A Peek Inside Retail at JoAnn’s

My wife passed me a blog post from The Bitchy Stitcher summarizing an in-depth discussion she had with a JoAnn’s store manager. (Link here.) What a great blog nickname…”The Bitchy Stitcher”…

I strongly recommend reading this lengthy post. The post, along with the excellent comment stream at the bottom, gives us an unusually interesting and varied peek inside daily operations at a mass market retail store.

There’s no “smoking gun”. And there’s no “blame the headquarters guys” here – although I suppose it verges on that kind of sentiment by talking through some of the store level frustrations. But there are smart comments that walk this back.

I wanted to share it because this is the real world – unfiltered by bland corporate spin or consumer advocate self-righteousness. It’s quite fresh to find a description of the real challenges facing store personnel.

And it gives me real sympathy for the challenges at JoAnn’s – sympathy for store employees, store managers, and corporate management. They have tough jobs and should be respected for them.

These probably project to most of mass retail. That said, we can’t excuse every poor choice – corporate policy efforts can be very short-sighted and ill conceived, some clerks are bad, and some store management is ineffective. (To get an idea of this reality, see the comment about “branded greetings” from a Walgreen’s employee on my Walgreen’s post at this link.)

And let’s not avoid the truth that similar problems abound for online stores. We’ve started seeing expose’s about conditions in Amazon warehouses (link here). While there’s no “store” for online selling the telemarketing, email customer service, pick-n-pack operations, and the rest involved with mass online selling bring up questions that are just as thorny.

A few things strike me in all this:

1. I’m reminded of the restaurant worker realities revealed in the book “Nickled and Dimed” – specifically the pressures put onto employees to fill every minute with work in order to reduce that restaurant’s payroll. And how that process hurts their ability to help customers.

2. There is a surprising level of micro-management in stores (and it’s worse at Amazon – perhaps we should call it nano-management). Yet, your customers will get their best impression of your store when the help is engaged and have a reasonable amount of ability for independent action.

3. Bureaucracies blow it with big most corporate mandates like the Walgreen’s “brand greeting”. As a brand expert, I can assure you the greeting does nothing to add to your brand. An employee actively helping the customer – now THAT’s great branding. But, truth is that someone at corporate probably got a promotion for the idea.

4. Marketing departments are taking dangerous steps when they broadcast “how far out of their way” a retailer will go to help frustrated consumers. It simply isn’t practical to deliver these exceptions on a daily basis, with the number of staff a company can afford to put into a store, and with corporate mandates consuming large parts of their time.

Thanks to the Bitchy Stitcher for posting this.

Yet instead of focusing on the difficulties alone, it’s interesting to remember what emerges out of this complicated reality at these stores. The people (at all levels) who solve these problems end up delivering an amazing richness of products and experiences that enhance our lives.

Copyright 2014 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved


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