Tag Archives: retail

A Follow-Up on How Zeller’s Sucks

customer service, shopping, consumer affairs, Zellers, department stores

Zellers wins in the worst customer service category. From magnaeframe.com

I received a comment from Chris, who had a lot to say about Zellers. In fact, so much so that the comment was really too long. So I asked Chris if I could use the comment for a guest post. I’ve edited it a bit and toned down the language but here’s my first guest blogger.

I worked in two different Zellers stores from 1991 to 1997 and have always had fairly strong opinions on why the chain would fail. In the early days of my employment I was working in a very recently converted former Towers store. Immediately I was thrust into an environment full of grumpy employees who were taken over as well, who had their wages frozen indefinitely as the pay scales of Zellers were less generous of those at Towers. It is quite possible that some of these folks were just plain overpaid to begin with, and maybe that’s what killed the Towers chain amongst many other things. Anyways, Zellers did not seem to bring any sense of excitement to anyone. Many felt they were a small fish being gobbled up by a whale. I once overheard a former Towers assistant store manager say that the takeover was handled badly, with no regard for the employees. Surprise surprise.

I was hired as a cashier. Before long a full-time position opened up in the Housewares department of the store. I  found myself inheriting a complete disaster. Boxes had been opened, were torn and tattered, merchandise was strewn across the floors, display models were incomplete, missing, or existed for items no longer sold, and items were not where they should have been on the shelves. At first I was shocked, but as time wore on, I realized that I was only expected to have things picked up off the floor and thrown back on the shelf each night, so that the cleaners could mop the floors. This was a far cry from my previous job in a grocery store where we could not leave the store until everything looked good. This included “facing” items on the shelves- retail lingo for bringing things to the front so that merchandise was accessible and made the shelf look full even if it wasn’t. At Zellers the only time this practice was followed was prior to what we called “Royal Visits,” when managers above the district manager level would visit. Why didn’t these people leave the visits unannounced, show up dressed like regular joes, and see what the front lines actually looked like on a normal basis? These guys, and yes, they were ALL mostly grey haired tall men in impeccable suits, wanted everyone to make a huge fuss over them.

The sad part was the way the store and department managers were treated. They were essentially given no budget, yet were expected to have things looking spic and span at all times. Sometimes the upper management guys would force a store manager to clean up a department himself while his shocked employees looked on. It was a real power trip for these bullies.

Oddly enough, I was encouraged to apply for the store management program, and being a high-school educated kid with nothing to lose, I took them up on the offer. In late 1993 I started my first assignment in another store, and for some time was pleased to be amongst employees that seemed more positive. I was told almost immediately that the store I was now working in had not seen the salary cuts of the previous store, but that they were coming. Almost overnight the location went from being a decent place, to the same as the first store. Somehow they thought that less employees would save them enough money to make the store more profitable. I learned many things about how the company operated:

  • Aisles cluttered with junky unappealing items that were old, tattered or had been returned. We were told NOT to reduce these items. The end result is that they never sold and wasted space. The stationery department was one of the worst.

    Zellers, customer service, marketing, sales managers, management, bad employees, bad zellers

    At least you know what you're getting with this sign. Creative Commons: amycgx

  • Sale items were never in stock. In fact, the store had stock, but the merchandise was on a pallet deep in the stockroom where no one could get it. The stockroom was tiny, so tiny, in fact, that in stuffing it with more pallets, the aisles between the rows of pallets were eliminated. Essentially we had a block of pallets about 8 across and 10 deep, the only way anyone would find the merchandise would be if they hauled each pallet out and stuck it in the aisles of the store. This, of course, was forbidden.
  • Outdated computerized inventory system. I’m not sure if it was replaced, but up to 1997 the PIMS system was in place. This system, developed in the 70’s, was supposed to automatically re-order items as they got low. Someone had the great idea of building a little caveat into the system. If the number of items went into a negative, the item would not be re-ordered and a problem would be flagged.This kept happening on stuff like sewing items, and since the store didn’t have anyone investigating the problem, entire aisles were full of empty shelves and pegs. Customers came back time and time again asking for items. We essentially looked like idiots when we told them we didn’t know.
  • Poor quality merchandise. The worst by far was the crappy Permatech/Eurotech line of small appliances. Sure they were cheaply priced, but even for $10 I would expect a toaster to work when I plugged it in. We saw the same garbage returned over and over for years, but they kept selling the junk.
  • Credit. These jerks made 30% of their profit on credit. You know, the kind of profit that requires people to be slow on their payments so they can reap huge interest charges. Cashiers were hounded to push this on everyone, to the point that they were giving long spiels to customers, like a Jehovah Witness at your door. Even worse, Zellers willfully declined to use debit machines in their stores for fear that people would stop using their credit cards. They finally made the switch sometime after 1997, likely due to customers leaving merchandise at the register and leaving in a huff.
  • Lack of staff. Did you know that in the 1960’s, American railroad companies tried to save money by deferring maintenance projects? The result was bad track with slow trains, and a mess that ended up costing a fortune to fix, unless of course, they went bankrupt first as customers turned to trucks. Zellers somehow thought they could run stores without those pesky employees gobbling up their profits. A prime example was how they let one employee be in charge of helping customers in a 30,000 square foot area on a Sunday afternoon. Most times there was no one to cover lunches. Other staff had to abandon ship at a second’s notice to open another cash registers to reduce exorbitantly long lineups. Cashiers were getting lunch breaks at 2 and 3 in the afternoon “because it was just too busy”. They were made to feel that they were part of some sort of important struggle to help their comrades survive or something. Customers in the meanwhile were looking for help in the aisles, and nobody was there to give it.
  • Cheesy gimmicks. Zellers was a firm believer in this 1950’s corny style of advertising and promotions. Instead of trying to sell cool stuff, they resorted to silly balloon drops, flashy flyers, Zeddy, and good old “Zellers Radio”. What was Zellers Radio, you ask? A stupid tape message that would play every 10 minutes that usually began with “Shhhhhaaaappers!!” The elevator music was no better. It seemed they did not want to deviate from the practice of appealing to the senior citizen crowd. The TV ads weren’t any better. For the longest time they were a televised version of the weekly flyer. Later on they got some Hillary Duff clothes in their stores and managed to get some decent ads going. This did not last, and an ad campaign was launched with purported Zellers employees saying “we’re getting better and better”. Wow. Talk about admitting you suck.
  • Ridiculous policies for shoppers. Come on, if someone isn’t satisfied, give them their money back. People usually got store credits after getting the runaround and waiting in long lineups. Supervisors would tell their employees to enforce these policies until someone really lost it. What then? Give the customer what they wanted and make the employee look like a complete asshole in front of them. Seems these little Hitlers didn’t have the balls to enforce these policies themselves.
  • Clueless upper management. The only way these morons knew how to react was to fire people. It seemed like management shuffles were happening constantly as someone got the boot for underperforming. And do you know who didn’t get fired? Guys like the Regional Director of Stores who showed up on the front lines during a “Royal Visit” and yelled at people.
  • Panic at the sight of Walmart, but reacting like a deer in the headlights. Instead of trying to figure out what makes Walmart a generally better place to shop, Zellers instead tried to undercut them on many items, and lost an arm and a leg in doing so. Walmart isn’t just about price. It was also about the “shopping experience” that Zellers never seemed to be able to figure out.
  • Morning meetings. The dreaded daily “pep talk” was nothing more than an attempt into performing better OR ELSE. What was discussed? The weeks sales, which didn’t really register in most people’s minds, and a couple of minutes of badgering employees to get more credit card customers, and just generally work harder if sales were supposed to get better. One time our store manager decided to go off on a rant about employee morale and how the employees had only themselves to blame for it. In his mind the skeleton crew often appointed to run the place should work twice as hard to achieve the results of double the people. He couldn’t  understand why people were not motivated to shed blood, sweat and tears at minimum wage.

I left the company fifteen years ago. I had always wondered if things had improved after I left, and after reading other people’s blogs posted since the announcement that Target was acquiring Zellers leases, it was obvious they barely changed at all. It was eerie to read what employees were saying about the company as it was so familiar.

Shame on you, Zellers, and good riddance. It’s sad that the employees of the companies are the ones to suffer, while the upper management folks will all leave with a huge chunk of change. Pathetic.

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Buy at Sears, But Only If You Want Attitude

The first time I had problems with Sears, I eventually let it go even though I didn’t shop in the store for a year. In this day when there are so many stores, really it’s quality and service that make the difference. And so it is that I am not waiting for the three strikes you’re out. Two is enough.

The first time, I was shopping in Sears (in Vancouver) and picking up a few skirts to try on. This woman comes up to me and snatches the skirts from my hand, saying “You’re dragging them on the floor and they’re getting all dirty.” I looked at her flabbergasted and walked out. I was also looking for a winter coat but didn’t bother at that point.

These skirts may have been touching the floor but surely the store is kept relatively clean. The better thing to do would have been to ask me if she could start a fitting room or hang the clothes up in the fitting room. After all, that is not only service but protecting the merchandise. This woman said nothing about even putting them in a room for me and snatched them out of my hand. And yes, she was a worker there. I didn’t appreciate being treated like a child.

I tried after that to find an address to send a letter of complaint. Do you think I could find a corporate address or even a local address with the name of any manager attached? Not a one. Sears made it pretty much impossible to do anything farther than complain verbally and we know how far that goes. Well, it threw me off shopping there again.

Now I don’t shop a lot at Sears anyways. The fashions are often not that interesting and it’s only a rare occasion where I will. This year I needed to buy a new winter coat and after much searching, found one I liked at, of all places, Sears. It was on sale too, making it just right.

Unfortunately, I was in a parkade three weeks after buying the coat and chlorine or bleach fell on the collar and took out some of the color. The company responsible for the parkade is willing to pay for repairs. However, no one dies polyester (I thought the coat was wool…oops) so the company will have to replace the coat.

I bought it on sale but it may not be on sale anymore. So I call Sears. First on their customer service line the person keeps saying, You want to order a coat. No, no I want a quote on the cost of the coat. You want to place an order? No, I want to know how much it would cost to get the coat replaced. It’s a coat. Yes a coat. So it’s a jacket. Well, no it’s a coat, just above the knees. You want us to pay for the coat? No. You want to order a coat?  No. I’ll pass you on to our customer service, (I HAD dialled customer service) who then of course passed me on to retail customer service.

So I begin a third time to say, I was in a parkade and the coat was damaged. I need a quote on the replacement cost of the coat so the company can replace it. You were in our parkade? No, just a parkade, not Sears. I just need a quote on replacing the coat for what it sells for retail. You bought it damaged? No, Sears isn’t at fault. I bought it and then it was damaged after. But you bought it on sale. Yes but if it’s not on sale, they will have to replace it at the higher cost. It was damaged by chlorine in a parkade. How did you get chlorine on it? (Not that it’s any of their business.) It dripped on the coat. I’m not asking Sears to replace it. The company will do that. Well you have your receipt. But the receipt has the sale price. Is the coat still on sale? I don’t know (of course not, she hasn’t even asked me what the coat it is…we’re still haggling).

You have your receipt. Yes, but if the coat isn’t on sale then I need to give the company the replacement cost to replace this coat. You’ll have to buy a different one at a higher price. No, I want to get this coat so can’t you send the cost of what the coat is retail? No. Why not? Because that’s not what you bought it for. It’s not what you paid. (I’m now getting mad because she’s saying I’m trying to cheat.) It doesn’t matter what I bought it for. I’m not trying to cheat here. I need to give them the replacement cost. But you didn’t buy it for that. No I didn’t. Why can’t you say, I bought it for this amount but the regular retail is this amount? Because that’s not what you paid.

I don’t think you understand how replacement cost works. Yes I do. No. Replacement cost means the cost it would be to replace the coat, not what it was when I bought. If it’s not still on sale then it would need to be replaced at the regular price. But that’s not what you paid. You’re right it’s not. Is the coat going to be on sale three weeks later? I doubt it so how is the company going to replace it if it’s regular price? You’ll have to pay more. (It’s not up to Sears to decide who pays or not but getting them to give the full rate replacement is just not happening.)

I’m afraid after this I said, You know I’ve had problems with Sears before and this just seals it. This isn’t good customer service and I won’t be shopping there again. She said something else and I called her a bitch. I was boiling by now because she decided I was swindling someone. Obviously this woman has never had insurance with replacement cost included. I found it interesting from the moment I called and mentioned damage all she could hear was damage on Sears property or damage by Sears even though I said they weren’t at fault.

I’d write a letter to Sears corporate office but that would mean trying to find an address and the name of someone to send it to. Not likely, so I’ll vote with my bucks and go elsewhere. And it looks like there are enough other people disgruntled with Sears. I’m just glad I didn’t but a large appliance.

http://www0.epinions.com/content_215301262980/show_~allcom

http://www.my3cents.com/search.cgi?criteria=SEARS

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The Idiocy of Retail

On one of the writers’ lists, we ended up discussing shopping experiences this week. It began with someone going into Chapters and being asked no less than twelve times in as many minutes if he was finding what he wanted. Most people decided they’d rather have no service than service that killed any joy in shopping, or more in a bookstore, browsing.

I had the reverse experience in Future Shop where the CDs were so mixed up I could find nothing. The store wasn’t that busy but when I looked for a clerk, he was watching TV. I didn’t buy anything there.

Service has always had its ups and downs. You either have overly helpful clerks who don’t know when to give you space (like the overattentive waiter) to those that are too busy chatting to each other or fixing makeup or watching TV to actually do their jobs. And then there are the ones too clueless to hold the job: they don’t know their stock or as was the case in Calgary at a restaurant, the waitress didn’t know what alcohol was besides beer.

There are the clerks who are truly helpful. They’re visible but they don’t crowd you. They stay alert and notice when you start to look around for help or have that bewildered deer in the headlights look. It seems rarer these days. I’m more likely to go back to a store that has good service and have walked out of stores with no service or bad service.

Like at The Bay. I was looking for skirts and carrying a couple on hangers as I walked around. It seems one was touching the floor and this clerk with no manners came up and said, “You’re dragging the skirts. You’ll ruin them,” and wrenched them out of my hand. Where was the mud? She could have said, “Can I put those in a room for you,” but she didn’t. I turned around and walked out. When I tried to find The Bay’s address/email online so I could write a letter of complaint, could I find anything pertinent or even a customer service line? Nothing. This way The Bay is assured of only having good reports. I didn’t shop there for many months because of the rude behavior. After all, there are plenty of stores.

I might just be a crank but I do expect to be treated with the same attentiveness I would give someone if I had those jobs. And I have, in the past. I’ve been a waitress. I’ve been a store monkey.

Another aspect of idiot retailing is the lengths stores will go to help perpetuate a myth. The myth of the ideal body. Women are supposed to be caricatures of the ideal female. We’re supposed to have large puffy lips, large but not pendulous breasts, narrow waists and boylike hips. Botox will give you the lips and implants will give you the breasts. But should you want the cheaper way of getting the larger bustline, the stores have helped. I’ve not changed in inches but I now wear a C cup because it is far more desirable than a B cup. Bras are also padded in a variety of ways to increase the illusion of bustiness.

Le Chateau has taken sizing to ridiculous heights where no one wants to be seen as wearing large. You’ll be lucky if you find a large in the store but you’ll find medium, small, extra small, extra extra small and extra extra extra small. WTF? I’ve bought an extra small and still found it too big. Petite is better in their books where a small would probably equate to a size 10. Even stores that have numbered sizing have changed it. A size 8 is now larger than it once was. I find that depending where I shop, I can wear anything from a small (or extra extra small) to a large, or a size 3 to a size 12. Perhaps everything should just be a free size these days because the numbers don’t matter.

Starbucks takes this in the other direction. No one wants to pay five bucks for a small coffee so the small is a tall, the medium is a grande and when they ran out of words in common English usage for large, they went to venti. What’s that, Italian? So there is a small English, a medium French and a large Italian. When it comes to food we want grande, super size, mega large, but when it comes to fitting ourselves into clothes we want petite and super extra mini small. Unless you’re a man. Maybe shoulder widths on jackets have expanded as well for those manly, super hero broad shoulders.

But as one person pointed out on the list, there is a plethora of interesting names for condoms including iron grip and super strength. The sizing is hidden but there is never a small.

May all your shopping experiences have medium attention from the clerks and the prices be super extra extra cheap and the bargains be mega uber mondo grande.

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