Sales help — or lack of — at office superstore disappoints

Recent experience shows that assistance can help the consumer make the right purchase especially if they plan to spend more

HIGH POINT — Furniture retailers — or any retailers with staff on the sales floor for that matter — often have to walk a fine line between offering too much help and not enough. The last thing many customers want when walking in the door is to be greeted by a salesperson who is obviously eager to make a sale. But the customer also doesn’t want to be ignored. The question is what is too much attention and how much is too little.  

It’s almost a universal dilemma faced by everyone whatever they are in the market for, be it furniture, a car, a kitchen appliance or a big-screen TV, just a few examples of core big-ticket items.  

All this came to mind during a recent visit to an area office superstore where we were wanting to purchase a desk chair my son could use for gaming. A key consideration was price, although it was not necessarily the top consideration.

The biggest consideration was the dimensions of the chair as it needed to fit in the tight area between the foot of the bed and the edge of the dresser where the screen and console are situated.

The last time we were ready to purchase this kind of chair, we didn’t properly measure the space before buying. Thus, we ended up buying a chair that didn’t fit and had to return it, much to the angst of a moody and impatient 16-year old consumer.

So, alas, we returned to the same office superstore before the Christmas holiday and this time we were prepared with the necessary dimensions, taken by none other than the 16-year-old who wanted to make sure this time around that we were prepared.

The problem we encountered was that some of the chairs, including one brand I was keenly interested in, weren’t properly labeled with the dimensions.

That chair happened to be at the top of our price point and I was giving it a hearty recommendation based on my knowledge of the company (LZB). Turns out, it wasn’t much deserved because of incomplete information on the floor model. But it wasn’t entirely the fault of the manufacturer. It was also the fault of the retailer who had no salespeople in sight to service an area of the store — office furniture — with a significant amount of space devoted to the category.

That person, had they been around, would have likely been able to look in the system to let us know the dimensions. Notably, it wasn’t as if there were many other customers waiting for service that kept us waiting our turn. The store had little foot traffic, even for a weekend.

None of this was not lost on the 16-year-old who immediately began looking at Amazon for other options that listed the necessary specs. He found one and was ready to place an order when we decided to look further for other options on the floor. The good news was that the brick and mortar store had plenty to choose from, although many simply wouldn’t fit based on the specs, which were noted on some models.

Alas, we found one that did and that was labeled properly so we didn’t have to interrupt the couple of associates chatting at the front of the store. On a positive note, we were able to have it assembled by an associate for a minimal charge and also pick it up in the store an hour or two later. Talk about immediate gratification.

But it also left our 16-year-old with what could be interpreted as a negative experience, or at least one that could easily be addressed by going to Amazon or Wayfair.

This obviously is an upcoming generation of consumers that we can’t ignore. In fact, between 20% and 31% of the Gen Z consumers we surveyed as part of our latest Consumer Insights Now research said they planned to buy cash-and-carry items — that could easily be purchased at a brick-and-mortar store and brought home that same day — from Amazon.

In this particular case, the brick-and-mortar retailer won out. But it easily could have gone the other way had we not found a suitable alternative.

Still the experience posed another problem for the retailer. The price of the chair was only $99 which was half (or less) than what we considered spending. That’s a slim-margin item for the retailer given the wide selection at higher prices.

Was there another option in a higher price point? Possibly. But at this point, we may never know.  

Thomas Russell

Home News Now Editor-in-Chief Thomas Russell has covered the furniture industry for 25 years at various daily and weekly consumer and trade publications. He can be reached at tom@homenewsnow.com and at 336-508-4616.

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