Wednesday, December 19, 2007

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year...

Can't find help on Aisle 17?
You're not alone.
Come to think of it, you may be.

Retailers seem to be holding back on seasonal hiring this Christmas. According Challenger, Gray & Christmas, as quoted in a story in Fortune this week, 509,000 retail jobs were created in the October-November period.

While a half-million jobs sounds like a bunch of people working hard to serve you better, that number actually represents a 9% drop from this time last year. And unless there is a big change this month, the number of temporary jobs created by retailers this year could shrivel for the first time since 2001.

I believe that will prove to be the case, from personal observation.

Cutting seasonal employees is one strategy for holding the line on expenses during the lean times…but that tactic comes with an unintended consequence: short-staffed stores lose shoppers when the customer service wears as thinly as their patience. In fact, a record number of shoppers are walking out of stores because they couldn't find a sales clerk to help them.

America's Research Group, which regularly surveys about 1,000 consumers to get a read on holiday sales trends, says nearly one-quarter of those surveyed have walked out of a store without buying anything, because there was no one to help them—that’s up from 22% during last year's holiday shopping frenzy.

Here’s a true story from the front lines…we went into a department store last night to return some pants that were bought by remote control, and not surprisingly, did not fit. (Buying by remote control is where you go into a store an purchase an article of clothing for someone who is not present to guarantee the fit.) Happens to me all the time. I am either mistaken for a college student sized individual, or a heavy-weight wrestler, apparently, by the varying sizes of clothes that make it home.

Anyway…into the store to return some items, and purchase some hiking boots for the Christmas journey next week…and do you think we could find help in the shoe dept.?

I realize it’s all about Santa Claus this time of the year, but if Santa had to depend on customer service at some of these retailers, he’d never make it around the block on Christmas Eve, let alone around the world. We found a pair of boots we liked…but only in sizes that would compliment the clothing for the aforementioned heavy weight champ.

What to do? My enterprising Bride finally took it upon herself to check out the interior storage behind the shoe department fa├žade, where boxes and boxes of shoes were stacked to the ceiling, grouped in numeric order according to style…sort of like a Dewey Decimal System for footwear.

Shoes, boots, sneakers and flip flops (it is no longer PC to refer to this type of footwear as a “thong,” as folks will immediately visualize your form in a completely different type of couture.) Nothing to be found that we were looking for, unfortunately.

We even called another store, which was an epic exercise in patience and persistence. The only thing worse than looking for scarce salesclerks at Christmas is trying to get one to answer a phone in their department.

We ended up buying a completely different style, color, and brand by the end of the evening. One sales clerk did finally make his way into the shoe department.

He opened the door to the back storage room and said, “come on in and look around for yourself.”
Ah, customer service.

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