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Posts Tagged ‘customer service generally sucks.’

You see, I’m spending the weekend in the exurbs of Philadelphia, but the folks behind Main Street at Exton would want you to believe that we’re actually somewhere in England:

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You see, the sign says “TELEPHONE” but what’s this?

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Hey developers:  why are you turning this lifestyle center into A HOUSE OF LIES?

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           Much like a recalcitrant, angst-ridden teenage artist, American Apparel is a tough store to love.  While there are so many aspects of the brand and company that recommend it, from offering living wages and other benefits to factory workers to providing well-cut-and-priced cotton basics, there are enough bad points that, if placed in a vacuum, should turn any decent person against it:  surly, drugged-out help, a lascivious CEO known for being overtly sexual to the point of being sued by former female employees, and ridiculous clothes that should never be worn in daylight to name but a few.  Perhaps (probably) this makes me weak, but I can’t help loving (spending money at) it anyway.

          Though it’s perhaps for the best, I seldom venture to the single physical location in Connecticut—despite being in Norwalk, it’s too far to walk to from where my office is, and doing my duty vis-à-vis Al Gore (i.e. commuting on the Metro North) leaves me with no car to use in the area.  As a result, I am usually an online-only customer, but every once in a while I am struck with such a strong desire for cheap underwear, T-shirts and shorts that even next-day shipping won’t satisfy my lust (plus, it’s expensive).  More importantly, visiting the physical store, whether in SoNo or SoHo, allows me the chance to throw the online versus in-person experience into sharp relief, and provides a sort of reality check when assessing the brand one way or the other.

          When browsing the online store, AA becomes a place with lots of reasonably-priced basics, some risqué advertising, and slide shows featuring nifty signs all over the world.  There are some innovative pieces like the Transformer of dresses (wear it at least 15 different ways!) and ridiculously cute intimates that rival the laciest offerings from Victoria’s Secret in sexiness.  Because you’re behind a keyboard and armed with a mouse, you can dictate your journey and therefore avoid anything that you have absolutely no interest in, such as copper lamé leggings, or one-piece bathing suits that resemble suspenders.  It’s fun, fairly convenient, and consumer-friendly—any order over $50 gets you free shipping, and there are constant online promotions that either save you money on merchandise or on expedited shipping.  It’s one of my favorite places to shop online.

Compare that AA to the retail store, and it instantly becomes clear why some people are vehement AA bashers.  The stores themselves are laid out fairly well, with lots of bright white walls and bright lighting that make the colors pop, and pop-up cards that denote where one product ends and another begins, but the fitting rooms aren’t all that great—shockingly, cotton curtains seldom succeed in fully cloistering one’s half-dressed self from the prying eyes of the younger and more toned!  Add to that any forced interaction with store associates in order to use one of the said fitting rooms, and what was once an innocuous trip to paw at jersey dresses turns into one more opportunity to be eyed up and judged, as if you were looking for entrance into The Loft (SoNo, not in NYC) instead of, say, trying on a $20 article of clothing.  I’m not one to say all American Apparel associates are bad—the kids in the SoHo location were actually pretty friendly to me the one time I went in, considering where they work—but perhaps due to its singular presence in the state, the kids manning the Norwalk store have perfected their looks of bored hauteur, insulted if their conversation pertaining to the post-modern importance of Avril Lavigne is interrupted.  Add to that the Fairfield County princesses dragging their checkbook-wielding mothers through the place as they collect piles of purple leggings to wear with skating dresses, and it’s much easier to dismiss the retailer in general.  Suddenly you realize exactly who subscribes to the (frankly) heinous shit they produce and promote, and it gets a little embarrassing to admit that you like even the wearable products.

          The solution to this dilemma, of course, is simple—I have since resolved to no longer patronize the Norwalk store, restricting myself only to buying products online.  I can cherry-pick the aspects of the brand that I want to associate with, and dismiss those that may spark a twinge of regret.  Coked-out associates?  Sexual harassment suits?  Not at the store I shop at! (Please note that my tongue is firmly placed in cheek here.  Bad customer service and employee harassment are not to be taken lightly, and as the company expands under new ownership, I’ll be watching them as I do any company I do business with). 

           Of course, the same day I decided to do this, I happened to check the upcoming store locations page (I heard a rumour that a store in my town was coming), and oh look, there it is.  I suppose the only thing I can do, then, is to see if it’s any good.  In the name of research, of course.

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            Times, they have-a changed since college.  During my four years of schooling, this time of year would mean me slaving over a copier or a cash register, cranking out photo calendars (for $24.99 for the first, but quantity discounts applied!) in addition to fulfilling the crazy orders of stressed marketing executives who needed those 25 presentations printed in color in 28lb bright white paper and finished with coil binding NOW, DAMMIT!  For whatever reason, though I worked at this store for many seasons (summers, holidays, the random winter season between marching band and indoor drumline), the most interesting customer stories seemed to crop up between mid-December and early January, and perhaps in the gods’ way of sending me out in style, no holiday season was quite as memorable as my final one, during my senior year: 

  • Silver “fox” (clearly a prematurely-greying man who decided to embrace his grey and try to be the silver fox, but not succeeding at it) stopped me en route to the copy center and tried to ask me out to lunch.  I had spoken maybe ZERO words to him, but he was so self-assured of his supreme sexiness that he couldn’t believe that I would turn him down.  Granted, I had/have a boyfriend, but the existence of one would not have changed my answer one whit.  He then went on to terrorize my poor coworkers in the customer service department, angrily complaining about a return.  Not seeing myself as a sacrifice, I was not sad with these developments.
  • About a week after this—after Christmas—a woman comes in during our slow period during the week, between 6:30 and 8PM.  The copy center is relatively quiet, but so is the rest of the store, so I can stay behind the counter and start my cleaning process.  She approaches the counter and hands me a picture, asking me to copy it for her.  As I’m looking at it, to figure out the best way to program the copier, she asks if I think the subject is beautiful.  I naturally say yes (honestly, the woman in the photograph was stunning).  My customer then begins to break down, telling me that I’m looking at her sister who had been murdered a day or two earlier.  She’s crying (understandably), I’m rushing to grab the tissues and tell her that we have a restroom that she can go to if she wants some privacy.  I work on making the copies the best I can fucking make them, and am shaken for the rest of the evening.
  • So shaken, in fact, that a kind gentleman who asks me to copy his screenplay for him engages me in conversation about topics including novels, narratives, and the like later that evening, and while I view this as a pleasant distraction from the distraught I feel from my prior customer, he sees as me flirting with him.  As I hand him his copies and check him out, he thanks for me being so nice and makes an insinuation that I should go out with him to dinner.  Fortunately, he was meek enough to know that I was going to turn him down, because he ran after he said this, so I was spared that embarrassment.

Reading this made me relive these mortifications, and I’m very thankful for not being in that position tonight, or any other night, for that matter.

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Despite the questionable state of the current economy, the rich continue to spend virtually unabated, comprising what Michael Gross calls a “hugely disproportionate chunk of consumer activity” compared to the rest of us (i.e. the 80% of us not considered “rich”).  Retailers have struggled through this period, with many reporting dropping same-store-sales (a key measure in retail performance) and are now left struggling to figure out a way to recapture that ever-elusive profit margin.

The apparent answer:  target the rich!  They have money!

J.Crew, admittedly a store that I have a pretty strong love for (my wedding dress is from there, after all, and not one of the trés expensive ones), unveiled the J.Crew Collection a year and a half ago, featuring fabrics that were even more luxurious than its main line, detailing like intricate hand-beading, and designs that ostensibly show a greater attention to creating fashion-y pieces that could appeal to a more high-end consumer looking for something “special.”  Now Anne Taylor wants to get in the act with their own “Collection” line, featuring high-end updates on their business-casual separates, albeit with better fabrics, construction and details.

 

While in theory the idea kind of works—asking people to pay more for a better-constructed item that veers more towards classic than trendy isn’t the most ridiculous thing ever—what both of these brands fail to realize is that the market they want to target already has higher-end contemporary/bridge lines (like, for instance, Theory) that fill this niche and carry brand cachet.  J.Crew manufactures shoes that sell for nearly as much as Marc Jacobs or even a simple Manolo Blahnik; these Ann Taylor pants are very close in price to Theory’s famously slimming pants.  If a customer has already made the leap to lay out that kind of money for a clothing item, what would stop them from getting something “authentic” versus a mass brand’s facsimile?  And more importantly, why go to the extra expense and effort to court this imaginary new segment when both would much more likely be efficiently spent catering to your actual customer?

Clearly, they haven’t taken the same MBA classes Ryan Howard has.

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For all of you who live in the U.S./order on Amazon.com, you must have this customer service number at your fingertips:

1-800-201-7575

That is the number to reach Amazon.com’s customer service desk.  To understand how important this is, read this story to realize the arduous task it can be to acquire this.

 Real post to be available soon.

And yes, I’m awesome.  :)

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