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I am fascinated by how organizations personify the brand experience.  It is often so hard to get it right. One thing is promised in advertising but the in store experience is completely different. Company owned stores, however should ‘in theory’ have a far better ability to ensure that the brand is executed consistently at every touch point.
This week I was at the AICD course and one of the female participants said she was desperate to get a new handbag and wallet as hers were ‘falling apart’. I was going to the top of Collins street anyway so we went together. This woman told me she wanted a Gucci handbag and matching wallet, because ‘they last’.
We were both completely underwhelmed by the brand experience. The attendants were wearing ill-fitting brown uniforms that looked terrible (and they had wires hanging out of their ears – the effect was to make them look like security guards – not women of style selling to women of style.
My friend selected a wallet, and the sales assistant said ‘you don’t want that one it has been on display’ I will get you a new one in the box.  My friend opened the new box, the wallet looked the same, but she then opened the actual wallet only to discover it had a different internal design. She was a little put out, said she wanted the original style she selected. There wasn’t a ‘new one in stock’. They could put one aside in another store and she could go there… (My friend’s time is scarce) she said – can’t you have it delivered to me…’No’… so my friend said can’t you sell me the display one (implying with a small discount)… the sales assistant’s English was not good – and she did not understand the subtly of what my friend was saying.  My friend ended up leaving without a wallet.
She did however purchase a handbag. When we arrived at the course the very next morning – this woman held up her bag (I thought so I could admire it.) Alas no – the handle had broken. (Ironic given she only purchased at Gucci because she thought the bags lasted).
My friend called and asked the Gucci store to deliver a replacement bag to our location. That would not be possible, as the bag might have to go for ‘repair’. By this time my friend was exasperated. I heard her say ‘So you mean I have to come all the way back to the top of Collins street – this is actually your problem yet I have to do the running around to fix it’.
At the time she was on the phone I was flicking through the beautiful Fin. Review Magazine fashion edition – and noted the very expensive Gucci ad, which promised ‘glamour & luxury’ and implied customer experience. My friend just rolled her eyes when I showed her it.
We traipsed back to the top of Collins Street. When we entered the store a shop assistant instantly stated ‘a repair is it?’ As though this happens a lot. My friend stated her case in no uncertain terms, this was a new bag and she was not going to settle for a repair (quite frankly I think she would rather a full refund and never to return to the store – except she then would have wasted more time looking for another bag… and a wallet that she still did not have.)
This was my first (and only) shopping experience at Gucci – and it was not even my purchase. If these luxury goods businesses have such high margin’s I wonder how much training their staff receive. My friend would have received far better service if she had purchased online. Traditional retailers need to consider carefully why people choose to purchase in a store.  Perhaps it is so that they as a consumer feel that they have ‘touched the brand’ or been a part of something, felt glamorous for a few moments.
Anyway we get to vote with our feet. But these ‘old’ businesses need to get over themselves and come into the new world where the customer does have a choice – we want to be part of a brand experience when we visit a retailer.

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