Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The blunder of Woolies

So Woolworths is to finally close on January 5th with almost 30,000 job losses.

Although I feel sorry for the people who work for Woolworths I won't personally mourn the passing of the high street giant the way some people suggest they will.

You see, Woolies abandoned what it was good at a long time ago - selling things cheap. Or, to be more precise, delivering good value with decent service. I'm not going to pretend that I knew what Woolies were up to strategically, but as a customer I could see that the Woolies I knew from years ago had gone.

For a start, the cheap and cheerful shops had been replaced with the modern clone store look with laminate wood floors, carpeted aisles and high racks. Even when I was a kid, the thing I remember about my local Woolies was that I could stand at the pick and mix counter and still see every corner of the store. The last time I went in there I couldn't see past the first row of racks!

The other thing I remember about Woolies as a kid was the proliferation of pay points. Big signs hung from the ceiling saying "Pay Here" - again, you could see them from wherever you were and you could see which had short queues. You'd pick up your goods, take them to the check out and be in and out in 10 minutes or less. You got good value and great service.

The last time I was in a Woolies store I bought one item which cost less than a fiver - but I cold have bought it in a number of shops for a similar price. I then had to stand in a winding queue of people waiting to be served at the six tills at the front of the shop - of which two were actually being used. After 10 minutes standing in this queue, listening to the soulless voice repeating "cashier number four please" I got fed up, dumped the purchase on the rack that surrounded the queue and walked out. I've never been back into a Woolworths store since.

Forgetting who your customers is bad enough, but not having people there to take your money when you actually do want to buy something is a retail sin. To be fair to Woolies, they are not the only ones like this. Indeed, most modern high street chains seem to be particularly loathe to take your money - i.e. providing sufficient tills and people to staff them.

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