How Retailers Can Go Wrong

Recently, my wife and I had the chance to speak to a young girl working at a specialty retail outlet at VivoCity. The circumstances which led to this were rather unpleasant, and I prefer not to go into details. Our conversation was pretty enlightening though. It revealed some serious flaws which certain (not all) retail outlets in Singapore face. I find that these problems are especially true in smaller SME retail establishments.

So what are the issues? Let me list them down:

1) Compensation is pretty poor in the retail sector. The average pay for sales assistants are between $5.50 to $6.00 an hour for part timers. While there may be overtime pay, health plans, bonuses and other benefits are usually non-existent.

2) Rostering is always a problem, especially for weekend and holiday duties. Some retail outlets do not give staff a choice of whether to work on Saturdays and Sundays. This seriously affects their work-life balance.

3) Training is practically non-existent. Workers report to work from day one and are already expected to serve customers. As such, product knowledge tend to be lacking.

4) While some may have a basic system, the truth is that most SME retail outlets do not have SOPs. When in doubt, workers should simply call the boss. This results in customer frustration over undue delays.

5) Staff loyalty (and moral) is low. Due to the lack of manpower in these outlets, there is little time for welfare related activities. Employees are expected to obey orders with little leeway for creative expression or innovation.

6) Mistakes also tend to be quite frequent. We noted, with chagrin, how simple calculations could be made wrongly. Again, it is a sign of inadequate training and exposure.

7) Quite a high percentage of the staff are part-timers or students. Their main interest is to earn some pocket money during their free time or holidays. Serving customers is probably a second priority as most don't see it as a life long career.

8) Retail and service staff turnover is generally exceedingly high. The average we noted was between 3 to 6 months. In fact, those who stay for 6 months or longer are already considered seniors in certain instances. This lack of continuity leads to service compromises in the long term.

9) Customers are treated with suspicion rather then welcome. The basic premise seem to be that everybody is either trying to cheat, steal or con. If you stay too long at a particular section, you will be questioned. If you flip through too many sets of clothing, you may face a harassed looking shop assistant quickly rearranging the "mess" which you created to its original pristine condition.

Fundamentally, I think the whole attitude of retail bosses and shop owners need to change first and foremost. They need to understand that before you can delight your customers, you need to treat your staff right, show them the ropes and understand that they are only human and have their needs. Only when your team members see you going the extra mile for them will they then do likewise for your customers.

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