I change my cellphone every couple of years. It used to be a pleasant experience, discovering new technology and salivating at the latest that telecommunications had to offer. These days it’s a bit like buying a new car. You know you want it and you may even need it but it’s riddled with so many hidden costs that when you leave with your new purchase you feel more ripped off than special.
I noticed a big difference when I made my last cellphone purchase. I went to the local store with my son to buy the latest gadget and was surprised to be greeted by a nicotine stained, middle-aged technophobe at the entrance with a tablet. He stopped me at the threshold of the store and after asking me for my name proceeded to input it one finger at a time. Our instructions after that were to sit on the bench and wait to be called. So far we were not impressed. This felt more like a vaccination clinic than a cellphone store. We sat around for a minute and then wandered around for a few more before noticing our names popping up on the fifty-six inch overhead flat screen like a flight cancellation notice at LAX. To make matters worse as we were watching our names moving up the list at an excruciatingly slow pace we observed some fascinating non value adding behavior from the store employees. One was aimlessly restocking shelves, another couple were in a two on one situation with a customer while a third sales assistant kept going back and forth from customer to manager with endless questions. The manager spent the whole time obliviously entering information into the store computer while the smoky greeter stood by idle waiting for the next customer to walk in! All this while four customers including us are waiting for service! Someone called Adam was before us on the flight board. When it was his turn a woman appeared from nowhere and called his name. The manager turned around to answer because apparently his name was also Adam, another store employee then called out “Adam”, before the woman shouted “Adam” for the second time. They then proceeded to interrogate every customer individually in a quest to find Adam who, to their disappointment had left the building!
After another ten minutes our names finally popped up on the top of the leaderboard. A sales assistant appeared through the “employees only” door, made eye contact and proceeded to move toward us. We leant forward in a positive motion to get up out of the dugout only to see her glance at the board and make a last-minute ninety degree turn towards the smoke smelling greeter. She then proceeded to scroll her finger up and down his smudged tablet, and glance at the board a second time before moving toward us with a reaffirmed confidence that we were actually the next in line (as if the fifty-six inch flat screen wasn’t enough). She then invited us to sit with her on the nearby high top table and we sat around for another twenty minutes waiting for an appetizer and beer to show up as she proceeded to explain the new phone plans on offer and how she could help us save money in the long run.
The original cellphone store retail model of browsing area with roaming sales assistants actually works well if there’s enough capacity to meet demand. In fact, you don’t have to look far from the tree to find a company in most malls that does this very well. The biggest challenge for the cellphone store is the time it takes to execute the sale and the prepare the phone for the customer once he or she is ready to buy. Then there’s the hard sell of accessories. The personal obligation you feel to buy cases, car chargers and warranties is compounded by watching the sales assistant apply a screen protector to your new purchase. It’s like observing your child going through brain surgery! They need to find a standard way of getting this done more efficiently and without the customer having to review the removal of every air bubble! Why does it take so long to transfer contacts and register the new device? That too is a painful experience. The mission for retailers is to maximize the pleasure phase (browsing and selecting the phone) and to minimize the painful phase of parting with money. Like a samurai sword penetrating the abdomen the latter needs to be sharp and swiftly administered to minimize the agony.
So in summary maximize the pleasure and minimize the pain by relentlessly focusing on the customer experience through the implementation of lean principles including flow, standardized work, mistake proofing, visual control and the level loading of demand. If electronics retail is to survive these changes must happen quickly before the shipping times of online stores drop to a point where it’s no longer worth the cost of the gas to travel to a brick and mortar location.
Well, that’s today’s chat. Hopefully it strikes a chord with someone, somewhere!