I started my Christmas shopping this past weekend. There's still time. As with so many things, all I need is the right idea, a little inspiration and then it will be easy.
In an ideal world, we'd walk into a store and be referred to a gift expert who specialises in the person we're shopping for - who knows their tastes and interests so well that they could recommend the perfect present, in our price range. I picture these people roaming the store, each visibly such a perfect representative of their area of expertise that they need no badges or labels - as if they had been supplied by central casting. "Look," we'd say. "There's a dad" or a working mum, or a weekend warrior, or a teenage boy. "I'll ask him what to buy for my neighbour/sister/nephew."
Sadly, although perhaps unsurprisingly, that didn't happen for me this weekend. I wandered rather aimlessly around some shops, picking things up, putting them down again, hoping to be struck by some sudden inspiration. In many places, I was approached by a well-meaning member of staff. Could they help? I'd explain whom I was shopping for and sometimes they would gamely try to think the problem through with me, often asking: "Well, what sort of things do they like?"
So far, no names have been crossed off my shopping list at all.
I don't blame the retail team members here. I'd do no better if you asked me what to buy for your mum.
Except, couldn't there be a system to pool all the ideas among a retail team? What if they met for 10 minutes every morning, before the doors opened, and just talked together? They could discuss their customers, like how sustainability concerns and a trend towards frugality are making people increasingly resistant to buying and accumulating more stuff. They could talk about long-term cultural shifts, like how objects are increasingly devalued, in favour of experiences. In that context the team could brainstorm ways to help their customers, adrift in the ocean of Christmas shopping. All it would take is for one person to have a good idea, and everyone could improve their service approach.
For example, someone might suggest: what if when a customer was looking for a gift idea for their mum, the retail assistant asked them what their mum's new year resolutions would be next year? If the customer didn't know, the team member could prompt them with the five most frequent resolutions each year - a simple Google search would provide that. So if mum was trying to lose weight, the team member could recommend a slow-cooker for preparing easy, healthy food, or a journal for tracking her progress against fitness goals. If she was trying to save money, then how about a slow-cooker for making easy, inexpensive food, or a journal for recording and tracking against her budget? And so on.
All it would take is 10-15 minutes every morning, to focus the team on the customer's needs and to share the best ideas. The Ritz-Carlton hotel company made this approach famous, as the daily 'line-up' meeting, where staff tell stories from the previous day and where they discuss the challenges ahead.
I'm not asking for Ritz-Carlton levels of service in every department store. But more knowledge-sharing and a constant focus on the customer would make retail teams' jobs easier and my shopping experience much better. Then if someone solves my mum's gift challenge, I'll certainly give them a shot at everyone else on my list.
About the author
Kate Messenger is director of Meme Partners. For further information visit www.meme-partners.com/Home/671/n/3/0/0/