Used and Abused
By Scott Strand
At The Trak Shak Running Shops, I’ve taken pride in over 17 years of full-time service to the runners and walkers in the Birmingham area. I’ve enjoyed seeing this small, local business grow, along with the running community at large. I know that we, as any business might, miss the mark on occasion in terms of the products we carry, and the service we have delivered. For those occasions, we try to make amends as well as possible and use the experience to improve. That being said, I do want to relate an event that happens to small businesses all too often, as it just happened to me personally.
A well-dressed, seemingly polite couple comes into the shop this afternoon. The wife is in the market for new running shoes, as hers were a year old. I analyze and measure her foot, recommend the correct category and size, and she proceeds to choose a few options from our shoe wall. We had most of her choices, and she begins the try-on process. Though I see that she is also looking at running shoes on her phone, this process seems to be going well, and she narrows down her choices to two shoes. She finds one shoe a bit more comfortable, but likes the color of the other. It’s a close race between the two. She settles on a winner, and the process is complete.
While the wife is in the middle of the try-on process, the husband decides that, he too, needs a pair, as his are two years old. I say “great”, and we go through the process with him as well. He fairly quickly settles on his shoe of choice, and everything seems to be in order. But all is not as it seems. He begins to hesitate, and begins to question whether he needs them or not. I point out that his will be a good investment, but there is no pressure from me. I’ll always leave the decision up to the customer. I give him space to think about his choice.
Meanwhile, the wife is ready to buy her shoes. I meet her at the counter, and we finalize the sale. I thank her for shopping with us, and she begins to leave. I can tell that the husband is not ready to commit to his purchase, so I place his shoes back into the stock room. While I’m in the back putting shoes away, the couple stops in front of the women’s shoe wall and have a discussion that was overheard by a co-worker. It went something like this: “I really wish they had this shoe. I’ll keep this shoe for a couple days, then return it. Now that we know what we need, we can order our shoes on-line.”
She approaches me and asks me what our return policy is. I tell her our policy of 30 days, with the box and receipt, with no signs of wear. We always recommend that the shoes be worn around the house or hop on a treadmill for a bit if they have concerns over their purchase. We are very good problem solvers if there are any issues down the road with their footwear, and we do understand that there can be extenuating circumstances. She then asks if she can return them right now. I told her sure, and directed her back to the counter, where she made the return, and they leave the shop.
This was one of the more extreme cases of a phenomenon called “showrooming”, where a person in the marketplace for a product will visit a specialty store to gather as much knowledge and information as possible about that product, then order that product on-line. There are many costs associated with this behavior, some seen, some unseen. The direct costs that a shop incurs are the loss of the sale, credit card processing fees for the store (about $5 in the case above) and the lost sales tax revenue to local and state governments. The indirect cost is the time that a salesperson invests in that customer (about 30 minutes in this case) and the “slap in the face” feeling it leaves us with. Most of the time, we can sense when “showrooming” is taking place, but we grin and bear it and try to be as nice as possible, hoping that the service we provided will eventually win out.
I’m not writing this for sympathy. I’m writing this because it angers me, and I needed an outlet for my frustration. Just as we hear it from customers when we fall short of what they expect from The Trak Shak, I wanted to express my frustration over “showrooming” publicly.
Thank you all who have supported The Trak Shak for over 19 years. We will strive to provide the best products and service to runners and walkers in the Birmingham area and beyond. Please feel free to call or email me with any questions of comments you have about our shops. Shop local!