Stores using better service to get customers to buy

Holiday shoppers flood a target in Pleasant Prarie, Wis. on Black Friday -- November 28. 2008

TEXT OF STORY

Tess Vigeland: Alright for those of you who braved the stores on this Black Friday or anytime recently, here's a question: How was the service? Did you notice friendlier sales staff? Maybe a clerk going out of her way to bring you that smaller size in the dressing room? If you answered yes, it probably wasn't an accident.

As Marketplace's Amy Scott reports, service may be making a comeback in the tough economy.


Amy Scott: Macy's flagship store in Manhattan was crawling this morning. With shoppers sure, but also with extra-attentive staff.

Debbie Ormsby: They're everywhere. You know, you turn around and you're bumping into them, so I mean...

Debbie and Leonard Ormsby were visiting from Canada.

Debbie: And all you have to do is ask, and they tell you what you're looking for and where it is.

Leonard Ormsby: And all courteous, all very helpful.

Retailers often pull out the stops on Black Friday. But Wendy Liebman with WSL Strategic Retail says they're trying harder in general these days. Shoppers are still reluctant to part with their money and stores can only cut prices so low.

Wendy Liebman: What retailers have come to learn is that shoppers have become tightwads, understandably so. They've got to find ways to budge them. And I think that's where they're seeing service as a component that can make a difference.

Liebman says department stores in particular are returning to old-fashioned customer service, sometimes with a modern twist. This year, Macy's expanded its "search and send" service. If you can't find something in a store, a clerk will search online and have it shipped to you. But don't expect attention like that everywhere you shop.

Analyst Ken Perkins of Retail Metrics says many stores are still light on staff, after cutting back during the recession. And he says discounters can't afford to offer bargains and star treatment too.

Ken Perkins: If price is your primary objective and you're trying to stretch your dollar, I think most consumers are willing to sacrifice some customer service for that.

Analyst Wendy Liebman says retailers trying to go the extra mile should be careful to strike the right balance. One listener who wrote in said she got so used to being ignored while shopping, the new attention felt almost intrusive.

In New York, I'm Amy Scott for Marketplace.

About the author

Amy Scott is Marketplace’s education correspondent covering the K-12 and higher education beats, as well as general business and economic stories.

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