Marketing 101

Image of road sign which reads 'Marketing 101' Roughly five years ago, following a particularly distasteful shopping experience at Sears, I felt compelled to publish a rant entitled "The good, the bad & the real fooking oogly" pledging to boycott Sears. My resolve, in fact, extended slightly further: "I will NEVER, under any circumstances, shop at Sears as long as life's blood flows through my veins. And if the funeral director has the audacity to dress my lifeless corpse in a garment purchased at Sears I vow to rise from the grave and haunt the bastard, and all his heirs, for eternity".

I can't help but acknowledge a modest sense of justice was delivered this week when I read the Huffington Post story: Sears Canada Raises Doubt About Ability To Survive. I'm constantly amazed by the claims advanced by marketing executives who continue to assert that "the retail sector is being upended by the rise of online shopping". While it is true that online sales are rising and retail sales (for some retailers) are declining the relationship is correlational, not causal. In other words, if you smell a strong shit odour it may not be because you have a nose, it may be because you stepped in it. And, in the case of retail stores, poor customer service is a stench that consumers don't like stepping in.

I can't help but think that marketing executives and financial analysts are pretentious latte sipping, tofu and pilaf eating suckweasels whose view of the world does not extend past the http protocol. If the forecast for Sears, who do not appear to be able to meet their financial obligations over the next 12 months, appears bleak, it's not because consumers are widely embracing the online experience; it's because the in-store shopping experience at Sears is so abysmal that consumers are fleeing their stores faster than Stephen Stills at an open buffet.

There was a time when customer service and satisfaction were the hallmark of the Sears retail chain. Unfortunately, the chain seems to have undergone an Alzheimic malaise wherein customer satisfaction is unimportant or merely a convenient by-product of a casual sale; not an integral component of the business relationship. It's equally unfortunate that Sears have not undertaken a survey of why consumers no longer shop there because, I suspect, if they did, they may well discover that consumers have fled not because the online experience is pleasant, but because a root canal is a more preferable experience than dealing with customer service at a Sears store.

Take, for instance, my last shopping experience at Sears. My significant other, bless her, thought the ideal gift for the man who has everything but a new suit was, you guessed it, a new suit. And I was excited on Christmas Day when I opened the garment bag. It was a beautiful suit. Sleek, slick and truly dapper... except the pants didn't fit. When we tried to exchange it, and discovered they did not have it in a larger size, they were very reluctant to provide a refund. Reluctant, of course, is an understatement. They refused and it was only after arguing for an hour and a half and the suggestion that we resolve the matter in a more official forum (like court) that they finally capitulated and agreed to provide a refund. It was a horrid experience and one which prompted me to never shop at Sears again. I do not lay claim to a business degree, but I can walk and chew gum at the same time and recognize that the fundamental tenet of any successful business model is simple: Manage a customers expectations and deliver beyond them.

The demise of Sears is not a consequence of rising online sales. It is a consequence of my actions, and the actions of thousands of other disatisfied customers who recognize that how they're treated by the retailer is as important as the products they buy. I did not, as the marketing pundits suggest, purchase a suit online. I walked up the mall to Tip Top tailors and purchased one there. I also purchased a couple of new shirts to go with it. Had Sears treated us with the respect we deserved, we may well have purchased the shirts from them. One thing is certain, I would have remained a Sears customer.

I predict some pretty good deals at Sears within the year. But don't expect to be able to return anything you buy. Reduced prices and final sale are both traits of bankruptcy liquidations.

Submitted by "Big Banana" Bob Loblaw, 01 May 2017