I have been in Vienna for a couple of days now and while my body is getting used to the 6-hour time change, my mind still struggles with some of the mindset that’s very unlike my own. I’m going to refrain from labeling my sensitivities as American/Brazilian, but I’m sure they have foundations on both cultures. One facet of the Viennese culture I’m having a hard time accepting is the retailers attitude toward consumers.
Those of you who know me personally, know I actually enjoy shopping. Yesterday I went to no less than a dozen stores, both bargain as well as high end. Throughout the entire day, not once a store clerk approached me and offered to help or even the simple, “let me know if I can help you with anything.” Sometimes workers stood right next to me stocking shelves, other times they stood at their post next to the cash register. But no matter where they were, one thing was for sure, they were not going to make eye contact with me until I decided to engage them first and ask for help. Once I did, they answered my question but never went beyond the minimum required effort.
Cultural sensitivities aside, retail stores, whether small boutiques or large department stores, are in business to make money. The way they make money is by selling goods. Even at the most expensive and exclusive boutiques in New York City, sales people are at minimum helpful and at best solicitous. I would say that the Viennese retail workforce is at best cordial, but most of the time, completely disengaged from the customer.
Some might make the case they do not need the business. I don’t think so. The global recession has hit Europe as well. But no matter your cultural background, we all want good service, we valued a shopping experience that makes us feel special, we welcome someone to help us understand the merchandise or navigate the latest fashion trends. All of us want to feel good about our purchases and a well-trained store clerk could be extremely helpful and the difference between making a sale or losing, between someone buying one item or several.
During my shopping trip I kept thinking, “if I can train these people, I bet they would double their sales.” I really believe that. Globalization is bigger than just goods being shipped around the globe. Consumer expect attentive service from retailers. I made through the entire day without making one purchase not because I didn’t find anything I wanted, but because I was not going to fight for the privilege to buy over-priced goods from less-than-friendly sales people.
Have you ever walked away from a store because the workers were not helpful?