business news in context, analysis with attitude

We got a couple of interesting emails responding to Kate's column yesterday, which talked about the need for culture change at so-called omnichannel retailers where in-store personnel are resistant to the idea of taking back merchandise sold online.

One MNB reader wrote:

I read through the opening article today “Seismic Shifts” and struggled with the tone and message, I shrugged it off as a personal problem, maybe I have a chip on my shoulder? Then I got to work, in a retail adjacent field, and a coworker who was also disconcerted brought it up unprompted. Glowering and disdainful are loaded words and subject to the viewer’s own bias. The author made a lot of assumptions in that paragraph about the employee’s mood and actions. In reality, we do not know why this single employee provided poor service.  Additionally, I worry when we infer something about all Bloomingdale’s cashiers from the experience with one.

“Commissioned-sales employees were angry they had to assist customers contemplating or completing an online transactions without any compensation.

And I thought, they just don’t get it.”

I am hoping the author meant the management at Bloomingdale’s, not the employees, though this paragraph structure was unclear to me. My thoughts about the initial anecdote aside, if employee pay is built on an outdated model, we must update our compensation rules, as the author calls out. The commission model provides staff with an excellent reason to have great customer service and sell product. The paradigm has shifted and management should work to better support staff in the new world.
The bottom line is this: 1) Yes, the employee should have worked harder to be positive about an experience that was challenging for them. 2) The author could have been more graceful in describing the human being behind the counter. It was super unfortunate that they had to have such a negative interaction! Can we not be more graceful with each other?  3) Bloomingdale’s needed to adjust the way it handles online shopping so that commissioned employees are rewarded for spending their time on returns or move away from commissions. It sounds like they are working that direction, maybe a little late for Kate.

And another MNB reader wrote:

I think you were spot on with the EXCEPTION of this statement from you:

“Later that day I read about a threatened strike at Bloomingdales' flagship store. Commissioned-sales employees were angry they had to assist customers contemplating or completing an online transactions without any compensation. And I thought, they just don’t get it. As the retail industry continues to undergo seismic shifts, everyone from the person in the corner executive suite to those working at checkout needs to focus on a more seamless omnichannel experience for the consumer, whether it takes place online, on a mobile device, in the physical store, or a combination of all three.”
I have been in CPG for over 30 years and for folks “in the trenches” to “get it”, the LEADERSHIP of the entity needs to “get it”.  Very, very few leaders in the retail industry today “get it”!!  Leadership moves around to different retailers like “washed up, non-successful professional sport coaches”.  A handful of leaders “get it”.  Perhaps they include H-E-B, Wegmans, Trader Joes, Publix (although a soft recent quarter) and we will wait and see about Kroger. One thing these folks have in common – HOME GROWN TALENT.
My two cents worth.

Kate doesn't need me to defend her, but I will anyway.

The one thing she wasn't being was snarky when it comes to her description of the salesperson with whom she was dealing. I'm the one who does snarky around here ... I thought her description was pretty matter-of-fact, and necessary to the piece.

I don't think either of us would disagree with the notion that for silos to be broken down and omnichannel to be more than a word, leadership and vision have to be provided from the top. But I would argue that the people on the front lines have to embrace the idea that their jobs depend on their ability to do everything they can to keep their companies viable.

I've worked for and with a lot of bozos in my life ... but I always took pride in my job, and figured that if I were going to take a paycheck, I needed to do it to the best of my ability, even if I thought the company were being mismanaged.

Got the following email from MNB reader Brad Morris about Sears:

I grew up outside Chicago in the middle class. My dad’s tools were Craftsman, the battery in the car was a Diehard, the washer and dryer were Kenmore. When it came to back-to-school shopping we went to either Sears and/or Penny’s. Our family couldn’t afford the likes of Marshall Fields, etc.

Kmart was a place we went for all our regular throughout-the-year shopping needs. I remember the minute we got to Kmart I would head straight to the toy department and that is where I would be when my mom was done shopping and came to get me and my brothers.

I am now 52. My children are 22 and 19, and have never set foot in either a Sears or a Kmart. Our first instinct is to check Amazon for anything and everything we need. I have been a Prime member since its inception.

I understand both product and company lifecycles. As stewards of a 131 year old brand, we are constantly thinking about the unmet or emerging needs of consumers, how to meet those needs and how to connect and reconnect on every level imaginable; both physically and emotionally. All things must either end or change/adapt. I just find it a little sad that a company like Sears, that was able to grow, adapt and change for over a hundred years, could be brought down in less than one generation by such monumental arrogance, ignorance and greed.

And from another reader:

I read your note about Sears and it reminded me of an issue I had with them a 5-6 years ago. I wrote a check for a purchase of about $250 dollars and they refused to take my check due to some stupid program that supposedly identifies ‘Hot Checks’. Never mind that I have never bounced a check and if they would have called my credit union they could have verified the funds were there to support the purchase.

At the end of the day, I left my purchase and went somewhere else. Guess what? I don’t shop at Sears anymore. Yes, I understand that there are deadbeats out there and yes, honest, good people do make a mistake. However, as the person in the attached article stated, talking to someone about it was like speaking to a wall.
I’ve never had that experience with anyone else. However, the debit card does get used nowadays and I probably haven’t written more than 2 checks in the last year!

Just one question...

What's a check?
KC's View: