FYI Mary Portas: great customer service costs money

I did warn you I wasn’t a big fan of Mary Portas, so I suppose it was inevitable that I would end up muttering darkly at the TV this evening when the first episode of her new series Mary Portas: Secret Shopper aired.

pic taken from interview here

Mary has a new bee in her bonnet about poor customer service on the UK high street and the first episode saw her turn her wrath on Fast Fashion retailers.  She started by singling out Primark for criticism on the basis that they made healthy profits but had rubbish customer service; with clothes on the floor, untrained and uninterested assistants, enormous queues and so on (see your local Primark on any Saturday afternoon for details).

But what Mary failed quite spectacularly to grasp was that creating a great customer experience costs money.  Cost which has to eventually be passed on to the customer.  Stylish, spacious changing rooms require extra rent for floorspace and changing room refits don’t come cheap (I recon around £20K per store for the MTVtastic Pilot changing room refit shown in the same episode).  Having enough staff working on the shop floor so that someone is free to go and find you that dress in the next size up means more salaries to pay.  Training staff to be super smiley and helpful takes time, which again costs the company money.

You can’t have all that AND expect to be able to buy a complete outfit and still have change from twenty quid.

I’ve blogged before about how, when it comes down to it, you can have to choose two of fast, good, and cheap.  In the case of Fast Fashion, Good (service and customer experience generally) and very Cheap appear to be mutually exclusive.  There’s no question that Primark is Cheap.  But that isn’t the same as offering Value, i.e. a Good shopping experience at the right price.  Because just like every other kind of quality, you get what you pay for.

Retailers aren’t charities.  They have owners or shareholders they have to deliver returns to, so “putting profit before customer’s needs” (thank you, Mary) isn’t necessarily evil.  After all, if you don’t like the service, vote with your purse and shop elsewhere.

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