Retail Done Right

Love it or hate it, technology is here to stay. At the Global Leader’s Summit this past week, former Vice President Joe Biden talked extensively about the positives and negatives associated with rapid technological advancements. During his opening remarks, Biden commented that, although these new technologies are raising productivity and economic growth, they have their problems. Biden said that technology, as he has seen it is, “generating a great deal of anxiety in our population and as I travel the world as well.”

Much of these concerns directly relate to technology streamlining jobs that Americans used to hold. Biden points to the fact that within the last year, over 250,000 people working in retail have lost their jobs because a large majority of consumers (especially my own demographic) are now shopping more online than in brick-and-mortar locations. This is indeed a major concern. I may be an outlier, but I despise shopping online. It is hard enough for me to find clothes that I like when I can try them on, but when I shop online, I only have the image of what the clothes look like on the model to go by. Let’s just say, clothes do not look the same on me as they do on supermodels.

But, what I really enjoy about shopping in actual stores, rather than online, is the personal interactions that you experience, whether that be with the salespeople, your friends or even your own mother. Whenever I go shopping with my mom and we cannot agree on whether an item of clothing looks good, she will immediately scamper out of the dressing room, recruit the nearest salesperson and ask for his or her opinion. Even though this process can be embarrassing, and as soon as I see my mom heading for the fitting room door, I begin my incessant protests, people working in retail usually know what they are talking about. Getting a stranger’s opinion is oddly helpful since, even though they are undoubtedly trying to sell you something, they also don’t want you to leave the store with an item that makes you look like a total idiot.

Having worked in retail, I understand how important it is to facilitate relationships with customers. Even though the brand I worked at claims to have begun, “as a unique retail experience and community center for creative, college-age customers,” their target demographic has expanded greatly since 1970. Especially since the particular store I worked in was located inside a major mall, we were often visited by all different types of customers, each with a different purpose for their visit. During my time working there, I would have at least two to three mothers per day ask me to help them pick clothes for their high school or college-aged sons. Without fail, they would always launch into a dialogue about how their sons didn’t know how to dress themselves and before long we were having a real, personal conversation.

On one incident in particular, a 20-something girl came in and needed help buying an outfit for her best friend for her birthday. The only thing she gave me to go on was that she wanted to look “kind of hipster cool.” We spent the next hour going around the store exploring options from knee high socks to different varieties of chunky sweaters. By the end of her shopping spree, I had not only gotten to know her, but she also spent well over $350 and was thrilled with every single piece we had picked.

Since she had opted to come into the store, I was able to help the customer pick out the correct sizes, while also offering my honest opinion about what items worked well; and all of this without having to pay shipping. Many companies that specifically target millennials are trying to incorporate better avenues for customer service into their online stores. For example, Brandy Melville, Triangl and Rent the Runway all have options where you can “chat” with an employee via an instant messenger feature. However, nothing can beat getting honest advice in person.  

Although better customer service is a key reason why you should shop in actual stores, having worked in retail, I understand how many awesome people depend on these jobs for survival. One of my managers told me that while in college, before she got this job, she had to decide nightly whether to feed herself or her cat. By buying online, we are not only cheating ourselves out of a better shopping opportunity, but we are also eliminating jobs from people that truly depend on them. Especially with graduation and formal season coming up, why not try shopping local instead of taking a chance online? Not only can you find a gem, but you will be sure to meet some fun people along the way.