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I write with no particular theme in mind, because I am random like that.

31 2012

8:27 PM


Comments Off on How Courts lost a customer to IKEA

How Courts lost a customer to IKEA

I walked into Courts yesterday to purchase a clothes rack. Courts is a large furniture and electronics outfit in Singapore, with branches around the island and a megastore in Tampines.

The wonders of being connected meant that I could look up their online catalog the night before to pick out what I wanted and verify stocks (to the point of even knowing that certain colours were already out of stock and will be restocked in February/March 2013). All I needed to do was to step into the store, look for the item, purchase it and out I go. Sounds simple enough.

It was a three-storey megastore, so I decided to ask the staff for directions. The staff on the second floor directed me to the ground floor “because that’s where all the accessories are”. Sounds fair, so I proceeded to the ground floor. After walking around in circles, I realized I was going nowhere and needed help again.

So I approached a boy in a black ‘Courts’ tee and relayed my question to him. After giving me a blank stare for several seconds, he admitted that he was “just a promoter” and that I had to approach a staff member in a blue tee. Those blue tees were pretty elusive to find, though. I nearly walked up to an ordinary shopper in a blue tee but common sense soon took over (he was carrying a shopping bag) to prevent potential embarrassment.

Circled the place again for nearly 5 minutes before I finally found two blue shirted staff members who were happily chatting with one another. I proceeded with my inquiry. One of them glanced at my phone (screenshot of the product), looked at me and went “no more!”

“No more?” I asked. “Seriously? Because I checked your website and it stated there is stock!”

“If you want, you go outside there and see!” He gesticulated wildly to the area outside the checkout counters. “If it’s not there then it’s sold out. No more!

He immediately went back to chatting with his friend, totally oblivious to me gaping at him, my mouth wide open in disbelief.

This is what happens you hire staff (or salespeople) who don’t care about your business. The typical staff member will simply show up to do the bare minimum, leave on time and take their monthly paycheck. On the other hand, the engaged, dedicated staff member who believes that he plays a crucial role in the success of the company would do more.

In this case, a dedicated staff member will be able to recognize this interaction as an opportunity to retain a potential customer. He would have known that the product will be restocked in a couple of months. He would also be aware that I could have placed an advance order online and request for a self-collection at any outlet near my home. All this is not rocket science – I knew it simply by browsing their website. This information will have been relayed to me as alternatives, and the he’ll provide any necessary assistance.

This staff member on the other hand, seemed to be more interested in his bantering.

After finally confirming that the item was out of stock – seeing an empty rack with the item label – I decided to ‘test’ another staff member on their service knowledge in the hope that the guy spoke to earlier was just an anomaly. No dice either.

By then, I was completely annoyed with the lack of staff knowledge that I just decided to give up on the product altogether. Sure, it was lighter and more compact. Sure, the product was cheaper as well. But it’s no longer about the product. IKEA was just next door, and they retail products that are of equally good quality. And I haven’t had a bad experience with them yet.

So, I headed over.

New clothes rack!
The PORTIS hat and coat stand.

Now, I have myself an awesome new rack at home from IKEA. While Courts lost a customer for life.

In today’s age, the average consumer is presented with a wide range of equivalent options for a singular product, that they’ve become indifferent. Companies can no longer afford to compete based on products alone because there is a low barrier to entry for consumers to simply do a brand switcharoo anytime they want. The products are all the same anyway. It’s the experience you provide that makes you stand out.

What makes the consumer sit up and take notice is not the “average” shopping experience, but something out of the ordinary. When faced with an extraordinarily bad service, the consumer will take to bitching online (which is what I’m doing now) or spread the negative message through word of mouth. In the consumer’s mind, your company will be tied to that bad experience forever.

Conversely, when the experience is surprisingly great, word spreads equally fast. In a world where consumers are generally used to receiving bad service, it’s extremely refreshing. Even inspiring. As for me – I’d most probably be waxing lyrical about the company to anyone I meet. And yes, I will definitely return.

It is the positively memorable experiences you provide that make your customers stick to you.

It’s high time companies realized that. Especially consumer-facing ones.

Comments Off on How Courts lost a customer to IKEA
29 2011

11:59 PM



Running a successful flea market stall

I participated in today’s flea market as a seller with the best friend … to a pleasantly shocking response. We pulled in a combined amount of slightly over $350, way above what we had expected.

The day began with me being completely unoptimistic. Based on my last flea market booth-ownership experience(s), I barely made enough to cover the rental, mostly because of mistakes such as poor location, or wrong pricing. After today, I realized that running a successful booth at a flea market requires a good mix of several factors.

I guess we finally nailed it today.

Hello from our booth!
Hello from our booth @ the flea.

Location and Timing
Today’s flea market was located right in the heart of town. And with it being the Halloween weekend, the crowd was twice (or even thrice) as strong. The booth rental was much more expensive than usual (I paid $55, while the market rate is usually about $35-$45), but it’s well worth it. You’re paying for a prime location, where the heart of all activity is. Crowds are almost a given since the flea market is so easily discoverable (and accessible).

The previous flea market I took part in had a much cheaper rent, but the location was so out of the way that it required a shuttle bus (with an extremely irregular frequency) to take people there. Rent was so much cheaper, but I barely covered it.

We should bring the flea market to the people. Not bring the people to the flea market. Because if it’s the latter case, no one would bother. There’s so many other good (central and accessible) places to shop in Singapore anyway. Something’s seriously wrong.

Be Selective Of What You Sell (To Minimize Distractions)
Most people set up booths with the mentality that they should try to sell every single item they want to get rid of – regardless of condition.

But what you sell plays a very big part in defining the impression others have of your booth. If it’s overrun with old, faded and graying stuff (which I saw plenty of), it’s going to be a big fat turn-off.

No, people are not going to buy them. Not even if you price it at $3.

When people are put off by all the graying stuff in your so-called “bargain bin”, they won’t stop to look at the rest of your (slightly more decent) stuff. They would probably be more drawn to the booth next to you hawking clothes that look much newer.

Select your items with loads of discretion. This time round, we were much pickier about what we wanted to sell. We met four days prior to the flea market to go through our items carefully, picking out those that are old, grey, slightly torn or those with furring, packing them and sending them off to the Salvation Army.

While what’s left behind looked beyond decent.

The less clutter your have in your stall, the more people will stop at look at the things that actually matter. In flea markets, you’re not competing based on prices. You’re competing for attention at the most basic level.

By narrowing your items down to the most decent, resalable ones, it already means that your potential buyers will be less distracted by the sight of that old graying shirt sitting in your bargain bin, or that old dress which you’re so emotionally attached to (when it’s basically junk in other people’s eyes).

A very, very tricky aspect here. Even with the right stuff, pricing them too high will still put them off. While pricing them too low … well, buyers will be much happier. But will you be?

When pricing items, put yourself in the shoes of shopper at a flea market. (By even participating in a flea market as a seller, I would assume you would have at least shopped at a flea market before!) The word ‘flea market’ already puts people in the ‘bargain hunting’ frame of mind. With flea markets (usually) being held at open-aired warehouse-like environments, it further affirms potential buyers’ expectations of prices to be much lower.

If there’s the occasional exclusive item (eg. a brand new branded handbag) you’re not willing to sell at typical flea market prices, don’t even take it along. (We should aim to reduce distractions, remember?)

If your prices are set too high, there’s a huge mismatch between your prices and the buyers’ price expectations, and they will simply get miffed and move on. When the discrepancy in price expectations are huge, they won’t even bother to bargain. (They’d already be thinking they won’t have a chance of getting the price down to what they’d expect.)

The smaller the discrepancy in price expectations, the higher the chances of them stopping to at least negotiate with you. (Aha! Any communication opportunity with a buyer is a good opportunity, because you are at least given a chance to turn things in your favour!)

Needless to day, there’ll always be the odd joker who will ask for exorbitant price reductions.

There’s no hard and fast rule to pricing for sure, and a lot of it relies on instincts. And your instincts will definitely warn you when someone’s going to far with the bargaining, and that is when you let the person down gently. (Unless, you’re real desperate to clear what you’re selling.)

Keep Your Stall Layout Simple
You don’t need bright, flashy signage to catch people’s attention to your booth. All you have to do is to keep it simple.

Remember what I talked about earlier about minimizing distractions? Well, you’ve already narrowed your items down to the best ones (which you know you’d be interested to look at if you are in your buyer’s shoes). That’s a good starting point, because people will actually be drawn to your booth by the (comparatively better) stuff you sell.

Next, it’s giving people the information they want upfront.

Individually tagging items with odd-numbered prices is tedious and does not guarantee results. (Not to mention the unnecessary logistics required to calculate and distribute odd-numbered amounts at the end of the day, especially if you’re sharing a booth with a friend.)

Instead, big, clearly written signs with the prices should be displayed. It also helps if you group your items based on price – such as $5 items, $10 items and $15 items – so your potential buyers can simply zoom into the price range they are looking out for.

More importantly, keep your items accessible.

Your potential buyers should be able to browse your items with ease. This means not hiding your rack at some secluded corner thinking your buyers would “simply walk in and look at your stuff”, because they won’t.

This also means not overloading your rack with clothing to the point where browsing actually requires some physical exertion. (Ever experienced a time where you’re browsing through an extremely tightly-packed rack of clothing at a sale? Not very pleasant, ain’t it?)


Well, hope these take-aways helped, especially if you want a flea market stall of your own someday.

Oh, and one more thing.

Remember that you would always meet idiots. Every flea market will have its fair share of cheapskates (there’s a huge difference between a ‘bargain hunter’ and an ‘outright cheapskate’) who would request for ridiculous discounts, and you should definitely expect to meet people like that.

It’s up to you whether you want to relent. But let me share my story.

I mistakenly gave too large a discount to this Filipino buyer right at the beginning. (I sold her four items with an original combined price of $45, at $32.) Subsequently, she kept returning to my booth to request more and more discounts which irked me like crazy. Certainly, you wouldn’t want to be giving huge discounts for the entire day, do you? You’re going to start an unwanted trend.

Eventually, I drove her away by naming a ridiculously exorbitant price to a jacket she requested for. She shot me a disgusted look and went away, never to be seen again.

It gave me more time to deal with more pleasant, accommodating customers. Oh, the bliss.

Your call. (;

09 2011

One cabby’s take on China and its people

I was on board a taxicab en route home one weekend (when it was approaching midnight) … when the taxi driver started talking.

Like most Singaporeans around me, I’m not particularly fond of chatty taxi drivers. But I felt that I owed this guy one – he was supposed to be changing shifts at some other part of Singapore but still agreed to ferry me all the way to the East anyway. So I decided to listen.

As it turned out, this fellow had plenty of interesting things to say.

The topic was on … foreign talent.

Foreign talent was a huge issue during Singapore’s General Elections some months ago. For the benefit of my overseas readers, I shall provide a brief run-down. Basically, immigration in Singapore was on an uphill trend in recent years. So much that the local dwellers are beginning to feel the heat, mostly in the form of competition for education, housing and uh, space in general. Not to mention how migrant workers being with them a host of practices and behaviour that is considered the ‘norm’ in their home countries, but didn’t sit quite as well here.

This taxi driver had a particularly huge vendetta against the immigrants from Mainland China, yammering on about his personal experiences with such commuters in his cab.

“You know ah, I can be driving halfway and these China people will suddenly just wind down the window and spit outside! Very disgusting, you know!”

I could only nod politely. Didn’t quite agree with this one. Time and time again, I’ve personally witnessed other local taxi drivers doing the exact same thing. Much less so for the foreigners.

He also went on about their other bad habits such as speaking in full volume, their general aggressive nature and sense of hygiene – most of which I was only partially listening.

Well, I did share the same sentiments but didn’t want to add oil to the fire by contributing my own thoughts. It’ll only cement his general hatred for China immigrants and strengthen the stereotype, no? I have friends from Mainland China and they don’t quite fit into the stereotype of these folks being loud, aggressive and rowdy.

It was only when he began sharing a particularly bad experience from his travels in Guangzhou when I completely sat up and listened.

He was on board a taxicab heading back to his hotel in Guangzhou. For some reason, the taxicab alighted him at the back entrance of the hotel instead of the main, road-facing one. (The reason is not the point here, though.) He simply alighted and made his way in.

Now, to make his way back into the hotel, he had to cut through the kitchen of a pretty well-known restaurant in the hotel premises. According to him, this restaurant was rated four-stars, pretty popular for their dim sum, and was often bustling with enthusiastic customers.

So when he entered the restaurant’s kitchen, he was totally unprepared for the sight that greeted him. Right at the back entrance of the kitchen was a large cage of stray cats. Seated next to the cage was a kitchen assistant skinning them cats one by one and basically slaughtering them for (what’s most likely to be) food.

Mister Taxi Driver began describing in great detail how shocked he was when he came across that sight, and his bewilderment at the sight of stray cats in the kitchen of a four-star restaurant.

He asked the kitchen assistant about it, only to be given the following answer.

“Well, don’t you know that people in China eat everything?!”

It basically scared him off all food in China from then on. Mister Taxi Driver began telling me about how he absolutely refused to step into China since that particular trip, and even shunning food in hawker centres and food courts in Singapore when he sees a migrant worker from China behind the counter.

I sat still in my seat, completely transfixed by his story.

Out of this world as it was, it was completely believable. China is no stranger to food scandals. (Remember the tainted milk, fake green peas, glow in the dark pork and the most recent exploding watermelon scandals?) Not to what my dad (who’s based in China) told me lately about the ongoing recycled cooking oil trade.

It’s little wonder why people are so distrustful of China (and its people) in general. Their (locally accepted but not well-accepted overseas) behaviour certainly doesn’t help.

The conversation with Mister Taxi Driver ended when I had to alight at my home. We bid each other a friendly farewell, and I wished him a pleasant and safe drive home (something which I generally don’t do). Then, we went our separate ways,

Me? Well, my personal perception of China’s mainlanders remain below average – considering my multiple bad experiences with these folks. (If I were to write about my experiences with them both overseas and in Singapore, it’d probably be as thick as an encyclopedia.)

However, I refuse to wipe them off entirely yet. I’ve met fellow students and friends from China who don’t fit into the general stereotype of China’s mainlanders, which leads me to believe that the crass behaviour seems to be limited to the middle-aged generation (while the Y-generation remains untainted). Not to mention how my Chinese counterparts at school and at work are extremely bright individuals, and are so easy to talk to and get along with.

What are your thoughts about China folk?

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