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Are marketing initiatives destroying the customer experience?

discount-loyalty-customer-experienceOn a wet and windy weekend, the family decided to head for the mall. The kids opted for the movies while the parents chilled by browsing the stores and purchasing what took their fancy, agreeing to meet at the food court for a leisurely lunch and then head home. Not my favourite pursuit but the family was happy and I wasn’t going to spoil their morning. After all the rugby was on later so didn’t want anything to upset that spectacle – heaven forbid.

I took the time to observe the shoppers going about their business, how they interacted in differing environments and responded to the multitude of experiences on offer. This is, or should be, an essential activity for everybody whose existence depends on selling a commodity – most of us.

The contrasts between in-touch and floundering operators were self-evident.


The frustration and bewilderment of consumers in outlets bombarded by messages of every guise.

Thumbs down: Where the size of the discount on offer and barrage of tickets depicting the alleged savings drowned out the product and the price. Where team members screamed incessantly over the public address systems and surreptitious TV units yelled at anyone who dared to approach. Where customers negotiated obstacle courses in cluttered aisles of supplier dump bins, online picking trollies, in-store promoters and packers filling the shelves.

Thumbs up: Where the signage was generic and colour coded in subtle efforts of direction. Where the product was king and the price clear and irresistible. Accessible aisles and displays invited temptation. Ambience colluding toward an environment dependent on the target market. Clean, tidy and fresh completed the sensory sophistication.


The deliberate and public segregation of uncompliant customers.

Thumbs down: The prohibition of the non-conforming public to benefit from specials and deals on offer is incomprehensible. Over a twenty minute period, I witnessed the embarrassment of employees and indignation of customers denied access without a loyalty card. Forcing other customers to step up to resolve the situation. Most retailers appreciate that the public doesn’t read the small print, especially on prices. They see a $1 and expect to pay a $1 and rightfully so.

Thumbs up: Everyone is treated with the same respect, dignity and enthusiasm. There are no tricks or intended manipulations to hoodwink their patrons into sharing private details for intrusive targeting. The drawcard was a meaningful experience, value for money and interactive participation.


Bureaucracy and administrative inconveniences.

Thumbs down: Questionable engagement when the customer is finalising their purchase? I watched disconcerted shoppers trapped (for fear of being judged by others in the queue) into buying scratch cards and paraphernalia. Smokers subjected to long waits whilst supervisors retrieved social contraband and admonished them with tedious expression. The interrogation of dissatisfied people returning items and the resultant under-promising of resolution or appeasement.

Thumbs up: The unmistakable disparity in eliminating the pain of parting with hard earned cash. Quick efficient and without unnecessary delay. Reducing any chance of tainting the experience in the final minutes. Identifying the disgruntled and inconvenienced as an opportunity to secure future patronage.

Retailers need to take the time to examine without preconceived blinkers. Remove the panoramic view of rose tinted spectacles and question the practicability of ivory tower initiatives. Consider who wears the impact and if the repercussion is justifiable. Remove the hurdles and hoops and reconcile that the public seeks simple stress-free entertainment.

Retail is about people for people by people.

Dave Farrell is a retailer and writer with three decades of experience on three continents. He can be reached at Freelance Alliance NZ on

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