In the age of assistance where the customer journey is fragmented and made up of many touchpoints the failure of a sale, even in a case study where the sample size is just one person, reveals a lot about the failure of business to optimize their processes for a good customer experience (I am not even going to touch upon what might make it ‘great) and their inability to get out of their own way.
Quick scene setting then: My partner needs a new phone. She’s got two versions of the same Galaxy Samsung Note 10 phone in mind. The decision between a Note 10 and a Note 10+ will depend on the outcome of the complex personal algorithm of usage that comes with personal usage, intended personal usage, professional usage, intended professional usage, features of each, performance characteristics of each and size.
Like most potential buyers she’d spent more than few hours watching review videos of the phones on YouTube, catching up with articles, comparing tech features, listening to use cases from those who have already used the phones and trawling through opinion in the comments of tech blogs.
In this case the price is not an issue. Tech is important and when it is used professionally as well as personally it is a necessary investment because it dramatically decreases friction in daily life. Her current phone, a Galaxy S7, is three years old and it’s about to die so there is a small sense of urgency. So, in principle at least, this should have been a slam dunk sale.
It wasn’t. Here’s why.
The Reality Of Bricks and Mortar Shopping
Step 1. She checked on the Kotsovolos website. Kotsovolos is part of the UK’s Dixons group. Their website is pretty functional and up to date. She found the phone was in stock. Like seasoned shoppers we were armed with the product number and the price was fine.
We decided it would be best to buy the phone locally rather than online. It helps the local economy, reduces additional CO2 emissions stress on the planet created by the extra delivery miles and it being Friday it was the perfect day to get out and about, browse in other shops, watch people go about and enjoy a cup of coffee al fresco. Plus, being able to touch and handle the phone, she hoped, would provide the best clinching argument in her decision between the two models.
Step 2. We first went to the Kotsovolos branch in an out of town shopping mall. It killed two birds by allowing us to do the weekly shopping, albeit somewhere we normally wouldn’t travel to. It broadened to spread of our cash and it gave us extra time together. The first stumble was on the display. The Galaxy Note 10+ was on display but not the Galaxy Note 10. The assistant we flagged down to help immediately failed the customer engagement test: A. He didn’t even bother to come round the display isle to see which phone we were looking at B. He shrugged and said “Samsung didn’t send me a Note 10 to display”. He slightly redeemed himself by offering to power up the S10s on display that weren’t powered up but by then we were already halfway out and not looking at S10s anyway.
Step 3. Persistently, we gave Kotsovolos one more chance by going to the flagship store in town (pictured in the image above, illustrating this article). The experience there was way better. Both the Galaxy Note 10+ and Galaxy Note 10 were on display. The tactile experience was being met. Unfortunately, my partner was thinking about getting it in White which wasn’t in stock but it could be brought in from another branch within the hour if necessary. By then we’d been shopping for two hours and coffee was calling but we said we’d come back once we’d thought about it.
By the time we finished our coffee and our discussion on the pros and cons between the two versions of the Galaxy Note 10 we decided that, as parking was running out, we’d ought to get home; have one final check at online videos detailing features and direct user experience and make the final decision then.
Once we were home, alerting the store that we wanted the phone from could get done over the phone, we thought, and we could then quickly go in, pay for it and pick it up.
Step 4. The only way to talk on the phone to Kotsovolos is through the central line on their website. I’ve used the service before and the staff who operate it are impeccably well trained. Knowledgeable, polite and always great to deal with. It wasn’t any different this time. I gave the product number, explained that I needed to tell the store to get it in so I could go an hour later and collect it. The person on the phone informed me that unfortunately it was impossible to dial the store directly. She would be happy to take an order over the phone however or I could drive to the out of town branch where the phone was in stock.
I thanked her. Hang up.
Now, I could have put in a phone order or even made the purchase through the website, but my partner had hoped to get the phone today. An online order meant a three-day delay, at least, with the weekend taken into account. Faced with yet another trip to town, albeit a quick one and a further delay of an hour where we’d have to hang about while they got the phone in, we decided to put it off till tomorrow so we can also get some work done.
So here’s the 60 second summary: We knew the make and model of the phone we wanted and my partner was weighing things up like phone weight, phone screen size and feel, etc. Price was not an object. With money clasped in fist, figuratively speaking, we entered two stores and spoke to someone online and they all failed to take the money from us and give us a phone despite the fact that we’d already decided on the outlet (which means their competition didn’t factor in, here) and already knew what we more or less wanted.
Bricks and mortar stores complain that e-commerce is killing their business. At a time when they really have to work hard for each and every sale it is important to dissect what went wrong here.
To keep this as objective as possible I’ve discounted things like customer engagement and whether the sales assistant appeared to be interested or not and have focused on the facts:
Branch one: Only one version of the phone on display. Sure, the second version is the same but smaller but for someone who wants to use it one-handed the size of the screen and weight of the phone is a real issue and not having the ability to pick it up, handle it, use it pretty much kills the reason for going into the store in the first instance. Zero attempt made to solve this in any way beyond saying, essentially: this is the way it is.
Branch two: Phone not available in white. Again I totally get stock level issues and the investment in inventory, especially where expensive tech is concerned, yet the one reason for going into a store is to get something there and then, otherwise we’d all shop exclusively online all the time. Here, at least, a solution was offered pretty much immediately.
Website staff: Appeared to compete directly with the brand’s brick and mortar stores. Everyone I spoke to was unfailingly professional, polite and helpful, yet the only way we could make a purchase was by cutting out the local store completely and going through the phone sales staff or the website checkout even though I explained we’d wanted the phone that day which was why we were going through the local branch in the first instance.
With the exception of the first branch we visited where, in all fairness, the sales assistant may have been having an off day at the end of a long week, the entire Kotsovolos experience was one of customer touchpoints where everything possible was done to make a sale but which all failed to take into account the customer journey and the overall customer experience. None of them, in my experience, thought in terms of brand value and by failing to do this they failed to excite any customer loyalty, despite our willingness to give them our money.
Though we make a very small sample group the experience here is one of systemic failures that lead to a qualitatively bad customer experience that devolved into a grouping of customer touchpoints none of which really worked as it should.
Hypothetically this is how the situation could have been salvaged at each touchpoint: Had the assistant in the first branch offered to show us the Galaxy S10 as a stand-in for the Galaxy Note 10 explaining that the functionality may be a little different but the form factor is virtually the same, as a YouTube reviewer pointed out, a sale would most probably have taken place there and then. Particularly as they had the model in white in stock on the premises.
Had the flagship store had better stock levels, a sale would have been made there and then.
Had the online/offline business model been set up in a way that the website and/or call center could funnel sales directly to the nearest store by allowing a call through (which was all that was required in this case) or, at the very least, calling them themselves, a sale would have been made there and then and the Galaxy Note 10 picked up an hour later.
In addition we wanted, in spending money, to help the local economy as opposed to just a large national brand. The two branches we visited are staffed by sales assistants who rely on a commission (I assume, if the model is the same as Dixons back in the UK) have families and ought to be able to make a living, we don’t want to see a local branch go away because of the relative ease of buying things online. Nothing here helped us achieve our intrinsic goals.
The overall experience locally was underwhelming which makes it difficult to want to repeat and, despite our persistent efforts, we were unable to complete a purchase on the day.
Now, sure, we will go back tomorrow. Order the phone, grab a coffee while it comes into the branch and complete the purchase a day later. But it shouldn’t take that amount of determination and planning to give someone money.
Question to ask yourself if you’re running a business:
- Is there complete alignment in the aims of the online/offline teams and are those aims serving your brand?
- Is your sales staff aware of how it can contribute to the customer experience?
- Are all your touchpoints integrated into a whole customer experience?
- Is your business aware of how a customer experience is created?