Customer service shadow shop

Our customer service shadow shop produces mixed results for major retailers.
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How do Australia’s bricks-and-mortar retailers stack up when it comes to customer service? CHOICE, along with some savvy shadow-shoppers, put our top ten retailers to the test.

The stores they visited were:

Many of our well-known retail and department stores now compete not only with each other but also with online stores. And when it comes to the retail landscape, the experts CHOICE spoke to say the in-store experience can still go a long way to developing customer loyalty and therefore spending. The essential factor? Great customer service.

Despite this, a recent American Express global customer service survey found Australian consumers believe service standards have continued to decline over the past three years. Further, two-thirds of those surveyed said they’d abandoned a purchase in store because of poor service.

For more information about shopping, see Shopping and Legal.

The CHOICE shadow shop

Our observations

Please note: Due to the different business models of the retailers in the shadow shop, along with the subjective element involved in any shopping experience, the table is not presented as a strict ranking of ‘best to worst’. Read more about the shadow shop.

Shadow shop observations
Store Positives Negatives
Bunnings Staff easy to find; staff friendly, helpful and had good product knowledge; returns were quick and painless.
Big W Simple, fast and no-fuss returns process; helpful staff.
Dick Smith Good product knowledge; shoppers noted examples of excellent customer engagement. Does not accept ‘change of mind’ returns; shoppers noted examples of poor customer engagement.
JB Hi Fi Shoppers noted examples of excellent product knowledge; shoppers noted examples of excellent customer service. Shoppers noted examples of poor customer service and poor product knowledge; does not accept "change of mind" returns.
Target Good staff engagement but had to be approached first; fast checkout process; dedicated service desk. Poor product knowledge
David Jones Shoppers noted some examples of excellent customer service; fast and no-fuss returns. Shoppers noted several examples of poor customer service; poor product knowledge.
Myer Good returns policy; shoppers noted examples of quick customer engagement by staff. Shoppers noted examples of poor customer engagement by staff; poor product knowledge.
Kmart Store set up to suit ‘self-reliant’ shoppers; overall, a no-fuss experience. Shortage of staff on shop floor
The Good Guys Shoppers noted examples of good customer service Shoppers noted examples of poor customer service and inconsistent product knowledge; Does not accept "change of mind" returns.
Harvey Norman Poor customer engagement; inconsistent product knowledge; some evidence of pushy sales tactics; does not accept ‘change of mind’ returns.

We sent four shoppers, Alexander, Emma, Gloria and Kathryn, to 10 of Australia’s biggest retailers at a variety of locations in Sydney at different times of the day over a two-week period. Upon entering the store, each shopper noted whether they were greeted by staff or offered any help. They then asked for a specific item costing about $100, ranging from kettles to toasters, cordless phones and gardening tools depending on the store.

If our shadow shopper wasn’t approached or offered help they tried to find a staff member and ask for help. They then rated that staff member on helpfulness and product knowledge, as well as noting any other efforts to close the sale such as offering a price reduction or added extras.

For the stores that do accept change-of-mind returns our shoppers bought the item in question and later returned it, again noting how the experience went.

Many happy returns

Of the 10 stores we shadow-shopped, four – Harvey Norman, Dick Smith, JB Hi-Fi and The Good Guys – do not accept change-of-mind returns. While this is legal under Australian Consumer Law, many stores do accept returns as a result of customers changing their mind, provided the product and are intact.

A Harvey Norman spokesperson told CHOICE that the store believes its sales staff are skilled enough to ensure each customer is completely happy with their purchase before buying, so a change-of-mind returns policy isn’t necessary. Dick Smith, JB Hi-Fi and The Good Guys didn’t provide CHOICE with any defence of their approach.



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