What happens when sales people don’t care about the bottom line?

Macy’s made more than $1.2 million in profits in 2011. How much more might it have  made, if its sales people were better trained?

The question is prompted by this true story, which   involves Macy’s, sales staff training, and general intelligence.

Today I am off work. I decided to return six items (3 each of two items) ordered from Macy’s online, to a local Macy’s store. I was hoping to exchange three of them for the same item in a different size.

I didn’t mind waiting for a sales person, since I believe short-staffing is part of the price we pay for less expensive merchandise.

When it’s my turn to be helped, I show the saleswoman my receipt and items. I explain my desire for an exchange for one of the items, if they have the different size I need in stock. I note that while the size fits me in other brands, it did not fit me in this particular brand.

The sales woman agrees to check to see if she has the item I want to exchange, in the different size I need. I reiterate what size I need and say I will take a different color if I have to.

Problem 1: The sales woman comes back with a totally different item. It’s also a different brand item, although it’s in the size I requested. I point out that’s not the item I want to exchange.

The saleswoman now seems disappointed, and asks what I want to do. I tell her look, it’s OK, I will just return all six items. She takes the items and my receipt, and starts entering information on her register for the return. I watch the process on the small, customer-facing screen that shows the transaction in process, where I eventually will be asked to provide my electronic signature.

Problem 2: (Macy’s execs, pay attention): The customer screen shows the sales woman is crediting me the full price for my items. There is a total difference of nearly $200 in the full price, compared to the sale prices I paid. The sales prices are clearly shown on my receipt, which she has in hand. Thanks to my Catholic upbringing and wanting to be nice, I politely point out that she is crediting me a lot more than I paid for these items. She responds that well, this is the price the system is showing now, so the prices cannot be changed.

I say excuse me, because I am sure I mis-heard what she said. She repeats the statement, and resumes entering data on her register.

Long (longer) story short: I tell the sales women I’d like to speak with a manager. When the manager arrives, I explain the issue. She is a floor manager and unfamiliar with the merchandise, but she confirms that of course there is a way to process the return at the correct, lower prices. The manager proceeds to walk the sales woman through the process, and thanks me for calling her.

Key point here: The saleswomen didn’t care that she was giving me back too much money.  So maybe the real “Magic of Macy’s” is that they make any profit at all.

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