Friday, November 4, 2011

Why word of mouth is still our most powerful tool.

I haven't written a blog for a while and I am sure you are all missing my input in life and it's goings on. There have been many, many issues that have popped up in the mediasphere (yes I made that word up!) and any one of them could have been a great subject for a blog. The Occupy Movement springs to mind, as does same-sex marriage/civil unions, Qantas and several others but you all know how I feel about jumping on the 'cause' train. My mantra has always been to only write about that which I am confident in sharing an opinion on and only write where you can affect change.

Hence, my first post in a long while will be about shopping.

I know, it sounds inane. So many issues the country is facing and I choose shopping! In this issue though, there are many things happening, and they are happening locally with devastating effect.

This week, it was announced that those who had purchased a Reef Card would lose a full 5 months off the year due to the sale of the company. I can't decide if that should be illegal, or should just remain in the 'ignorant new owner' category. Surely, when purchasing a business, it is common-sense to continue with any 'local deals' or discount programs until their expiry? If they had chosen not to renew the program next year, fair enough. But to close the card down with no notice given, in a location which relies on the local trade during the upcoming wet season reeks of stupidity.

Now there are a multitude of people holding useless cards who are quite rightly extremely annoyed! To those people I say this; contact Fair Trade Australia and lodge a formal complaint. There are templates available online for this purpose through Fair Trade Australia and they will ONLY act if formal complaints are received.

I realise it's an added annoyance and takes time but it's worth it. If you sit idle and complain amongst yourselves, nothing will happen except you will get angrier. If you complain officially you can be assured that it will be followed up and feel better with the knowledge that you have done all you could do to rectify the situation and try to stop it happening again.

Someone recently said that we are a nation of whiners. We are not a nation of protesters. I disagree. That may be true of some generations but my family have shared a past peppered with strikes, marches and sit-ins. I belong to a complacent generation who has not fully understood the sacrifices made by our ancestors to ensure we have the ability to have our say. Sometimes we forget that we have a voice at all. That is what the Occupy Movement is founded on. The emergence of the silent majority as a vocal majority and the fact that their voice has an impact.

Still, I digress. This post is supposed to be about shopping.

This week another, lessor known event happened in our city. The Baby Barn announced it is closing down. This may not seem like a big deal to many (especially those without children and babies) but it is part of a trend. The baby and children's store in Edmonton (Juniors) is for sale. If it doesn't sell soon, it too will close. With the apparent glut of babies in the region you would think that stores dedicated to the latest Phil and Ted gear and the expertise of staff would be a necessary retail outlet. WRONG!

The advent of online shopping is one factor, yes. The bigger picture is much more terrifying for retailers than that however. We have evolved.

No longer do we appreciate the expert guidance of a salesperson for the information we require. Now, we Google it. We look up the products, research online and more often than not, enter a store with a goal and pre-ordained product in mind.

Target, Big W, Kmart and most other generic stores are filled with everything we need. From technology, to baby equipment, to toys, to clothing, manchester and kitchenware.

Most change-rooms are empty as the generic mode of shopping now allows a purchase directly from the rack in the right size. Exchanges welcome. You can stand in the baby department for a full hour and not a single staff member will offer assistance. You have to find them and ask, nicely. At which point they tell you it is not their department and attempt for the next half hour to find the sole 15 year old in charge of prams. Then after purchasing the pram, you realise when you get it home that you have no idea how to open and shut the darned thing and it doesn't even fit in your boot (I say this from experience).

I bought a pram from the Baby Barn once. They took it to my car without a box, showed me how it worked, let me practice putting it in and out of the boot, and all before accepting a single dollar from me. It's called service.

So, what does it all mean?

Will it be the end of personalised service and friendly staff? Will we be struggling to find a qualified individual to help us make decisions? Are we doomed to buy more useless cards couched as 'locals deals' when they are plainly a deal for the operators?

I hope not.

The only way to ensure it doesn't happen is to shop smarter. Find the experts in every field. Make sure they are local. Ring them a few times to make sure you will get follow up service as well. And finally, don't accept bad service, from anyone. Complain, in writing if need be. Make sure that voice you use in social circles is used when it really counts.

This will not work if you don't do the most important thing in the whole equation. Give praise. If you do receive good service, announce it to everyone. Write a letter to the boss. Anything. Word of mouth is still our most powerful tool as shoppers. Use it wisely.

In keeping with my own advice I would like to recommend the following businesses; Harley's Educational Superstore, Piccone's IGA, Juniors, Silk Cafe, Bang Espresso, Caffiend, The Green House, Blondie's Kuts and Kurls and Donaghy's Butchers in Edmonton.

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