Retail service needs a shake-up

May 30 2011 by Ellen Roseman

Are you tired of going into a big store and not being able to find help? Retailers should treat you with respect when you try to spend your hard-earned money. Instead, they make you do all the work.

You have to figure out where the stuff is located and how much it costs. To choose among several items, you have to do your own research, since you can’t rely on store staff to know anything.

Then, you often have to scan and bag your own purchases to avoid line-ups at the cashier’s desk. Whatever happened to service with a smile?

There’s nothing more frustrating than being ignored or shrugged off when you try to ask questions. But that’s the status quo at many large retail chains.

I recently went to my local Canadian Tire to buy an iron. I found two $49.95 models with the features I wanted. But the cashier rang up one at $59.95 and one at $69.95, saying they were on the wrong shelves.

A staff member was sent to track down the lower-priced irons that matched the shelf tags. Nothing turned up. I ended up paying $10 more than I thought I would, just to minimize my wasted time.

I think Canadian Tire needs a shake-up. While some franchise owners care about service, others don’t seem to want our business. They let customers fend for themselves.

In contrast, the Hudson’s Bay Co. has upgraded its staff training. I used to wander around looking for someone to help me. Now I find greeters on every floor and people who know the products they sell. It’s a welcome change.

So, what’s going on? Caitlin Kelly’s book, Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail, talks about working at The North Face, a U.S. chain. She says sales associates are treated badly, leading to surly service and lots of turnover.

A Canadian journalist living in New York, Kelly found her writing income dried up during the 2008 recession. She took a part-time retail job at $9 an hour, but found her work unsafe and injurious to her mental health.

Retail workers are treated oppressively by management, in her view. They’re forced to work long hours with low pay and little chance of advancement. She quit after two and half years, unable to quell her dissatisfaction.

As a customer, I’ve decided to stay away from stores that stint on staff. If enough of us boycott underperformers, we can start a revolution. Let’s try to bring about change for shoppers and sales associates.

Please tell me your retail horror stories and happy stories. My Moneyville post on this topic drew more than 120 comments.

Vote for my blog in Globe’s contest

May 5 2011 by Ellen Roseman

Thanks to Kerry Taylor, aka Squawkfox, I’m nominated for the best personal finance blog in the Globe and Mail’s annual contest. It’s the first time and I’m very excited.

I need your support, so vote here. I’m far behind, since I haven’t tried to solicit votes.

Very few bloggers tackle consumer issues in a sustained way. They don’t give you the resources to fight battles with large corporations on your own. That’s what I try to do.

Maria, for example, wanted help with Home Depot. I told her to read this post first. The next day, she wrote back to say she didn’t need my help after all.

“Thank you, I called the number (customer support) you have on your blog, and the issue was resolved instantly!” she said.

Another reader was happy with my advice about dealing with air travel complaints. He was frustrated with Air India, which had cancelled three flights in error and refused to compensate the passengers.

You pointed me to the Canadian Transportation Agency. I have now settled with Air India. They gave me a full refund for the 3 airline tickets in question.

Once the CTA was involved, Air India went from being a belligerent bully to someone dripping with kindless and milk! I have no doubt that this settlement would not have been possible without the intervention of the CTA.

The CTA jumped in very quickly, worked out a timeline with Air India, and then kept on top of them. When Air India started to say all the right things, the CTA offered to remove themselves from the process, with the thought that the end was near.

I, however, was able to convince them to stay in till the end, till the refund was actually delivered.

I thank you again for responding to my email, and for pointing me in the right direction. Please know that your help and hard work made a (huge and wonderful) difference!

Readers continue to respond to topics I address, which they find on Google. Popular gathering places include the post about group RESPs, accident victims vs. insurance companies and mortgage penalty shockers (and here too).

Finally, there’s the telecom industry, a never-ending source of amusement and annoyance. Bell Canada is still the most complained about company, as it struggles to fix its customer service and never quite manages to do so.

Jeffrey has a complaint about Bell’s relentless telemarketing, which he asked me to post. You’ll find it below as a comment.