It started when I was dispatched by my flu-stricken wife to buy her razor blades along with the regular groceries.
I had no idea where to even start.
I located the “razor aisle” and soon saw every conceivable brand of razor blades. Except the brand I needed. There were plenty of razors, but no blades.
Perplexed, I flagged down a clerk who was busy stocking the aisle.
“Excuse me, but could you tell me where I can find the blades to go with these razors?”
She pointed to the checkout lines in the front of the store. “In front of aisle 13.”
I paused for a moment before asking what seemed like the obvious follow-up question. “Why not put them next to the razors? Wouldn’t that make more sense?”
“They’re a theft item,” she said without missing a beat.
“A theft item?”
“People steal them, so we don’t even have the boxes up front, just cards you give to the cashier so she can get them for you.”
“The card part makes sense, I guess, but why not have the cards in the aisle?”
She stared at me blankly, and I knew right away I wasn’t going to get an answer.
But I still needed the razor blades, so I dutifully went to aisle 13 and picked up a card, then handed it to the cashier.
Still confused about the blades, I commented, “Seems strange that these cards for the blades aren’t with the razors.”
Now it was her turn to be perplexed. “They’re not?”
Before I could say anything else, she yelled over to one of the supervisors.
“Is that true? Are the blades not in with the razors?”
The supervisor looked over, rolled her eyes as if surprised to be asked such a silly question.
“They’re a theft item.”
That was the sum total of her reasoning. She didn’t stop to notice that B didn’t exactly follow from A.
The cashier leaned over. “I agree with you,” she whispered to me, careful not to be heard by anyone else.
I smiled at her, paid for my groceries (blades included) and drove home.
I tell this story to point out the obvious truth that the customer who wanted to buy blades (me) came dead last in this scenario, even behind the people who pinch razor blades and sell them on the black market or eBay or something.
The store owners were so focused on preventing theft that they overlooked the obvious solution of putting the cards alongside the razors in the razor aisle. Problem solved.
What can we learn from this story? For one thing, it’s vital to always think of the paying customer and what will make it as easy as possible to buy from you, even factoring in the need to reduce theft of expensive items.
Second, when a customer points out that buying something from you is harder than it should be, please listen and ask at least a few questions to see if they’re in fact pointing out something that you need to change. You could in fact be leaving money on the table — or, worse, sending your customers into the waiting arms of your competitors.
Third, if you’re an employee who thinks that your company can do better by customers in some areas, please speak up. You might make or save the company a lot of money, and maybe even earn yourself a promotion in the process.