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The holiday shopping season is not a surprise to anyone; it comes at the same time every year.  I tend to pay homage to the companies who are able to create the illusion of a shortage for their games and toys.  Which company wouldn’t love to be on the “Hot Toy List” for the holidays?  My respect is given to the marketing team; those who create the demand and get the message out through that media that “THIS” is on the must-have list.

Each year I am struck by the fact that everyone knows what these items will be, well before Thanksgiving.  What truly baffles me is that while these are the “must-haves” for the season, the retail stores do not have inventory of the items.  In the interest of self-preservation, why aren’t the stores listening to customer feedback?  It’s the same every year – we’re sold out of X, Y and Z.  What customer experience analytics are being used to and who is getting this information?  Should there be such a barrier to spending money in retail stores?

It’s also no surprise to anyone that the experience in a brick and mortar retail store is one that is fading away, replaced by Amazon, eBay and any other website.  Even the retail stores themselves have websites.  It is also possible to make a phone call into a company’s call center and buy a product.  Research studies underscore the fact that customers want convenience so we all work to insure that our customers have easy access to us, to our products and to our service.  And while we embrace such days as “Cyber Monday”, we cannot let the retail stores become extinct.  Such establishments employ millions of people, provide so much to the local community and sell more than just the “hot list items” because we browse the aisles, we pick things up and then put them into the cart.  If I could do all of my shopping in one place, let’s say Toys R Us, I would happily make that one big trip to get what is on the list and very likely many things that are not on the list.  Please take my money, upsell to me, cross sell to me, increase the dollars per transaction, (just like the call center agent and the web experience software would do) keep your retail locations healthy by ringing that cash register!

This season, I went to four different Toys R Us stores and did not find one single thing on my list, the things that are on the “must-have” list.  It shouldn’t be slightly humorous to the frazzled employees in the stores that I am looking for Nintendo Super Scribblenauts, Gogo My Walkin’ Pup (a FurReal Friend) and the Zhu Zhu pet princess castle and ballroom.  So why are these items not available for my purchase?  Who is missing the boat here?  Is it the Toys R Us buyers who aren’t paying attention to what their customers will be buying (I say ‘will be’ because it is a marketing created list).  Is it a sales cycle driven initiative to boost toy sales in Q1 of the New Year?  Is it the manufacturers who aren’t producing enough?  That’s probably not it either, because you can buy anything online and have UPS, USPS or FedEx deliver it a few days later.  So what is it?  What is making the customer buying experience such a challenge?

It shouldn’t be possible to leave a Toys R Us store in December without buying one single thing.  Not one of the four stores had any of the items on my list, so why browse and pick up other things?  Listen to your customers – to better shape the customer buying experience why not set up a “hot list counter” located in the retail store?  This “hot list counter” could be where I can get what I’m supposed to be buying and see what my daughter will likely ask to have added to her list after I get back from shopping.  I’d buy other things on the “hot list”, for sure.  Seriously, funnel the customers in the front door to the left where this special area is set up, maybe with a queue to keep us moving through the process and out the other side to begin our comfortable browsing through the rest of the store.  This would be a great way to tailor the experience to the customers’ needs, actually predicting those needs.  Don’t teach me to skip the retail store and just shop online.

Whoever figures out how to order inventory for the holidays will be the store that I will always shop at; forever loyal.  I would even pay a premium to do this.  Please, charge me more but save my time and effort (and preserve the spirit of the season by not being one of my large frustrations) and I will be an evangelist for your retail establishment.

What were your customer experiences like this holiday season?  I would love to hear the good, bad and the ugly.

About Dr. Jodie Monger

Jodie Monger, Ph.D. is the president of Customer Relationship Metrics and a pioneer in voice of the customer research for the contact center industry. Before creating CRMetrics, she was the founding associate director of Purdue University's Center for Customer-Driven Quality.

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