Shawn Massey, CCIM, SCLS

Retail Customer Experience from the Perspective of a One Year Old!

I just recently returned from a two week trip to Italy in which my wife and I took our one year old son, Matthew, to a family wedding. I have travelled internationally many times, but never with a one year old. He was a real trouper and many times we were complimented more than once on how well behaved and sweet our son had been on this exciting and beautiful journey.

I was excited to see Italy as it was also my first trip to this country. As on any trip I always look at retailers, retail developments and what drives their success. I am constantly trying to learn more about our industry. We hear the horror stories all the time that retail cannot survive the onslaught of the internet. When is actuality it accounts for only a small portion, albeit a growing portion of overall retail sales. I understand fully that if retailers do not step up their game and provide a high level of not just service, but customer experience they will be left in the cold.

Since my young travel companion was in need of constant attention I decided early on I was going to write this blog from his perspective rather than my own. Retail in Italy is much more pedestrian friendly than our developments in the U.S. Our trip was a wide range of excellent service and experience to an absolute disaster.

I am very fortunate that my son is a much less picky eater than his father and many of our retail ventures were to various eating establishments in a very food friendly country. I sometimes forget that a meal should be much more than merely the consumption of food for energy, but an enjoyable social experience to be shared with others. What this meant to my son and both his parents was that the meal whether it was lunch or dinner would be delivered much slower than we typically get in the U.S. Thus our first challenge was how to entertain a one year old while we waited for our meal that would come in multiple courses and would typically take two or more hours to complete. We found most of the restaurants we visited to be family friendly. Our first question to the restaurant upon considering having a meal there was if they had a high chair. If they did not have a high chair, we typically looked elsewhere and assumed they did not cater to families often.

My son early on discovered that a big smile goes a long way in delivering great service with the most important people in all of Italy which is the waiters and waitresses that bring us this great food. I like to expect that most restaurants in a tourist area in which we stayed would be customer driven and provide excellent service. I was disappointed that is not always the norm. Although, two restaurants in the Florence area (Gilli in Piazza Della Repubblicia and Trattoria Nella) stood out making not only my son’s experience entertaining and fun, but the same for both his parents. In both these restaurants, the staff doted over my son. After asking his name, every time they came to the table or passed by us they called him by his name. It is true that all of us like to hear our own name. At Trattoria Nella the chef even came out to meet Matthew and when we were leaving he again came from the kitchen to say goodbye to him. I am a firm believer if you make my son and my wife feel special you have made a customer for life. I cannot remember what I ate that night, but I will remember the experience.

Many of the other restaurants that we visited made us feel very welcome with our son and provided an enjoyable dining experience.

I was probably more excited than Matthew when we discovered the Bartolucci toy store. This is better known as Geppetto’s workshop where Pinocchio was born. Here is a missed iconic opportunity to sell me a bunch of toys for my boy. I could not find anyone to assist me despite the fact I was the only one in the store. Only after searching the store did I find someone behind the counter almost hiding who would take my money. I was extremely disappointed as was my son. We should have been taken to the magical place where pieces of wood become boys. If you ever read the true story of Pinocchio, which I did afterwards, I think all of us would be disappointed. It destroyed all my previous visions brought forth by the Disney version.

Since we began planning this trip, I was getting my anticipation up to visit a butcher shop that my brother-in-law who was about to be married raved upon that was located in “Greve in Chianti.” He had visited the store on his planning trip back in November and consistently talked about it for the past several months. The norcineria known as “Macelleria Falorni” did not disappoint. Although we could probably purchase anything in the store on-line the experience of visiting this very unique establishment in-person was unprecedented. As soon as you walk into this magnificent retail store the pungent odor of curing meat and aged cheese heightened your senses that you were taken back to the many centuries ago when they first opened. Even our vegetarian nanny who accompanied us in Greve for the wedding was taken back in a positive way by the hanging curing meat and displayed cheeses in their cellar. More retailers need to develop a similar customer experience. I have been in many butcher shops in the U.S. that did not provide the “it” factor that this store did in a small town of Greve. There is no reason more stores cannot learn from Apple or Macelleria Falorni. My son was in awe as he walked through the store with enlivened senses he did not know he had!

The Italian people have this wonderful concept of “Siesta” where many businesses will close between 1-6 pm every day. It was just before 1 pm and a local book store owner was about to close up when she was approach by an American tourist who wanted to by multiple copies of a book she found. The owner said; she was closing and that she could come back later and buy the books. I guess I was raised in a different culture but if I have customer in my store wanting to buy then I am staying to sell. I appreciate their laisez faire approach to life, but the whole country currently is in financial trouble.

As we were leaving the country we ventured to the Florence airport to catch a flight to Frankfurt, Germany and on to the U.S. Our flight was delayed and we stood in line at the Lufthansa Airline counter for 5 hours while one lady helped a plane load of people get re-routed home. It was bad enough that it took so long, but she kept getting interrupted by other travelers having to pay excess baggage fees. It seems that unlike in North America where you can pay these outrageous fees at the time you drop your bags, in Italy only one service representative can take money and also deal with some very upset stranded passengers. You would think Lufthansa would know better. It is not like it is a small airline. We finally were re-routed through Canada after having to spend an additional night in Frankfurt. I came to find out that this same lady in Florence did not book a seat for my son to Canada and into the U.S. despite the fact we had paid for him to have his own seat. I did not discover this until arriving at the Frankfurt airport the next day where I was told you can just hold your son in your arms like most Europeans. I appreciate the frugality of this concept, but the fact was simply that we paid for a seat and did want not him in our arms for the 16 hour flight that was forthcoming. After another 3 hours of waiting in line to fix this situation we were on our way home.

It was a wonderful trip and an exceptionally beautiful country to visit. I have learned to appreciate great customer service and outstanding retail experiences at another international destination. There is a good chance that Matthew may never remember his first trip to Italy, but I hope he grows up to appreciate retailers and restaurateurs globally who understand that just showing up is not enough. Consumers are looking not only for a product or meal but excellent customer service and a memorable experience to keep us coming back.

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Shawn Massey, CCIM, SCLS is a partner with The Shopping Center Group a 3rd party retail real estate advisory firm in their Memphis office, an adjunct professor in the graduate real estate program at The University of Memphis and a co-founder and Chairman of the Board for the Memphis Business Academy charter schools (K-12th grade) in the Frayser area of Memphis.

 For all your retail real estate needs (tenant representation, landlord representation and property, investment & land sales) I hope that you will choose The Shopping Center Group and me to represent you and your business. We understand that representation is a privilege and that you have a choice!

The opinions expressed in this post are entirely my own. They should not be considered the opinion of The Shopping Center Group, LLC in which I am associated.

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