Sunday, November 18, 2007

Corporate Culture Impact on Shopping Experience

My wife and I went shopping today for a larger-ticket item. We did some comparison shopping, and found some huge differences among the stores we went to. Each store had an obvious niche, and an equally distinct atmosphere and customer experience. In my experience, leadership impacts culture; culture impacts the way the staff treats customers, which impacts the customer experience, ultimately impacting sales.

We saw four kinds of stores:

  1. High-end: Top notch prices in an upscale environment
  2. Low-end: Lower prices but an uncomfortable shopping experience
  3. Middle-of-the-road: Acceptably lower prices, but a pleasant shopping environment
  4. Wholesale: Best prices, but like shopping at a deli

In the high-end store, we were met with high schmooze-factor sales techniques. The sales person felt like everyone's definition of a used-car salesman. She cozied up to us obsequiously. She gave us lots of information that sounded useful, but after we had shopped at other stores turned out to be mostly a smoke screen. Their culture appeared to recognize that they wouldn't win on price, so they had to "fool" the customers either by selling the sizzle, or by selling a false relationship. We walked out as quickly as we could, feeling dirtier than when we entered.

In the low-end store, we also had a sense that the product was overpriced for its quality. It felt like the quality of the product was much lower to match the lower price. The niche appeared to be to set an environment that looked low-end, so that customers felt they were getting a bargain. We got lots of useless information about how to compare their product against the competition. Again, it felt like a culture of "fooling" the customers into a sale.

One particularly low-end store had a sign that said, "All sales final." We didn't even stop there.

The middle-of-the-road store was very comfortable, neither showy nor shabby. Our sales person gave us detailed and relevant information about his product. We felt like we got a valuable lesson in what factors impacted quality, and how to value them. He steered us away from the top end, pointing out why it wouldn't matter to us. The prices were only slightly more than the low-end store, but we felt the quality of the product was much higher. The culture of this store appeared to be based on confidence in the product and fairness of the price. This came across as honesty from the salesman and inspired our trust.

We walked into the deli-like wholesale store, where we literally took a number. The place was shabby but crowded with customers who were buying. Their culture appeared to be optimized toward giving the lowest possible price, but everyone was perfectly professional. They cut corners on customer convenience, expecting customers to come in knowledgeable and ready to buy.

How we were treated by the staff impacted on our confidence in buying from each store. In the end, we bought from the wholesale store, but we will likely go back to them and the middle-of-the-road store in the future. We will certainly not go back to the high-end or low-end stores. The key was our perception of honesty in the different stores.

The leader of each company sets the culture and approach. That translates to what is expected from the sales staff and directly to how customers experience the interaction. In my own small sample size, a culture of honesty and integrity translated to a sale and future business.

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