Sometimes the polls get it right. The results of a survey
to find Britain’s best and worst shops by the respected consumer magazine Which? reflect this contributor’s
experience of them fairly accurately.
It came as no surprise that the shop which came top in terms
of customer approval was Lakeland. This
eclectic household supplies chain, originally a mail order operation set up by
a farmer, always seems to have the things you need around the house that you
cannot find elsewhere. Then, when you go to the shop to pick them up, more
often than not you see other useful products, things that you would never have
thought you needed, or for which you have been looking for years, and end up
buying them as well. The general quality of goods is high. The staff are
courteous and well-informed: many of them seem to have used the products they
It is even less of a surprise that the electronics giants PC
World and Currys are rated among the worst shops. Both have previous
form in this regard. A visit to either is a case study in how having a virtual
monopoly – they face little real competition on most high streets – makes a
business lazy and inefficient. The range of products is surprisingly narrow.
The staff, when they can be found, act as if they are doing you a favour by
selling to you, and are usually ill-informed about the products.
The difference between Lakeland and the electronics giants
is that Lakeland has managed to retain its family business ethos, while PC
World and Currys have adopted all the trimmings of American-style corporate
fashion without the redeeming feature of American-style customer service.
At the risk of cliché, it all comes down to selecting the
right people. Lakeland stands out among high street retailers in that its staff
tend to be older.
This defies the conventional wisdom that people are more
likely to buy from the young and the attractive. That may be true in principle,
but in practice what matters is the customer’s experience.
Many major chains treat staff as a commodity, looking for
the cheapest supply available. As a result their shop floor assistants are
working for little more than minimum wage and the retailer ends up with plenty
of poor qualified, inarticulate and unmotivated workers.
But staffing your shop is not like buying a kilo of salt.
Quality varies and quality is important. Lakeland has understood this and have
the right formula. Currys and PC World, on the other hand, are prime examples
of the thoughtless imposition of formulae that work in one part of the world
but fail in others when they are not adapted appropriately for local