Business and work

The iStore retail tease

Shopping in an iStore is great. The stores have open spaces, white counters, beautiful products everywhere and hordes of staff standing by to help out. While the staff having varying degrees of proficiency and knowledge about Apple products (I’ve heard some terrible advice to unsuspecting shoppers), you have to work fairly hard to avoid the staff offering to help you out. Unfortunately its all a big tease. While its pretty easy picking your new Cool Thing, actually paying for it isn’t so easy. In fact, its such a hassle that its often not worth the wait.

I went to the iStore in Sandton City yesterday morning to look for an iPhone case for my wife. Her iPhone case is breaking and she said she wanted a new one so I thought I’d surprise her with one. I went to a couple shops before the iStore but none of them had a nice selection. I found a case that I thought she would like at the iStore and stood in what seemed to be a queue. It looked like a queue because there were about 4 or 5 people ahead of me at the pay point looking expectantly at the one person manning something looking like a till.

Ok, “manning” is a strong term (yes, and very sexist for anyone monitoring such language). He was standing there looking intently at the screen, occasionally typing stuff, one finger at a time, while occasionally saying something witty to the woman he was serving. There was another pay point there too but although a few iStore staff were behind the counter, they didn’t seem too interested in the pay point or the increasingly frustrated customers waiting to be served.

So I stood and waited, hoping that the sales process wasn’t too difficult and that the salesperson would finish two-finger typing, take money and send the customer into the centre clutching her new Cool Thing. It didn’t really happen and I found myself longing for Pick ‘n Pay cashiers. At least you can see they’re sort of doing something a sale results sooner rather than later (probably because customers offend them and they want to get the customers out of their queues as fast as their passive aggressiveness can muster). In the meantime two customers who were ahead of me in the expectant queue decided they had better things to do than wait (like avoiding starvation and losing the rest of the day) and left the queue and the store – sales and loyalty lost.

I stood in that queue clutching the iPhone case for about 10 to 15 minutes and, in that time, examined the case a little more closely and between a doubt or two that my wife would like it and the long wait, I decided to abandon ship. I replaced the case on the rack and left the store. When I left the salesperson was still “assisting” the woman he was “assisting” when I first got into the queue but by then I didn’t really case. As teases go, that was a huge #fail and not at all fun. I wasn’t the only person who felt that way that morning and I can only imagine how many people give up and leave.

I am just a humble customer who doesn’t spend enough time in iStores buying stuff to be an expert in this but here are a couple ideas anyway:

  • Make sure you have more than 1 competent sales person ringing up the sales the floor staff facilitate (at the very least, keep a close eye on the pay point area and if queues start developing, send in reinforcements);
  • As fast as the sales process on the shop floor is, make the payment process faster (if other shoppers are anything like me, they want to get back home as fast as they can, safely and observing the rules of the road, to rip open the packaging and use their Cool Thing for the very first time);
  • Strongly suggest to your other staff standing around idle that they assist the sales person at the pay point if he or she seems to be experiencing difficulty with the pay points themselves, customer queries or the literacy required to process a sale really quickly; and
  • Come up with a better way to get customer’s details or call them up when you invoice (we have iPhones, there must be an app for that).

Update: I received a call from Core Communications Manager, Taryn Hyam, to let me know the Sandton Store has been experiencing problems with its pay points (new platform going in soon). Floor staff should have been letting customers know about the issues they are dealing with and she is taking it up with the store’s manager.

Update 2: I just received a call from Nicola, the Sandton City store manager, who called to find out a bit more about my experience and apologise for it. She is looking into it and will address it. She assured me that good service is very important to her and these sorts of reports concern her. As an aside, this post has clearly touched a nerve for people. It has received far more traffic than my posts usually attract. At the same time, I am accustomed to a Core that doesn’t give feedback to ordinary consumers like me and the feedback I have received from Taryn and Nicola has been great.

Entertainment Events and Life

My social life 20 years ago

We’re at Sandton City for a movie tonight and these kids just take me back 20 or more years. This is basically what my group of friends and I looked like back then in the same mall and wearing pretty much the same clothes!

Mindsets Photography Travel and places

To mall security, customers are a step above criminals

Sandton City‘s social media people asked me to direct message them regarding a joking exchange I had with Craig Jamieson on Twitter about an unpleasant experience I had at Sandton City recently. Its a bit of a story and not at all something to fit into a direct message so I’ll just blog it.

Its not exactly a groundbreaking and shocking story but it really upset me at the time. First, a little background. I discovered my crankiness around and in between meal times wasn’t just me being a pain in the butt, my blood sugar tends to drop pretty dramatically if I don’t eat something every few hours. I’m not sure what the cause is (I’ve considered diabetes, runs in my family, but the symptoms don’t really fit) but it turns out its in my family. When I go for too long without some sort of snack or meal I start to feel really lousy and have some difficulty focusing.

I drove to Sandton City on the 7th of December to pick up my new camera as a birthday present for myself. By the time I got there I felt particularly bad. I hadn’t eaten since about 7am that morning. I parked near the new section in Sandton City and made a beeline for food. The mall was pretty busy and I grabbed a ready made roll from the Bread Basket which was too busy for me to sit down and eat (my preference). I had to eat something quickly so I started eating as I walked, looking for a bench. Sandton City’s management, in their wisdom, prioritized foot traffic flow over basic human needs like the need to sit down when walking the kilometers of shopping space in the mall. It looks like most of the benches have been removed from the walkways and there are a couple benches in the new section and one or two scattered elsewhere.

I couldn’t find anywhere to sit down and because I headed towards the new section, I was heading away from the food court (which I thought would be pretty busy too). Eating as I walked to stave off what felt like an imminent collapse (it was a particularly bad day), I arrived at the new section and sat down on an empty bench to finish off my roll and recover a bit. I had just sat down when a security guard approached me and told me I wasn’t allowed to eat on that bench and had to go to the food court. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and explained what was going on. The security guard informed me that no-one was allowed to eat on those benches and if you want to eat something, you have to go to the food court. When I protested he suggested that I may be more co-operative with his supervisor and proceeded to radio for assistance. I clearly posed a threat, sitting there clutching my roll, trying not to fall over.

Frustrated and pretty annoyed, I told him I would leave and started walking towards the food court. I finished my roll by the time I got there, rested for a moment and then got on with my shopping. While I understand that Sandton City is private property and the right to admit people is reserved, the experience left me feeling decidedly like a criminal and one of the many numbers spending money in the mall.

The more I thought about it the more it seems Sandton City is optimized for retailers’ benefit. Shoppers are channelled down long walkways, encouraged to shop and keep walking. No benches mean no blockages in the pipes. Expensive parking means we get in, spend our money and get out, making way for more shoppers. True, the mall and the shops inside are businesses and improving business efficiency is better for business and profitably but those walkways may as well be conveyor belts. The whole setup dehumanizes shoppers and reduces us to credit cards and cash but we keep going back because the stuff we want is there.

I was in Sandton City with my family about a week ago and we went to a kids’ clothing shop (my wife had vouchers and we wanted to get some clothes for our kids). My daughter was in her pram and she was a little cranky so I sat outside the shop with her and my son. We were sitting on the floor against the shop’s window and my son was eating popcorn. A security guard standing nearby came up to us while we sat there and I ignored him to see what would happen. I was sitting with my back to the walkway. He came up behind us and stood there for a while as if I was supposed to take some hint and move. I just ignored him and he wandered off only to return a little later to hover over us. My wife finished our shopping, we cleaned up what little mess my son made with the popcorn and we left.

I was determined to write a flaming blog post about the first incident when it occurred and decided not to bother. It would give Sandton City more publicity and, at that point, I had decided that I’d rather give what little publicity I could to brands who were responsive, considerate and made an effort to be consumer friendly instead of paying lip service to social marketing and consumers’ desires (I changed my mind after a spirited Twitter discussion about singling out bad brands even though they often don’t bother to engage meaningfully but that’s another blog post).

When it comes to mall security, whether it be Sandton City or some other mall, customers are not the people who indirectly pay for it all. We are to be regarded with suspicion and made to abide by the mall’s rules, however unreasonable, arbitrary or ridiculous. Its all about maximizing the business’ profitability, not creating a space customers are comfortable in and are encouraged to spend more time in, possibly spending more money. Nope, we’re widgets and we are there to be cranked.