To Retail or not to retail…

Where I live, there has been and continues to be much hoo-har, beating of chests and gnashing of teeth from bricks and mortar retailers bemoaning the flat retail sector and the loss of sales to online operations. Every second day there’s some retail group or another having  good go about online retailers stealing their business, this week the headline in the paper was a good bash at our postal service ‘helping’ online stores increase their business. Yea, really.

Now this might come as a shock to some retailers but I have a theory about just why you might be loosing business. The theory is simple and goes something like this – you suck.

Case 1: I need tyres for the bike and being ‘particular’ about what brand of tyres I like, I had to shop around to find the right ones. Long ago I decided that walking into local bikes shops to be mostly a total waste of time. Usually bad service, attitude, high cost and/or a total lack of range usually sees me buying online from dedicated online stores – I’ve been riding for 26 years now, I know what I want. After doing the rounds this time though, I decided to buy from a small shop that was also selling some stuff online -so I still regard them as a traditional shop. I placed the order and within half an hour I get a call confirming the order. All good.

Several days pass and no tyres. Odd, they are not that far from me, so they should have arrived by now, even if they sent them via ‘regular mail’. Naturally curious, after all I need them before the end of the week, I drop them a polite mail. The response that came back was not, how should I say, satisfactory, and went like this – “Hi Gerard, your tyres have not arrived yet but we expect them tomorrow. Sorry about the delay”.


When I bought these tyres online, there was nothing saying to me that they were not in stock. When the guy called me, he made no mention that they had to be ordered in, therefore, and quite reasonably I thought, I assumed they had these ready to go.

My response to his mail stated I was not happy with this and could he please cancel the order and refund my money. What I got back is where it went all bad for these guys. “Sure, we can refund you. You don’t honestly think we always have everything in stock?”

Me: “Re. the stock…. if you advertise it as available for sale, that’s what one expects. Pulling stock down from the distributor is not having it for sale, that’s more like ‘we can get it for you’. Two different things and when you’e selling online, it’s either available or it’s not.

What’s more, if you would have told me when you called that that’s what was happening, I would not have gone through with the order, knowing I needed it by the end of the week.”

It’s not a new trick, many bike shops do not want to carry stock but want to sell it. How that works is beyond me because you either have it for sale or you don’t. When they get narky is when an already vicarious balance is thrown out of whack.

Case 2: So, still without the tyres and time running out, I decided that I’d go down to a shop near me that also advertised the tyres. That meant getting in the car but seeing it was a bit quiet, why not?

I walk into the shop which while big, is empty of people other than what I assume is a rather boarded looking customer sitting and waiting. There are three or four guys behind the counter fussing over something or other. I see the tyre rack and go poking. They are nicely laid out but after looking for a while, it seems they don’t have the tyres I saw on their website. But being also a fairly major online retailer, no big deal, I figured they’d have them out the back.

So after being in the shop for a little while and no sign of anyone interested in asking if I was OK, I saunter up to the counter to ask.

I stand there for a bit, watching four guys do everything but notice me; quite a feat really, considering I was only a few feet from them. Finally, a guy I thought I recognised from the website, making me wonder if he owned the operation, asked if he could help. I ask the question and he looks a little blank. I explain further what it is I am looking for, noticing that they were not in the rack but being an online op, I thought they’d have them available in the back. Politely, though with a slight hint of annoyance, he explains that the online operation is no longer in the same building, so can I show him online what I am looking for as the rep will be in tomorrow.


He takes me over to a brilliantly placed PC, right next to the front door, and explains I’ll have to use it as he is totally computer illiterate. Umm, and you run an online operation??

While I am looking the tyres up for him on his site (!) the phone rings and he vanishes, never to return.


So I’m standing there, next to the front door, wondering just what should I do. I could walk out, easy enough but I DO need these tyres. So, swallowing my usual sense of ‘screw you and your bad service’, I saunter back up to the counter. Luckily for me, or them – I’m still undecided, the guy behind the counter is not only friendly but helpful. Turns out no rep was needed and, as I suspected all along, they can grab the tyres from the warehouse (in the same area) and have them in tomorrow to pick up.

5 minutes, some interesting banter and he got my business. How hard was that?

It never ceases to amaze me the complete disregard to anything resembling customer service some retailers display, or even the basic understanding of what it means to be a retailer (see case 1). In some cases it is actually so bad, I would term it diabolical. I am not sure why, but it seems some retailers operate under the impression that they are there to do ‘me’ (or you) a favour and somehow we should be eternally grateful that they are even opening the doors. It’s so bad these days that I would say that here in Australia, close to 70% of the stores we walk into, we walk out of again saying we will not go back. That’s a pretty crap percentage, especially when I can get most of what I want, when I want it, online and usually for less, from the comfort of my chair.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some very good retailers out there, very, very good where nothing is too hard. These ‘guys’ deserve all the support they can get but in today’s market, something has to change and those that still operate under the impression that consumers are there to be treated like a disposable commodity really need to ship up; because if they don’t the market will help them ship out.


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