Archive for March, 2010


I have not posted in a while and sorry that I am starting with a negative one…. but I just have to.

The day I arrived in the US, after having spent the past year and a half in Asia, I had the fortune – or misfortune – of going to Macy’s for a few hours of shopping. The prices were as expected, low. The store was as always full of merchandise. But the shopping experience was to me unacceptable. I was reminded about how different the quality of service and the attention to detail can be across markets and made me realize how spoiled one becomes when living in Asia with regards to shopping and customer service.

When shopping in a mall or department store, the final decision to purchase a good is typically based on the overall shopping experience one is having. When we as consumers know exactly what brand or product we want to purchase, we typically buy directly online, from the brands store, or from a retailer that carries that product – making the purchase a quick transaction. Typically this is a simple experience that does not require consumers to “shop around”. However, if we are engaged in the “exploring” phase of shopping, trying to identify what product to buy, we as consumers tend to visit multi-brand “showcase” department stores in search for the perfect thing to spend our money on. This is where the overall shopping experience has to be impeccable, as it will be one of the decisive factors consumers will use in making that final purchase decision, and because we tend to spend a significant greater amount of time doing it. If the experience is negative, a consumer will likely leave the store prior to making a purchase decision; not what a retailer wants to witness happening. This is exactly what happened that afternoon at Macy’s.

As my wife and I were visiting Macy’s for an “exploratory” afternoon of shopping — not really needing anything, but just being attracted by the extremely low prices in the US — the negative shopping experience made us leave the store with nothing purchased, and with yet again more dislike towards Macy’s. Consumer shopping habits have changed vastly over the last couple of years; we have become relatively sophisticated shoppers. Thanks to advances in technology, we are more inclined to begin the shopping experience online (researching), followed by visiting the store. We are well-informed shoppers and if anything along the customer journey goes wrong, it is difficult for retailers to keep it hidden from other consumers. The pictures below are visual proof of the “Macy’s experience” that afternoon (and on many other occasions) and a little insight into what Macy’s senior management should be talking about in their next planning meeting. Pictures speak a thousand words; the place was filthy, boxes were misplaced on the floor, merchandise was not displayed properly, and customer service was poor. The associates did not appear to be bothered by that, and continued chatting about their weekend with their colleagues rather than making the space a pleasurable place to be in.

We left the store in disbelief, with no shopping bags in our hands, but with few recommendations for the Macy’s management. In a recession, consumers are more price-sensitive and retailers are forced to compete on price while being squeezed from all sides (financially) by management. But that does not mean that the experience should be compromised, even if your brand (like Macy’s) stands for “affordable luxury”. Creating a strong and compelling first impression should be Macy’s focus. This first impression will have great impact on both loyal and new customers, the ultimate judges of the overall shopping experience.

Macy’s role as a retailer is to act as a “showcaser”, sell floor space to third party brands and attract consumers. If I was the owner of a brand showcased in that store I would not be satisfied. The only real asset Macy’s has is its brand name, which has become over the years one of the most recognizable brand in America. It has to be very careful not to diminish its brand equity by tarnishing the consumer experience. What Macy’s senior executives really need is “a dose of Asia”; spending time in countries like Japan, Thailand and Singapore, observing what real customer service and shopping experiences mean. Great service, impeccable stores and attention to every detail of the customer lifecycle is what Asian retailers are great at implementing and showing the world. The attendants always have a smile and treat every customer with respect, and the overall execution is typically consistent day after day. Shopping is about the product and price, but it is even more about the satisfaction one gets and the experience one has. The better the experience, the more consumers will buy. It’s simple.

So why can’t Macy’s get it’s act together and replicate that?