The Puffer Expedition
Puffer coats are all the rage in Europe; you see them everywhere.
Light weight, compactable and versatile, they are a fashion accessory that every self-respecting person needs. Here in North America they are less popular but are starting to trend. I seem to be one of the few around that currently doesn’t own a puffer coat. The fact that I don’t own a puffer coat was thrown in my face recently. Out for a walk with my wife on a beautiful fall evening we ran into some neighbours. Well guess what I was the only one without the puffer coat. Didn’t matter that I was wearing a cool leather jacket. No puffer coat, I wasn’t hip. So this past week my son and my wife were bugging me about not having a puffer coat. So the decision was made, time for the puffer expedition.
Puffer coats at Uniqlo in London, England
So the search began. Searching the internet I found a couple of puffer coats I liked. Research in hand, we ventured out on a Saturday for the puffer coat of my dreams. Not so sure about that, but anyway off we went. The first stop was a local establishment called Hikers Haven.
Europe Bound/Hikers Haven is a three store chain for serious outdoor people. They carry serious gear – not the garden variety junk. Their web site is lacking (actually it’s pretty sad) but it seemed they might have what I wanted. The price seemed right, so off we went.
Now I will say that I usually don’t like going to Hikers Haven. The local store is over stuffed with clothing and gear, its dark and hard to get around. Its got a warehouse feel to it. The staff, on the other hand, are friendly and ready to help. So in we went. Found the coat after some searching. Puffer coat heaven? The coat wasn’t too bad but in store it wasn’t on sale, it was full price. I asked why the price difference bringing up the promotion from their web site on my iPhone. The sales rep clearly irritated by my questions grunted some response about that was a web deal and maybe not the same product. OK well can’t you do the same price? Ah no. OK, so epic fail here. Why would I pay full price when its on sale on your web site? No response the guy moved on to help a woman who was looking for a Canada Goose coat.
Feeling very irritated we left but not before buying some wool socks for my son.
Frustrated I said to my wife lets go to Sherway and see what we can find. Recent reno, lots of new stores, they might have puffer coats. So off we went on the QEW highway. Being fall it was raining. Not heavily but enough to slow things down. Slow things down enough as to be going nowhere very fast.
After much stop and go and sit and not moving we got to Sherway. There was no parking to be had and the battle was on. Luckily my eagle-eyed son spotted a free slot and in we went. I think the retail mall gods at Cadillac Fairview should seriously think about a shuttle from the Long Branch Go Train station to the mall. Would save on parking lot battles and certainly attract people like us.
First stop the venerable HBC or Hudson’s Bay Company. Oldest retailer in the English-speaking world (founded in 1670) we figured they have to have puffer coats. Were we wrong! After wandering the aisles looking at the men’s boutiques we ended up at the Strellson boutique. Puffer coats – yahoo! – but that glee was short lived as we realized they only had two and one was a small and the other was XS. Not a sales clerk to be found anywhere. Must have been smoke break or coffee break time. The service desk was unmanned. No service, no help.
In June we at VL attended STORE 2015 put on by the RCC (Retail Council of Canada). Jerry Storch, CEO of the Hudson’s Bay Company gave a talk about how HBC was revitalising the in-store experience and why e-commerce wasn’t a good strategy. We wrote a blog on the presentation. You can read the blog post here.
Mr. Storch expounded on the bricks and mortar location as the go to place for retail because they had the service and selection. Well based on the puffer expedition it was another epic failure. It doesn’t seem to be playing out so well at HBC. We found zero selection and nonexistent customer service. My son tried to convince me that I had missed the window on puffer coats because now heavy winter coats were in stock. Not so sure but nice try.
Now Sherway is a big mall and its considered in the greater Toronto area to be a higher end mall. Its been under going renovations for the arrival of Nordstroms so there have been lots of changes. My wife suggested we check out Sporting Life.
Sporting Life is a life style store. They carry a wide range of products of decent quality. They also carry some unique brands like 66North from Iceland and higher end brands like Moncler and Parajumpers. This might be the spot to find the puffer coat of my dreams. Well it wasn’t to be.
First off the store is stuffed to the gills with product. So much product that in some areas we couldn’t even separate the coats to see the sizes or the price tags. I understand maximizing square footage but this was ridiculous. They had lots and lots of puffer coats. Brands like North Face, Patagonia, Arc’Teryx. Lots to choose from. Did I find a coat? – no. The problem was nothing I liked was in my size and in some cases the price was more than what I had paid for my Kanuk winter coat. It was the classic case of over inventoried but poor size selection. My son seemed to think there might have been a run on puffer coats that morning. Ah not so sure.
The second problem was the staff. Sporting Life had lots of sales clerks, too many in fact. While trying to look through a stuffed rack of Patagonia coats I was asked by four different sales clerks in the space of 3 minutes if I needed help. It was almost like they were doing a circuit. They were always polite but come on 4 people asking me if I needed help within 3 minutes. That’s once every 45 seconds. In 45 seconds you don’t even have time to look up from reading a tag. Wow. To add to the frustration the store was busy and the heating was too high. The experience sucked.
By now I was getting sick and tired of being at the mall. I had a headache, I was hot. I had been to two stores at Sherway and one outside and found nothing. I was tired of no service and in your face service. My wife suggested we go to Eddie Bauer. I said no lets go home I am fed up, I have had enough.
Fed up we left. No puffer coat. The expedition was a total failure. The drive home was quiet and I reflected on our shopping experience and why going to the mall really, really sucks. The experience was terrible, there was absolutely nothing positive about it. The mall was hot, the stores were over stuffed with goods and the selection was poor, hard to get at and the staff either non existent or in your face. Three different types of retailing.
So what is the lesson here?
Retail has to change. We experienced three different approaches to retailing none of them very appealing. Lack of service speaks to the value the retailer places on the customer. Clearly HBC couldn’t care about providing service despite piles of product often in disorganized piles that customers had picked over. SportingLife had the place stuffed to the gills so finding anything wasn’t easy and the in your face service was very irritating. Thanks for asking but if I need help I will ask for it. Finally if you can’t be bothered to honour a deal or at least look into it then who are you in business for? Three examples of a less than stellar retail experience.
So the puffer expedition ended in failure and I am still puffer coatless. Sad but true.
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