TEXT OF INTERVIEW
Bill Radke: The International Council of Shopping Centers says sales were up almost 3 percent last week compared to a year ago. But honestly, anything would look good compared to a year ago. The fact is, retailers have to compete hard for the elusive shopper. You might think when you do walk into a store you ought to be treated like King Tut. David Lazarus wondered why that’s not happening. He’s a Los Angeles Times business columnist. Good morning David.
David Lazarus: Good morning.
Radke: I see you’ve brought a newspaper ad with you.
Lazarus: I’ve brought a visual aid. I’ll hold it up to the microphone so everyone can see it. There you go. And this is from electronics heavyweight Best Buy, which this week has launched a nationwide newspaper and television campaign, not to sell flat-panel TVs; instead what they are selling is customer satisfaction.
Radke: Why does Best Buy think this is what’s going to hook the customer this season?
Lazarus: I think because Best Buy knows very well that customer service and customer satisfaction has become miserable throughout the retail sector. All you’ve got to do is look out on the showroom floor and see how confused and perplexed and frustrated so many consumers are. The question then becomes: Why aren’t more businesses doing something about it?
Radke: With customers so reluctant to spend this year, I would’ve thought that customer service would be at an all-time high. You’ve got to get those few customers.
Lazarus: You would think most businesses would be competing aggressively across the spectrum. In fact, it’s all about price. You talk to the marketing experts, and they say they American consumer, right now, doesn’t really place consumer service as highly as he or she once did. Instead, it’s all about low, low, low prices, and so what we’re seeing this holiday season is this massive price war that’s breaking out. Look at books and DVDs among, say, Amazon, Target and Wal-Mart. I just bought the new Stephen King novel for less than $10 with free shipping from Target, which is extraordinary! I can’t even imagine the loss they’re taking. But that’s not about service, per say, that’s about allowing an informed consumer to make a good pick. What Best Buy’s trying to say is, you come in here, and we’ll make you happy.
Radke: Are there companies that are doing customer service right, you think?
Lazarus: I think there are. For instance, people who shop at Trader Joe’s tell me all the time they have no trouble getting help. Nordstrom’s is a very good example of a retailer that really emphasizes customer services and is going to make sure that someone is right there next to you when you have a question. The thing is, of course, you’ll pay for that extra level of service.
Radke: Los Angeles Times business columnist David Laarus, thanks.
Lazarus: Thank you.