it three times.”

After what happened to me recently, I can sympathise with that husband.

Just more than a week ago, I purchased an item from a clothing store in Kimberley. Unfortunately, the item was too small and I returned it the next day.

I could not exchange the clothing item for a larger size because there was none in stock and the staff could not tell me when or if new stock would come in (which I found strange), so I decided – instead of asking for a refund – to exchange it for a different item. The new item was R20 more, but I paid that.

When I fitted the newly-exchanged item at home, I found that it – being a different cut and style – was too big. Frustrated, I returned to the store to ask if I could exchange it for a smaller size.

But that’s when things got weird.

I was told that once you exchange an item once, that’s it; you were stuck with that item. I tried reasoning with the shop assistant, but she would not budge. She explained that this is the reason they do not issue a receipt once items are returned – because only one exchange is allowed.

I asked if there was someone more senior I could speak to. She nodded her head sideways, and said, “here is my supervisor.” The supervisor was sitting down, chewing gum. They had a conversation in a language I do not understand; I always had problems learning languages.

I only learned Afrikaans because I needed it to get through school – I might not even have bothered otherwise.

The supervisor just sat there, mumbling something about, “No we can’t” and not making eye-contact. So I left and contacted their head office to find out what their exchange policy was.

Long story short, the supervisor at the store was fuming when I returned the item for a refund a few days later. She never apologised for the inconvenience she caused me, and just did what she felt she needed to do to get me out of ‘her’ store.

However, what still bothers me is that the regional manager with whom I was dealing, though he facilitated the refund very efficiently, never answered my question about the refund policy.

All he said in his e-mail was “If I can make a suggestion that you fit the item in the store to avoid any discomfort on your side and to be a service to you at all times.”

Which still leaves me wondering about their returns policy.

Maybe I shouldn’t be all that surprised at this. In a recent article I read, Charlie Stewart, co-author of the 2023 South African Customer Experience Report, writes, “… while we constantly hear how resilient we are as a nation, there must come a time when poor service is simply not good enough anymore.

“This national apathy has permeated every aspect of our lives, to the point where we willingly accept substandard service from businesses and brands with whom we interact, silently consenting to their ‘good enough’ service.”

Later he adds, “This indifference is letting brands and businesses off the hook. Where we should be complaining, we are accepting, and unless we vote with our wallets and use online channels to vent our concerns, we will continue to exist in a society where we accept good enough as our norm and excellence as rare.”

I agree.

I am not someone who enjoys confrontation. I do not like to have an argument with an inadequately trained shop assistant when my real frustration is with the company who failed to equip him or her with the tools to deal with customers more efficiently.

Richard ‘billionaire’ Branson is credited with saying, “Train people well enough so they can leave your company, but treat them well enough so they won’t want to.”

This is a lesson that retail stores in our country can learn, and a lesson they should embrace and apply!

These days I am increasingly turning to online shopping channels. The service is acceptable, the policies are there for everyone to see, and thus far in my experience, the times I have had problems, the companies bent over backwards to please me as a customer.

Retail stores and supermarkets may need to up their game before a consumer exodus starts to snowball.

However, having said that, I know of a mother who will never change the way she shops. She went shopping with her three-year-old one day, and when they returned home he had a chocolate bar in his pocket that she had not bought for him.

Being a good mother and an even better shopper, she marched him back to the shopping centre … and went to the jewellers.

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