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The following essay is about mystery shopping and ways of improving shopping experience in JC Penny stores in the United States. With increased competition among the retail service providers and the consumers scaling down their budgets to cope up with the hard economic period, it is imperative for the companies to ensure that they are well prepared in their stores for their greatly experienced customers.
Many organisations are contracting mystery shoppers in order to provide feedback on their customer’s experience as well as enable them to identify ways of improving their service delivery.
Mystery shopping is an imperative aspect not only for the retailer but also for the retail shopper who is able to identify ways through which the business may improve within the shortest time possible. The need for these services is on the rise in many retail stores all over the world as well as providers of other services such as banks, hotels and software providers.
This report is from Zeng Management and Consultancy, a firm that deals with consultancy activities especially in evaluation of services and products offered by a given company. This report will describe its findings on investigations carried out on JC Penny retail stores. The report includes the methodology of conducting the investigations and the various aspects of the company investigated.
The final part of this essay will look into how JC Penny stores can improve their customer experience by making shopping more interesting than their competitors do. The research will provide details of the areas that need improvement in provision of customer service.
The need for the increased customer experience is important to the many companies that provide the service in the field of marketing to ensure that there is proper way of carrying out the business all over the world through well-integrated customer experience. With increased technology and the fact that word of mouth spreads faster than any other advertising method it is imperative for the companies seeking to improve their service delivery to contract the services of mystery shoppers.
This will enable the companies to identify the areas that need improvement as well as identify their key strengths and competitive advantages in service delivery. Service delivery is an important aspect for any business irrespective of the quality of service or product it offers as most consumers look for a good shopping experience. The analysis of the JC Penny customer experience had the following methodology and findings.
The methodology used in mystery shopping involved three mystery shoppers in the JC Penny stores in Missouri where the mystery shoppers posed as ordinary shoppers and purchased candy ice cream. To incorporate all the three time zones, the company contracted three mystery shoppers at different times and at different stores of JC Penny as the company has different stores in different places.
The shoppers came in at different time zones to gauge the services at different times of the day. They were to shop on weekdays and on weekends in order to note whether there are different trends on weekdays from weekends. The shoppers were to identify the appearance of the stores, the queues in the stores, the complaints brought about by the consumers, the appearance and the manner in which the attendants treated the customers as well as the general appearance of the place (Young, 2005).
The first evaluation was on the hospitality of the staff concerning welcoming the customers to the store. Only one attendant was at the entrance welcoming the customers and this was commendable.
After entering the retail stores, there were signboards to welcome and instruct the customers on where different types of goods are placed making it easier for the customers to locate the goods they wanted easily. During shopping, the attendants only assisted in identifying goods but they did not offer suggestions on what a customer should buy or which product was better than the other.
As a mystery shopper, one of the aspects to look at is cleanliness of the retail store and for the JC Penny retail stores cleanliness is up to standard making the place spectacular. The shelves are well organised making the displays attractive and easy to locate goods.
Concerning the availability of the staff to assist customers around the shelves there was only one staff per stand. This was overwhelming for him especially in the evening when most customers were streaming into the shop and some were new to the store and could locate of some of the goods and services.
The other factor observed during the mystery shopping is the speed of the service (Young, 2005). The speed of the service regards how long the attendant takes to serve the customers. It was notable that during normal hours of the day there were no queues but during rush hours the queues intensified and at times, this made some of the customers restless and impatient.
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Regarding the appearance of the staff, they were in their uniforms making it easy to identify them. They also wore their badges making it easy to identify them also with their names. The smiling attitude of the cashiers and attendants eased the atmosphere making the shopping experience exciting.
However, in the clothing and electronic displays the attendants did not have the uniforms making it hard to identify them. The organisation of the clothing and electronic stores was commendable. On the side of the furniture displays it was attractive and well arranged making the appearance spectacular (Young, 2005).
As a mystery shopper, it is necessary to observe scenarios that a common shopper may not quickly identify. For instance, during the shopping experience a customer complained of having bought an expired product. The cashier discarded the product immediately and the customer received a refund of his money.
The other notable scenario was that of complaints on the credit cards in that the company was delaying in deducting the payments making it appear as if the retail had given the products free of charge only to deduct the money afterwards. The attendant at the complaint desk said he would address the issue. The desk had only one attendant and during the rush hour there was a queue of customers in the customer care department with issues that demanded attention (Young, 2005).
Other than this, the store did not have feedback forms for customers where they could evaluate the shopping experience and provide constructive criticism on the services provided by the retail store (Bradley, 2010). The retail store had a desk where they served the customers with after sales services such as packaging and transporting the goods to the car park in case they were bulky for the customer. They did not have a mechanism of collecting the data from the shoppers.
On average the store serves over ten customers per minute as in every minute there were at least two customers getting into the store but during rush hour there were ten customers every minute streaming in.
The loyalty department dealing with the issuance of loyalty cards was the most dormant part of the business with only one customer streaming in during the day and three customers registering at rush hour (Bradley, 2010).
On the differences experienced in different days depending on whether the day was a weekend or not, the customer’s trends were not much different with most of the customers coming in the evening or rush hours. However, on weekends the number of shoppers was lower in comparison with the number of shoppers on weekdays. On weekends however, most customers came to shop together with their families unlike on weekdays when most of the customers were individuals.
The following are some of the recommendations derived from the findings to ensure that services provided in JC Penny stores are the best for any customer. The customer service department is a major department in any industry dealing with provision of services as the service provided to the customer regards marketing opportunities for the company.
The need to cut on advertising budgets especially in a time when there are decreased sales is imperative by having alternative and cost effective ways of retaining customers and bringing in new ones.
The first recommendation is that the company must look for ways of dealing with the inflow of customers during rush hours resulting into long queues by providing an effective and faster service (McDonald, 2007). The number of staff serving the customers during rush hours should therefore be increased. In addition, the chain store needs to employ part time staff to assist the full time staff during rush hours to ensure faster service.
The attendant at the door welcoming customers is usually overwhelmed and tired during rush hours and it is important to add other staff to greet and welcome the buyers to the store as this gesture is necessary in creating a personalized customer experience (Bradley, 2010).
The customer care department handling the customer complaints needs reconstruction as it has only one attendant yet there is always a queue especially during the rush hour. The retail store must assess its service delivery capabilities to identify why there are so many customers coming in for enquiries and complaint in the department.
The JC Penny retail store must address the issue of customer complaints with seriousness as failure to address the issues raised by customers would create a bad image about the store and eventual loss of customers. It is necessary to combine the services provided in the store together with technology by having a portal where customers may voice complains online. This would help the company to address many issues raised by the customers. It would also be a means of receiving constructive criticism.
Concerning feedback, it is important that the organisation formulate methods of proper and well-organised feedback collection from the customers. This is possible by providing feedback forms at the exit. The company will have to employ an attendant to assist the customers in filling the feedback forms (Marder, 2007).
The attendant would also assist the customers to obtain the loyalty cards as well as issuing the customers with coupons regarding new products in the store as well as new price discounts. Other than providing the feedback forms, establishing a call centre to handle the customers’ enquiries is a priority for each of the JC Penny stores. The personalized attention offered is imperative in retaining customers’ loyalty and commitment to the company (McDonald, 2007).
The company must be strict with suppliers who supply expired or defective products that usually cast the retail store in bad light. Before accepting goods from suppliers, the management must ensure that the goods are in good condition and that expired products are removed from the shelves. This is because defective products indicate that the store is not concerned with the welfare of the customers and this would cause unnecessary complaints and eventual loss of customers (Bradley, 2010).
The other recommendation is that the customer service and the marketing department must look for ways of publishing and creating awareness about their loyalty card program and the benefits accrued to signing up the program. The dormant and low turnout in the department indicates that even though the retail store has many customers, most of them are unaware of the loyalty program or they are not interested in it (McDonald, 2007).
The attendants of the JC Penny stores need a continuous customer service-training program. This is crucial to the staff as it makes them knowledgeable on how to handle the customers. An in house training is of importance because it brings together the employees creating a bond between them.
The training usually focuses on the customer service depending on the mission of the company towards their customers. The training is imperative in preparing the employees on how to provide a great customer experience to the shoppers (McDonald, 2007).
In instances where the retail store is in the wrong such as when there are delays in the queue or a customer returns a defective product the company’s management must be quick to apologise and refund the money to the customers concerned. This gesture creates trust and shows that the company is concerned with the customers’ welfare and that the management is trying to do all that it can to provide the best customer experience possible (Drucker, 1974).
The appearance of the store is commendable in terms of organisation of the goods and packaging in a way that helps the customers to locate the goods faster. The uniforms worn by the attendants are an important branding strategy and that make it easier to spot the attendants and request their assistance (McDonald, 2004).
As part of customer service program it is imperative for the company to find ways of appreciating the customers after shopping in the retail store. Providing the customers with gift cards would go a long way in ensuring that there is personalised attention to the customers. This would boost the loyalty of the customers. Appreciation goes a long way in ensuring that the customers feel great and important in the store. It also makes them feel needed (Drucker, 1974).
The other strategy in marketing which would improve the service delivery in JC Penny retail store is having a mailing list of the customers to enable them receive information about promotions. When creating the mail lists it is necessary to have the bio data of the clients such as their birthday and their social status as it helps in communicating with the customers by sending personalized messages to the clients thereby making them part of the store (Drucker, 1974).
Implementing the loyalty programs where the loyal shoppers receive rewards via bonus shopping items or gifts would help in marketing the company to the potential clients as well as boosting customer loyalty (Drucker, 1974). Most companies do not have a marketing strategy dealing with the issue of customer service.
They underscore the urgency and the role played by a good customer service management especially in provision of retail services. It is therefore crucial for JC Penny to have a budget for their customer service department. The budget would ensure that the customer service activities are utilised to the maximum.
The budget would also cater for training of staff, providing gift cards and hiring additional staff during the rush hours. The budget would ensure that provision of quality customer experience is a major marketing strategy to give the company an edge over its competitors (Drucker, 1974).
As part of the budget, having a customer service strategic plan is imperative. It ensures that the data provided by the customers is relevant to the customers and that they are ready to succeed in the issues of the customer care management.
The plan enables the company to set its priorities right in providing quality services by ensuring that the critical services have priority and they have the necessary funding to keep the company going. This is important in ensuring that there are proper mechanisms for the company to utilise its services and facilities as well as its management plan (Bradley, 2010).
The management must continue to foster an attractive customer image to ensure that the employees are identifiable. Their adornment of the staff uniform is appealing and makes it easy for the shoppers to request for assistance. In the clothing and electronics malls, the same strategy has to be applied to ensure that the attendants are identifiable.
The cleanliness of the retail store is commendable and it is imperative to ensure that proper mechanisms are implemented to keep the stall organised and in good appearance to appeal the customers (McDonald, 2007).
Competition for clients has intensified providing a great customer service. The modern customers are no longer concerned with the price alone but they also look for quality services, which offer value for their money through greater customer experience.
The need to improve and harness those services makes it necessary for any company to provide quality services. The use of mystery shopper to assess the services offered by the company is a great strategy as it ensures that the assessment is not biased unlike in scenarios where managers are the one doing the assessment thus creating a tensed atmosphere between the employees.
When good customer service mechanisms are in place, maintaining customer loyalty is manageable and attracting potential customers becomes easy without even advertising as the word of mouth spreads faster than the adverts.
This makes customer service an integral part of marketing strategy for JC Penny store. As Zeng Consultancy company our objective is to ensure that the clients benefit from our study by assisting and conducting follow up mystery shopping to ensure that the clients of the company receive quality services from us and the service replicates in form of increased sales and customer satisfaction.
Bradley, N. (2010). Marketing research. Tools and techniques. Oxford: Oxford University Press
Drucker, P. (1974). Management: tasks, responsibilities, practices. New York: Harper & Row.
Marder, E. (2007). The laws of choice—predicting customer behaviour. Boston: The Free Press division of Simon and Schuster.
McDonald, M. (2007). Marketing plans (6th ed.). Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann.
Young, C. (2005). The mystery shopper handbook. New York: Sage.