The not so warm & fuzzy shopping experience

While many retailers will face the reality of downsizing in the New Year, this was not the Christmas to be serving up bad customer service. Here’s a personal story, some marketing lessons learned, and how it might signal a direction to the future.

My daughter’s choir was singing at Park Royal mall prior to Christmas. I had met up with my 84 year old mother in her scooter to watch, have some lunch, and then do a little shopping for her grand children. The objective was slippers for the family. Seems pretty warm and fuzzy so far. We had stopped at a retailer with signage at the store entrance promising displayed items at $29 and up. Problem was, many of the slippers weren’t tagged, and after repeated requests for the sales person to price check, we had yet to find one for $29. I politely asked to be shown the $29 models. Much confusion ensued, followed by one slipper from a tier at the back of the store being brought to my attention. I asked for a size. Again much confusion as the clerk rummaged the back storage area, tore down the display tier, with still no mate in sight. Since we were looking for 3 pairs in total, I changed models, and again was met with a fruitless search. Feeling cheeky at this stage, I suggested I’d love to buy the items, except for one nagging problem – I have 2 feet and there was only one slipper. Amidst this I had returned to the $29 rack and retrieved a pink moccasin for my daughter, and was first told it was $29, then $59. It was at that point, I asked the manager to join me at the front display for an explanation of his signage. I picked up the sign and handed it to him, suggesting he should either put an item for $29 on display or remove the sign. His response? “Will you please leave…” Granted, I cut him off at this point, and I’m sure he intended to finish with ‘…leave that sign where it is”, but I had heard enough. I informed my Mom that we had been asked to leave the store. We had been there 45 minutes trying to spend money unsuccessfully. The store was NOT busy.

Before leaving I took a photo of the $29 slipper display. From the back of the store I could see my previously hapless customer service representative was now on the phone. He bolted across the store to inform me that he had called security to have us escorted out of the mall, because we were not allowed to take a photo without permission. Stunned, I turned to interpret the message to my hard of hearing mother. However, she obviously heard, since she had gunned the scooter and was now laying a patch through the mall.

Security never did catch up to us, and ultimately the day was saved for both this business and my Mom’s Christmas shopping through their website. And that’s where this story gets interesting. The website was simple to search. The prices were reduced. And the shipping was free. Could ‘Sample store fronts’ be the wave of the future for products that need to be seen, touched or experienced, before purchased online? Sure would be a smaller and cheaper footprint. I’d be willing to buy a car this way, and that would dramatically change the distribution channel for automotive companies.

“I don’t know if we’re ready for it. An outdoor clothing retailer in the US tried and failed”, notes David Gray, Retail Strategist at Dig360, Vancouver. “I don’t know if enough customers are ready to alter their shopping experience. it’s still more common to hear where the website is letting down the storefront. However, multi-channel is where things are evolving”, notes Gray.

Ultimately the retail experience should hinge on human interaction. but in the absence of good service, or the desire to streamline distribution systems, this new model might be an intriguing idea.

Do you have a retail horror story? Customer service nightmare? Share it here!

Mary Charleson


  1. Wow – what a retail failure. Storefronts are becoming showrooms – increasingly, we check out merchandise in stores and then buy online. Retailers who figure out how to win in this scenario will get my dollar.

    • You’ve keyed in on a trend for sure, although most stores are not necessarily set up for this, it has become a default choice of some consumers. Just think of all the square foot rental of space that could be saved if it were simply a sample and display showroom rather than an actual retail sales outlet. When I first wrote this piece several years back it was unusual for the online experience to surpass the in person one. Now I don’t think we are surprised when shopping online is seamless. It has become an expectation. Plus let’s face it, the 24/7 hours of operation fit nicely into our increasingly hectic and time starved lives.

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