With many European economies showing slow growth, the retail sector is coming under
increasing pressure to improve its service and cater more for consumer demands.
Is the customer always right? The answer, it seems, depends on which country you
are in. Shopping is very much a part of a country's culture, and attitudes to shopping
and consumers vary from country to country just as much as climate or taste in food.
From the air-conditioned order of American malls to the anarchy of African bazaars,
the way we shop shows the way we see ourselves and our relationships with other
Recent economic hardship has given the consumer increased power in Europe as retailers
fight to win their share of reduced disposable income. This has meant falling prices,
plenty of special offers and a re-examination of what customer service really means.
People often point to America as an example of sophisticated customer service. In
restaurants in the south of the USA, for example, waiters compliment you on your
clothes, ask about your day, compliment you on the wisdom of your order and then
return every ten minutes to refill your glass and make sure that everything is to
Anyone who has waited 30 minutes to be served in a restaurant might well dream of
such attention, but do Europeans really want US style service? As a friend of mine
once told me, "By the end of the evening I had spent as much time talking to the
waiter as to my wife." It is a question of expectations. Different nationalities
expect different types of service.
A Chinese-American friend loves telling people about how her Chinese mother shops
for clothes: "First of all she waits until they are on sale, then she haggles until
she gets an even better price and then she finds some small fault with the product
and demands a further reduction. She never buys anything at the regular price."
Could you imagine trying such tactics in a department store in your country?
Attitudes to service are, of course, affected by employers' attitudes to their workers.
As American sales and service personnel are heavily reliant on commission and tips,
they have more incentive to provide more service. But is this fair? Do we think
it is fair to ask shop assistants to work late evenings, Sundays and 12 hour shifts?
Does it fit in with our picture of society? It might not be a case of "Is the customer
always right?" but a case of "How much service is it fair to expect?"
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