The Retail Leadership Vaccuum

Looks like we’re in a bumper crop of morons. It’s not a very nice thought, but it’s one that rages in my mind far too often. Especially when I’m in the middle of a store noticing a massive retail leadership failure.

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Courtesy Flickr User hobvias sudoneighm, CC
Courtesy Flickr User hobvias sudoneighm, CC

I just returned from Wal-Mart with two bottles of bleach and a box of lightbulbs. As I approached the front of the store to break my shortest-actual-shopping-trip record, my heart filled with dread. Lines and lines of piled-high baskets. Drawn like so many moths to the blue lights over three checkout stations.

I’m a pro at measuring the contents of a line’s baskets and picking the quickest way to the parking lot. As I plied my craft, it was no surprise that my line moved much faster than the line next to it. When I stepped into the bullpen for the cashier’s little conveyer belt, I noticed why.

Sitting in one of those powered carts was a woman clearly in need of assistance. The cashier had filled all the bags on her sack carousel, but there were still items on the conveyer. Crisis! She stepped over to the four or five supervisors chatting nearby– wait, wait…there are supervisors watching long lines go unserved and they’re chit-chatting?!

She stepped over to the enormous pile of wasted money and asked what she should do. After mulling it over, the supervisors decided she should fill more sacks and set them on top of the carousel so her line would move. What a lack of retail leadership (some of us call it commons sense).

I set my items down in the floor and stepped over. Amazingly, when I put sacks in the cart, more space was available to bag items. I smiled and asked the woman if she had help to load up her car. She said her daughter was on the way. Suddenly, I’m the CEO of Wal-Mart.

Not surprisingly, no one made eye contact with me when I picked up my bleach and light bulbs and headed to the back of the line.

Retail Leadership is Dead

I don’t know about you, but these sort of horrible experiences are becoming the norm. I’ve got a similarly embarrassing story about Sam’s Club, where we pay for the privilege to shop! On separate visits, I’ve been berated by a teenaged supervisor and a middle-aged manager after commenting about poor service times.

Here’s what’s amazing:

  • There are always tons of employees running around.
  • There are never enough employees where they need to be.
  • Supervisors and managers are always available to “listen” to your complaint.
  • Supervisors and managers seem to never be available to assist their team. 
  • We bask in the abuse!

Listen up, retail leaders: your stores are really sucking.

I used to get so angry at consumers who left shopping carts in the parking lots (still a pet peeve). Tonight I drove by cart corrals packed with buggies. I used to get so mad at employees who couldn’t solve basic problems. Tonight I reaped the benefit of a bumper crop of supervisor-morons.

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6 thoughts on “The Retail Leadership Vaccuum

  1. I get so frustrated when a store is busy and the supervisors or managers are standing around doing nothing. It’s a total lack of leadership. Though I have learned a lot in these situations about leadership or what not to do as a leader 🙂

    1. Absolutely! When I was in food service leadership, I would “plug the gap” in situations like this. I understand one leader maintaining distance for operational purposes, but not a whole covey of do-nothing mid-level supervisors.

  2. So…I used to work at Best Buy.

    Why is Best Buy in trouble? It’s not just, it’s that the in-store experience is horrible. I noticed it has improved greatly when I was in there last week, but for the most part it has been horrible the last few years.

    Best Buy just became too successful, and that success enabled them to do things that were extremely poor.

    Poor customer service, a lack of knowledge with the employees, harassing you at the check-out line (No I do NOT want a magazine subscription even if it is free!) Employees clearly standing around while lines piled up at the front. Poor and uneven display strategy. So on and so forth.

    Even when I worked there in the 90’s, our general manager sacrificed the customer experience so he could get more product in. Yes, the store made tons of money, but I wonder how many customers said “That was horrible! You can barely move in there. I won’t be back!”

    That’s not even getting into the extremely poor communication of the general manager to his employees. We hated his guts to be blunt. Even as a manager myself now (Not in retail!) I look back at that time and have no sympathy for the guy. He was just a flat out bad boss and one of the many examples that I call to mind of what NOT to do.

    Retail is their own worst enemy. They have some real advantages over on-line shopping and they continually choose not to use them.

    1. Great example, Rob! While Best Buy is notorious for terrible service, I would argue that oftentimes in retail the problem is not organizational culture but the culture created in individual stores.

      I love this about retail and food service: front-line managers make a HUGE difference in customer experience. In businesses with multiple locations, you’ve got to have a miniature owner at the helm.

      In my time in hospitality and training, we’ve always used a customer’s letter to Best Buy. In his letter, the customer lets management know that he loved the store in his hometown: the staff was courteous, the store was clean, and the technicians were knowledgeable. When he moved, though, the electronics giant might as well have had a different sign out front– the experience was horrible! Which experience influenced his shopping decisions more?

      When you’ve got this noticeable difference from store to store, it’s time to focus on the most important metric of all: how people feel when they shop at your location. I forget whose quote it is, but it goes like this: “When you put your profits ahead of your customers, you soon find yourself with neither.”

      Thanks for stopping by, Rob, and for sharing your experience.

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