Physical Stores Stay Relevant

Working in the ecommerce space for the last several years, I constantly explore ways to bridge the physical and digital worlds that retailers and consumers alike traverse on a daily basis. Think omnichannel, create an ecosystem, mobile optimize everything, etc., are the common techniques prescribed. 

But a recent interaction reminded me why a physical store will always have a decisive role in creating positive customer experiences, particularly when returns are involved. For my son and me, it all started in early May. 

Our children know that when it comes to non-educational things like toys, they have to use their own funds. My son has wanted a drone for months. By saving up enough money through chores and Target gift cards from his birthday (apparently, the gift of choice for boys under 12), we could finally make the trek to our nearby Target to get just the right drone. 

The next morning and $109 later, my son tears open the box, slides in the batteries, and hurries to the back porch. I hastily rush out with the instructions, asking him to read through it first, but to no avail. Twenty seconds later, my son proudly tells me his drone is aloft. Then, the exasperated shout for help. In the distance, we see the runaway drone drift higher and higher and farther and farther away, unresponsive to the controller. 



My crestfallen child leapt into action by creating signs and canvassing the neighborhood like a good politician, but no signs of the drone. Three hours later, my wife suggests we go back to Target to see if they can do anything. Granted, I thought something might be wrong with the controller, but with no drone and a torn box, would they really be able to do anything?

After finding a space in the Target parking lot, I tell my son that he has to explain what happened. We enter the store and sheepishly approach the Target return counter. Of course, he completely clams up, so I explain what happened. With an eyebrow raised, the Target representative calls for the manager on her walkie-talkie. 

I explain again what happened, and see the not-so-subtle eye roll. The manager explains that with no drone, they cannot do anything, and to call the manufacturer. But then something changed the dynamics of the interaction. Suddenly, the Target return representative became our advocate. She explained that if the drone was defective to begin with, shouldn’t Target take it back? 

She went further and pointed to us, telling the manager that this was obviously a father-son project. My son beamed with pride as if she had read his mind. Instead of feeling undercut by his employee, the manager told us that he could understand our predicament. He offered to let us get another one at no charge. But both gave us explicit instructions on how to not let the drone get away from us again. 

The whole ordeal really got me thinking. How could I ever get someone to listen to my story on a drone website or Amazon, for that matter? How can a sales associate become my advocate online? Indeed, this is one real life example that makes me realize that good, old face-to-face interactions remain the best form of customer care.

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