Themes > Retailing > Is the customer always right?
Is the customer always right?

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 people.

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 your satisfaction.

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?"

Reading for meaning

When you read an article, you can often guess the words you do not know from the context.

Find words or expressions in the above article which have the following meanings:

a. the ways we think about life
b. complete lack of order
c. financial difficulty
d. the money left over after all bills have been paid
e. to argue about price in order to reduce it
f. dependent
g. encouragement



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