TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Sears and K-Mart

Sears and K-Mart

Lisa Hancock (
19 Nov 2004 11:50:34 -0800

[Telecom related stuff at the very end.]

I am not thrilled about this merger because I fear it will bring out
the bad aspects of both stores, not the better ones.

I never liked SS Kresge (K-Mart's predecessor), always preferring
Walmart. I never liked K-Mart, preferring other discount chains.
Today I like Target. My last visit to K-Mart was quite miserable;
they didn't have the advertised sale item and no one knew how to check
the stock in the back or get more.

I feel Sears has gone downhill in the last few years. In an effort to
be more efficient, they have heavilly computerized. It can be
difficult being on the other end of such systems when you need help as
a customer. They are very much geared to "mass production" or
universal service. My local store doesn't even have any customer
service area to sit down with someone about the credit card or
problem; everything is handled on the sales floor at the registers.

The store is disorganized and very messy. They have spots of bare
concrete floor awaiting rennovation, and merchandise piled high on
tables unkempt. It's more like a old-neighborhood bargain store than
a distinguished national department store. I don't expect tea and
crumpets, but at least some cleanliness.

My Sears charge card keeps getting all sorts of revision of its rules
with booklets loaded with fine print. Makes me very nervous to use
it, so I destroyed it.

My area has a nice regional department store chain called Boscov's.
They are not fancy, but very nice, and I hope they continue to succeed
and thrive and not pressured out by the big boys. Their salespeople
(who tend to be older people) are most helpful. Mr. Boscov, age 65
(son or grandson of the founder) is an old-style merchant
prince--running around visiting every store, personally checking on
displays, talking to customers and employees etc.

I think most of the big chain dept stores need someone like Mr.
Boscov who personally gets involved. That's how the old time
merchants built up their businesses. But today they bring in
anonymous managers who get transferred from city to city and have no
loyalty to anything. They care solely about numbers on a computer
printout generated by mysterious formulas. While these things are
important (and even Mr. Boscov uses them), the human touch is
important too.

Consumer tastes are different in different cities, and _within
neighborhoods_ of different cities. A store in a working class area
will have different needs than a store in a fancy preppy suburb; but
how is some distant chain HQ supposed to know what branches are what?
Mr. Boscov will know because he spends time talking to his customers.
JC Penney used to know since he did the same thing -- running around
the stores until very late in life.

I bet Sam Walton used to know, too, but does his successors? They
said Walmart had to learn the hard way that Tide detergent wouldn't
sell in some countries since they don't have washing machines. They
needed to develop a hand version.

There are two other national chains serving my area -- Strawbridges
which I believe is owned by the May Company (who bought them) and
Macy's. I think both are too homogenized and bland, governed by the
impersonal printout.

My local carrier, Verizon, is running the same risk of becomming too
distant from the people it serves. Years ago they had business
offices in regions, several throughout a big city. Today when you
call them (they no longer accomodate in-person visits) your call can
be routed anywhere. In the old days you could describe the
intersection of your property to the service or repair rep and they'd
know what you were talking about, not now.

I realize with electronic switching and the Internet phone service is
much more homogenized than in the days of party line SxS vs. a big
crossbar system. But I still suspect different communities will have
different calling and Internet needs, and that would impact the
effectiveness of sales efforts and equipment upgrades. Perhaps kids
in one neighborhood will be into voice calls while another into
instant messaging on broadband. Perhaps business demands will vary.

[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: In your last paragraph, '...electronic
switching and Internet phone service vrs. party lines, SxS, etc ...'
Yeah, but that's not *your* fault. All you want to get is some modicum
of customer service. Why can't *they* take the responsibility for
teaching *their people* how times have changed and what *they* need
to do? Even if there were no difference at all in prices and Marvins
charged the same or or more than Walmart for their groceries I would
still go to Marvins. Why? Because the cashiers smile at me and try
to be helpful. The high school guys who are baggers an stock clerks
are most helpful in finding stuff on the shelves I want. When I check
out and pay, the boy who bagged my stuff *always, without fail* pushes
the cart out the door for me and gets me a chair to sit in. Then he
says, "do you want me to call Jeff (the cab driver) to come and get
you or do you want to call yourself?" When the cab arrives, *he*
puts the stuff in the trunk or the backseat, and thanks me for
shopping at Marvins. When is the last time Walmart ever did anything
like that? PAT]

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