Staff drive customers away

22:54, Dec 04 2012

Dunedin retailers are letting sales walk right out the door, a new study finds. Mike Houlahan reports.

No hello when you walk in the door; no attempt to get out from behind the counter to help; no idea of the product range. Welcome to shopping, Dunedin style.

Obviously that's not the experience in every local store, but it is typical enough to get the Otago Chamber of Commerce concerned.

A recent citywide mystery shopper survey found more than half of stores did not make shoppers feel welcome, and in almost three-quarters of shops visited staff never got away from the till to engage with customers.

With Christmas shopping starting and cruise-ship patrons hitting town, the chamber is trying to see the survey in a positive light: at least it gives retailers time to address the issues it raises.

But for some shops it may be too late.

''Some people said they actively avoid some shops because of the attitude of the staff,'' Otago University business performance coach Mark Neild said.

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Mr Neild and Lisa McCarthy, of Gamechangers, carried out the survey, in which 41 city and south Dunedin shops were visited anonymously during a four-day period.

They also interviewed customers.

''We were disappointed, rather than surprised,'' Mr Neild said.

''There seemed a reluctance to engage with customers. At this time of year in particular, people are going in to shops to buy presents and don't necessarily know what they are looking for. If people don't help them, they won't buy anything, or maybe will only buy the things they know they have to get on their list.

"If a staff member genuinely helps someone rather than just pushing some trashy product on them, customers will probably go away buying more than they might have otherwise.''

Instead, staff tended to anchor themselves by the till. Many were doing clerical work rather than interacting with customers.

'Fair enough, that work needs to be done, but it seems to be it's much more important to deal with customers, rather than carry on with other stuff that can wait.''

In some cases, customers almost seemed to make staff distinctly uncomfortable, Mr Neild said.

''I think if some shopkeepers or staff could get outside of themselves and watch what they do or experience it for themselves, I think some of them would be quite surprised by how rude they seem. I don't think people are deliberately rude, I think they are just unaware of the impression they are creating.''

Helping a customer might seem intrusive, but that was a myth, Mr Neild said. People were often looking for help, and if they weren't a polite enquiry did no harm.

''If you don't make the offer, you will never know ... my fundamental question to store owners is are you quite happy with where you are? If they are happy, I don't quite understand why.

''If they do want to get better, this time next year things will probably be exactly the same.''

FAIR SHOP

The Southland Times