Fabric Shop Customer Disservice

19 Feb

Here comes my favourite sewing related rant of all time. FABRIC SHOP CUSTOMER SERVICE(or lack thereof).

Sew Confident

Poor Customer Service

I  have been frequenting the Glasgow fabric shops since 2005 so I know about most of them, I know some people who work or have worked in them and I send a lot of business their way as my students always ask me where they should buy their fabric. I wish there was one outstanding establishment that I could send them with absolute confidence but there is not. I am not referring to the range of fabrics available in the Glasgow shops but the downright AWFUL customer service.

Now maybe old age(25? maybe not) and years of retail experience has made me a stickler for good service. Or maybe I just have a certain expected standard of service that I expect anywhere I go. Here are my expectations:

Friendly Atmosphere

I expect to feel comfortable in a shop. I am the customer, I want to spend my money and I want to do it without feeling like I am an inconvenience for even stepping foot through the door. I would also like to know that where I am shopping has happy motivated staff and a bad feeling in the air does not convey that. A little smile from an assistant wouldn’t go a miss. You don’t even have to say hi, just acknowledge me, give me a smile and hey presto your customer is at ease already. A lot of customers stepping foot in these shops are intimidated by the whole sewing world. It is new and uncertain territory and the last thing they need is to feel so uncomfortable that they never come back, or don’t feel they can ask for help. You’ll notice I’m not naming names – That is not because I’m afraid of what they might say, it is because ALL the fabric shops are the same, across the board. It’s a phenomenon!!!

Please don’t get me wrong, I am under no illusion that the customer is always right. Sometimes the customer is downright wrong and unreasonable. But I am referring to your average friendly customer here.

Good Product Knowledge

I should widen that to good product knowledge or the willingness to find extra information for the customer. Staff not knowing everything about every single product is totally forgiveable. I don’t see this as a problem as I know new stock comes in the door every day. However I would expect the staff member to go an find the answer to my question. Example:

Customer: Do you have any X, Y or Z?
Staff Member: I don’t think so.

Not good enough if you don’t THINK so please take three seconds to ask someone else then colour me happy.

Now here is my biggest problem, misinformation.  I have had several students go into fabric shops to buy a pattern, and come out with one that doesn’t even fit. This is because a dress size 12 on a pattern may not be the size 12 you are. Just like sizes vary from shop to shop sizes vary from pattern to pattern. I mean they vary WILDLY. I have measured my size 10 body and discovered Vogue/Butterick/Whatever thinks I am a bloody size 18! My advice with patterns is to take your measurements and then see what size pattern you require. This is my advice and this is also how it should be done, everywhere, always, that I am confident of. So why do I continually hear about shop assistants who tell customers to buy the pattern according to their normal dress size?!?! This actually infuriates me and it should infuriate every CEO of every fabric shop too. I take great pride in teaching sewing and I only wish more people could enjoy it as I do. So I actively encourage people to get into it. Now I don’t own a fabric shop but I’d imagine they would also want to actively encourage people to sew as the more people sewing = more people buying fabric = more money. Basic. So here are two business scenarios:

Scenario 1 – Reality

Customer wants to try her first sewing pattern. She has a little sewing experience and is really excited about getting started but she doesn’t know much about it. She goes to a fabric shop in Glasgow and has a browse. After she has found one grumpy sales assistant to help she asks about a pattern. The grumpy assistant asks her dress size and sells the pattern and chosen fabric. the customer goes home, cuts the pattern out of the expensive fabric(because the sales assistant didn’t mention anything about a toile despite that being more money in the till). The dress doesn’t fit, the customer assumes it is her fault. She put her sewing machine in the attic never to be removed. She never buys anything from any fabric shop ever again. No repeat custom.

Scenario 2 – Noodle head fabric shop dream world

Customer wants to try her first sewing pattern. She has a little sewing experience and is really excited about getting started but she doesn’t know much about it. She goes to a fabric shop in Glasgow and has a browse. Sales assistant asks her if she needs a hand. Customer point out a pattern she likes and the sales assistant explains that she should think about making a toile first from inexpensive material. This means any mistakes she might make are on the inexpensive fabric. It also means she can adjust the fit. The sales assistant then hands the customer a tape measure(because there are hundreds in a fabric shop RIGHT?!) and asks for her measurements before suggesting a pattern size for her. Customer leaves feeling happy, has the correct pattern size, makes her toile, makes her dress and continues to make sewing progress. She is now a fully fledge fabric addict who will continue to stockpile fabric and patterns for as long as she lives. Fabric shops stay in business forever and ever amen

Willingness to help

If I walk into a ladies clothes shop knowing I want a dress for a wedding(for example) but not too sure what style or colour I want I can usually assume someone in the shop will help me. If I was serving me I would ask, “do you have a style in mind?”, “do you have a colour scheme?” and “do you have a price range?” before picking out a few dresses. The following story ACTUALLY HAPPENED in a fabric shop to one of my students last week. I’m so very tempted to name and shame but I’ll resist. I also know it was a senior member of staff who commited the customer service crime. My student walked into the shop, not really knowing what she was after but she had her pattern. She approached a member of staff and said she needed a hand as she wasn’t too sure what she wanted. The member of staff then said “well reds and oranges are over there, blues and greens are over there and black and whites are over ther”* before walking away. SERIOUSLY?!

*don’t quote me on those colours, it could have been “chiffons are over there…etc”.

I usually treat my students to this in week 3 of any course. So if you are thinking of signing up to a future class of mine I’ll treat you to the live and  interactive version. I promise i’ll have more pictures and less angry text in my next post!

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5 Responses to “Fabric Shop Customer Disservice”

  1. emmakhenderson February 19, 2013 at 9:00 pm #

    This is so true. And that’s if you actually get a member of staff to talk to you. I’ve wandered round fabric shops for hours trying to get somebody to cut some fabric from a roll for me. Start the revolution Jenny!

  2. Kirsty February 19, 2013 at 9:33 pm #

    Couldn’t have written that better myself! As you say what is amazing us the attitude isn’t just found in one shop.

  3. Lauren February 19, 2013 at 10:56 pm #

    I think I may know one of the shops you are talking about funnily enough. Is it maybe in Glasgow’s city centre? All I wanted was a patch to cover a hole in some jeans and make them a bit more interesting, went in 10 minutes to closing time and was basically harassed out the door by 2 sales assistants because I took my time choosing a small section of fabric. I even noticed some eye rolling and foot tapping! I’ve never had that in my favourite bead shop, The Bead Company. They’ve always been helpful to me no matter how frustrating a customer I am (I once knocked over one of their shelves!). I guess it just goes to show that different areas of the creative world have different attitudes towards their customers.

  4. Linda McGregor May 8, 2014 at 8:47 am #

    Hi Jenny, hopefully that’s not the experience of I Sew 2 customers. If I’ve not got what they sr looking for I will try to get them it, and a smile is guaranteed!
    Linda😊

    • Sew Confident May 8, 2014 at 12:21 pm #

      Definitely not Linda! Always great service at iSew2! x

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