Monday, April 27, 2009

Lost business

Sears lost my business yesterday. So did T.J. Maxx. Here’s what happened:

As soon as I walked into Sears (in Plainfield, N.J.), I noticed that the store was warm. It was hot outside -- an early blast of summer -- but that was no excuse. I stopped at several stores prior to Sears, including Walgreens, Target and A&P, and all of them were fine. I’m a hardy sort and the heat typically doesn’t bother me, but after about 10 minutes in Sears, I decided to pack it in. I wasn’t warm anymore: I was downright hot. And I noticed I wasn’t the only one. “I thought I was having a hot flash,” I heard one woman say to another, “until my son asked me, ‘Mom, why is it so hot in here?’”

As I was leaving, I stopped at a check out to ask if there was a problem with the air-conditioning: Was it broken? One of the sales people told me, “We don’t know. They don’t tell us anything.” Another associate added that the air-conditioning hadn’t worked properly for most of last July, “and I hated coming to work every day because once I got here, I had no energy.”

I’ve written for years about how important a store’s heating, ventilation and air-conditioning level is to the overall shopping experience, and about how a malfunctioning HVAC system translates into lost sales. But not until yesterday did I really experience it first hand. I would hope that Sears has enough respect for its customers and employees -- because they are the ones who suffer most in these type of situations -- to get its air-conditioning fixed and back on track before summer really kicks in.

After leaving Sears, I stopped at T.J. Maxx (in Union, N.J.), where the indoor comfort level was remarkably better. After trying on a couple of items, I made my way to the check out. The line was long, and not moving very fast (actually, it wasn’t moving at all). Then I saw the cause of the problem: only one -- ONE -- register was open (this in the middle of a Sunday afternoon). And it was staffed by a harried-looking young man, who looked only 17. I heard someone say he was waiting for a price check. I looked at the merchandise in my hand, all discretionary items, and decided it wasn’t worth the wait. A young woman who was about to get in line came to the same conclusion. “Forget it,” she said to her friend. “There’s only one guy working and the line isn’t moving.”

I’m hoping my experiences yesterday at the Sears and T.J. Maxx stores were out of the ordinary, and that they respect their customers enough, in Sears’ case, to provide an optimum temperature environment, and, in T.J. Maxx’s case, to provide a better level of store support. Because if they don’t, ultimately, it’s not the customers who suffer, it’s the companies themselves.

-- Marianne Wilson

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