In 1990 I started my first job, as a Saturday girl in Adams Childrenswear.

In 1990 I started my first job, as a Saturday girl in Adams Childrenswear. I have many memories of it. I had to wear a turquoise cardigan and pleated skirt, an ensemble not quite in line with what a 16-year-old girl wanted to be seen in.

I also recall that the shopping centre was supposedly haunted, so I would sprint through the stock room with eyes shut in case of ghosts hanging about by the boys’ nightwear.

But one thing I don’t remember, because it never happened, is anyone talking about customers. There was no explanation of who our customer was or how we should try to help them. We opened the doors, customers came in, we took the money. That was it.

The only time we ever discussed customer interaction was working out how to admonish the man who put one 20p in the mechanical train and then balanced three children on it at once.

I still think about this a lot. I went into a struggling electricals retailer the other day and the manager interrupted the staff member serving me to ask her to fill in a timesheet. What hope is there when the store manager treats customers as if they’re invisible?

For years I went along with the theory that store staff were poorly paid so how can you expect them to care? Then last winter we did a benchmarking project where we placed 200 online orders and rang the customer service number to ask about that order.

Admittedly our calls were outside of office hours and phone lines were often shut, but when a call was answered we spoke to a friendly, helpful person. I don’t believe people working in a call centre get paid more than those in a shop, so how are they getting it right?

These days I work in ecommerce. It pleases me to see retailers working hard to bring web and store together. But if the customer buys online and picks up in-store only to be greeted with confusion or apathy, it’s not an experience they will repeat. 

The in-store experience needs attention. I do not claim that it’s easy, but it is essential. Otherwise we’re just shutting our eyes to avoid seeing something we don’t want to see.

  • Sarah Clelland Marketing manager, Snow Valley