Meet and Greet
In a number of recent high-street and retail-park visits, I have noticed a growing trend of retailers ‘embracing customer experience’ by stationing staff at the entrance to the store. This “Meet and Greet” service is seen in everywhere from electronics retailers to coffee shops, clothes retailers to even supermarkets.
Declining High Street Retail
Outwardly, meet and greet seems like a good idea.
“Make our customers know they are valued”
”Offer them assistance”
”Be a friendly face to the brand”
”Make our customers feel valued”
At the end of the day, we all read the stats about high street retail declining (see https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-43240996) - pretty much everyone that has ever purchased something online is a contributor to that slippery slope. Certainly everyone who has ever stood in a store, looked up a price on Amazon, and then ordered online is part of the problem.
So, what do retailers do about it ?
They can’t compete on price, not without significant loss leaders.
They have to focus on the customer experience. The very thing that differentiates bricks and mortar retail over internet shopping is that human contact. In fact, human first focus is not only one of the most powerful tools to keep high street retail alive, it’s probably one of the only tools to keep it alive.
So, keen to embrace that fact, retailers use their Customer Experience teams to push out initiatives that ensure that customers are treated well, are welcomed and are cared for.
Brilliant. Top marks, this should be rewarded, right ? Well if it’s done right, then yes - however I have seen several examples since the beginning of the year that literally made me turn around and walk back out.
Getting Meet and Greet very wrong
These examples are possibly isolated, but my gut feel is they are simply retail staff following the edict they have been given from some central team, without thinking of the impact on the customer.
Meet and Greet Examples
Sports Direct: on the face of it, Sports Direct staff seem to stand by the door in order to say hello as you enter the store. In reality it is very clear that they are stood by the door in order to stop people shoplifting. I have not visited many stores, but the ones I have it is very apparent that the staff stationed by the door really do not want to be there, they never offer help, and often don't even acknowledge you. So, stand there and essentially make everyone feel under suspicion. It’s not really customer-centric.
Currys / PC World: On entering the store, you are usually met by 3 or 4 people standing right by the entrance. On one occasion in Weymouth I entered the store and was faced with 7 staff, one of which had eye-watering personal hygiene issues, which permeated the rest of the store. They all looked at me, but didn't say anything. When I got deeper into the store to try and buy a keyboard for my wife, I couldn't find anyone to ask about a specific model. I went back to the front entrance, to a group of 4 people who were talking amongst themselves, asked my question, and then one of them proceeded to ask for someone to help via walkie-talkie. I then waited for 10 minutes to be helped, even though there were still 4 people having a conversation. I walked away and bought a keyboard online.
Apple: Often hailed as the perfect example of modern retail. Often you enter a store to find more Blue Shirts than customers. They are so attentive and willing to help that it can become overwhelming for some people. In Southampton recently I was asked by 5 people on individual occasions if I needed any help. This was during the span of a less than 10 minute visit.
Independent (and expensive) Furniture Retailer: Upon entering the store you are not always greeted by staff, but sometimes you get a friendly hello. However, when browsing, across a showroom with plenty of room dividers and various mezzanine-style levels, you soon notice a suited-and-booted figure in your peripheral vision, no matter where you go. It’s like having the shadow of Nosferatu constantly tracking you, in silence, waiting for the opportunity to pounce. The sales person is clearly waiting to be attentive, but the way it’s done is off-putting, anxiety-inducing and uncomfortable. Even if they ask you initially if you need help and you say you are just browsing, they still proceed to follow you around in the shadows.
Not everyone wants help
I am probably not the only person that visits retail stores expecting to ask for help if I need it. I want to browse, and if I get stuck with finding something, or a missing price, or a technical question, I will seek out help. Entering a store and being faced with a number of staff can be quite intimidating for a large portion of society. Just because someone in charge has deemed it the right thing to do, does not make it the right thing to do.
Yes, there are people that love that stuff, and expect staff to be there to pay instant and undivided attention to their needs. But equally, there are people that wish to be a lot more passive, and want to enjoy a shopping experience on their own terms.
The Currys PC World example is something I have seen many times now. In all circumstances, across multiple stores, you enter the shop to a wall of retail assistants, only to struggle to find one when you need them.
How to Meet and Greet
It’s the classic adage “keep it simple’. Think about small, local stores. You enter the store, the person acknowledges you in a friendly manner (just a nod, a smile and maybe a hello from behind the checkout). You broswse, and if you have a question they can answer it.
Many years ago, Julian Richer who owns Richer Sounds (a HiFi and Home Cinema retailer) wrote a book called The Richer Way. It detailed his philosophy of running a retail business in a much more disruptive (and often logical) way. One of his initiatives, that always stuck with me, was the concept of a badge system. This system was basically a couple of coloured stickers that a customer picked up on the way into the store. One was a badge that said “I know what I am after, leave me alone”, and the other say “I am new to all of this, I’ll probably need some help'“. I love the simplicity of this concept, give the customer the choice to be treated in whatever way suits their personal preference. OK it's not necessarily scalable, and it's a product of it's time, but I am amazed that no pioneering retailer has not developed this idea further.
At the end of the day, you need to meet and greet, but you need to take individual preferences, personalities and circumstances into account.