I’m in a shopping centre, get me out of here!

I rarely enter shopping centres. There are three reasons why I might:

1. To try out a product I will buy online

2. I am with someone else and helping them find something

3. I can’t find the clothes I want on ASOS

I’m a big fan of online shopping and today I realised that the Internet has spoiled me. If I know what I am looking for, I can find it almost instantly and purchase in the blink of an eye. I’ve therefore become impatient – I don’t want to spend (read: waste) time trawling through aisles. The whole task seems unproductive and expensive to me. However, there are many that derive pleasure from entering a shopping centre. Indeed, on a trip to India I discovered many would use the shopping centre as a hub for socialising. The same was true for Bratislava.

So today, I joined this cohort and visited a local shopping centre and I want to share my experiences of a well-known British retailer.

John Lewis

I entered John Lewis with my mother with the aim to purchase a new TV. Our efforts were thwarted upon arrival, when we discovered the clearance sale starts on Thursday the 23rd of June. Therefore, why would we buy anything today with the fear that in a week’s time, we would feel shortchanged? I know there’s marketing theory behind this, but to me it seemed like a catch twenty-two. How can John Lewis advertise their sale, without leaving customers feeling dissuaded to buy on the day?

Nonetheless, we continued into the store as this provided us with time to research what we want. The store staff were quick in acknowledging us, however I was disappointed by their lack of knowledge to answer simple questions, such as what’s the difference between an LED and an LCD TV? If we’re splashing out hundreds of pounds, surely they could do as little as educate us to make our decision easier? ‘Well, one is brighter, I think’. Hardly left me inspired.

The second question I posed was more of a test, I sort of knew the answer but I was interested to hear what the staff had to say. ‘So why would I pick a Samsung over a Sony?’ ‘Err, well I would say Samsung,’ says the store assistant. ‘And what’s that?’ I ask. ‘Well I’ve had one for five years and it’s great. That was it! Rather than provide me with a list of rational reasons why I’d pick one over the other, he justified his own purchase and passed on his advocacy to me. What hope do Sony marketers have, when their resellers are advising customers based on personal preference?

This sort of reinforced what I’ve been thinking about for a while. We’re continually reading that today’s shopper is armed with a wealth of information through their mobile (indeed, Ogilvy recently published some research on this) and therefore the challenge to retailers is really to educate themselves to keep up with the consumer. One might argue that this is particularly prevalent with technology purchases, but it also applies to clothing (online price vs. high street price) and food (nutritional values & sourcing). If traditional bricks-and-mortar outlets are unable to arm staff with the knowledge that can provide the consumer with more of a value add than simply being able to physically touch the product, then Mary Portas really does her work cut out to try and save the high street.

(Oh, we’ve found the TV we want and we’ll probably buy it on the John Lewis website when the sale starts later next week. Internet – 1, High Street – 0.)

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