A Bluelight Moment in a High-Life Store

At the risk of sounding like my fellow grinch, Keith Hammonds, I haven't begun to think about holiday gifts yet. I can't. I'm mired in my annual internal "There's way too much commercialism around this whole thing" debate that I have to sort through before I finally get over it, panic, and spend way too much on everyone. So last weekend, trying to get inspired, I dropped into one of my favorite New York stores, Kate's Paperie. Filled with heavy-card stock thank-you notes and thick buttery leather photo albums, Kate's is the sort of classy-chic place you expect to spot Sarah Jessica Parker chatting in her Manolos around every rack of tastefully girlie gifts. In a world where handwritten cards — from friends, not flacks — are a gift in themselves, it's a guilty pleasure of a shopping experience.

But just as I was starting to enjoy the Christmas carols overhead, they lurched to a sudden stop. "Attention Kates shoppers" — boomed the speakers — "we've got a printing demonstration going on at the front of the store." The perky promotional voice went on, destroying the upscale vibe of the store. I went from feeling like an extra in an episode of "Sex and the City" to a bargain hunter in the aisles of Kmart. And so I stopped, put down the outrageously overpriced box of letterpress Christmas cards I was about to buy, and walked out.

You'd think retailers would understand this by now. But my moment at Kate's is the perfect example of an incomplete customer experience. A retailer might have the best designed environment, or the friendliest service, but commit the slightest off-brand glitch, and she'll turn on her heels and head for the door.

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  • mary

    Steve had the best observation by far. I work in a retail store, and whenever we've announced an in-store demonstration, our manager has coached the staff to sound like the ringmaster at the circus. (That's not hyperbole, by the way; she wanted *that* tone of air of excitement in order to drive customers to the demo table.) Then again, I work in a store with a 23K sq ft floor plan, so sound volume was an issue.

    Store announcements can be handled accordingly:

    1) If the store's square footage is small and carries an intimate feel, then appoint a member of the staff - probably the one leading the demonstration would be best - to approach customers and politely tell them that in 10 minutes there will be a free demonstration and they are welcome to attend.

    2) If your store is large, plan ahead, have signage or, if the budget is tight, have preprinted cards that give information where and when this demonstration is to take place.

    3) If your company has good database management and client list, send invitations via mail. Let your customers decide in the quiet of their home; on the day of the demo, chart how many customers received an invitation. This way, you can see if your data base info helps drive customer traffic.

    4) Make the demonstration area easy to get to and preferably in the middle of the store, so it cannot be missed by customers. Have signage, again, budget permitting, and chairs where customers can sit and watch. Even better, see if you can get a customer to participate with you.

    5) Lastly, if you're rigging an impromtu demonstration to generate sales, then please please please remember that customers come into your store for their needs, not yours. Your inconvenience and problems should not be theirs.

  • steve

    Wow, you went shopping in NY? I thought everyone shopped online now. That way you can avoid the kmart announcements.
    I'm sure the announcer was only reacting to an over pressured push from a manager that wanted them to "make sure everyone knows about this thing were doing, because it's so great and once they see if they will want to buy it" syndrome.

    Speaking of syndrome, did you buy any Incredibles toys?

  • dave

    A few things strike me.

    1. The method in which the store broke its ambience could have been better managed. Rather than break into the midst of a song, they could have easily waited for it to end and then could have had a pleasant-voiced announcement between songs. Sounds simple, but I am sure the store does not realize it has an issue here.

    2. Store ambience and stature are almost more important than the gift for some buyers. The care dedicated to the buying process and the cache of the retailer are valued by the giver. Think about the impact of an inexpensive piece of costume jewelry in a Tiffany's box... You can buy comparable product at a third of the price, but the little blue box makes the giver feel much better about the message they are sending.

    3. The pervasive influence of media on perception. Wow. The "would Sarah Jessica Parker shop here?" test is a sad commentary. Her character is mainly about the struggle of style versus substance...she has no meaningful life...her credit card debt must be staggering. Talk about a misalignment with the meaning of the holidays! She has been built up to hero status in the same way that tattooed thugs of the NBA have been embraced... what are we thinking?


  • Chris

    Sort of a no-win situation for the store. They didn't announce a sale, they announced a demo to encourage their customers.

    Some folks will love it, others will turn and leave.

    Can you really fault the store for this? There is no way to please 100% of people; not even 100% of the niche market they obtained.

    Perhaps there is the real lesson.

  • George Chapin

    You sound sort of uptight,. However I respect your feelings on this.

    I bet the store actually thought they had come up wiht a good idea. Offering instructions to people.