By Russell Bell

I AM increasingly convinced that the push towards large scale/big box — and even online — retail is actually to the detriment of value and that there is a space for local retailers to occupy where they can differentiate through customer service and actually caring.

There are, of course, exceptions to the soulless corporate only interested in getting its product out the door — so today I will highlight one great and one less than average example in our local economy.

The great one comes from the team at Noel Leeming who exceeded my expectations in how they took over what was becoming an exercise in pure frustration — dealing with a failing Microsoft Surface.

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Over Christmas, Miss Bell, in transitioning from intermediate to college, executed instructions to reformat her Microsoft Surface. Alas, when it was rebooted, a good number of important icons were unresponsive, and that started what was almost six hours of running updates, rebooting and becoming first-name best friends with a Filipino gentleman at the Microsoft help desk.

I turned to the retailer, Noel Leeming, and they essentially took over and managed the process through to its conclusion (replacement under warranty) — all this occurring while I was flying down mountain bike tracks in the Bay of Plenty.

And this is not the only example of them going the extra mile — their attention to requests and needs is consistently second to none. This extends to recently ensuring an appliance was installed properly when their tech expert was unavailable.

They are now our first port of call for any and all electronic and appliance needs — not only because they have a great range, but also because they have great people.
The not-so-good? This example is actually going on right now.

I took to Facebook last weekend after we treated ourselves to some good steak on Saturday night and the product was well short of expectations.

Ordinarily we shop at Pak'n Save, but on this day I was in a rush so ended up at Countdown in Trafalgar Square.

Now I actually find the service there fine and the people, particularly on checkout, are really good, but this is not the first time that I have purchased meat from there which had the consistency of chewing gum — $49.99-a-kilo chewing gum.

Rather than go to the store, I registered a complaint on their Facebook page, and it was interesting to see the responses of people with similar experiences.

It took a while to get a "Thank you for your feedback" response, but it's now been more than 24 hours since the last private message interaction. It has all the feel of being on hold at the call centre, but without the human voice.

The moral of the story, at least for local retailers, is keep your standards high and always, always go out of your way to connect and provide service and support to your customers.
As I said above, it is a real chance to establish a compelling value proposition against the big players and the coming wave of online market players.

Sure, it is easy to use a device to buy stuff, but it can be unsatisfying — particularly if the goods aren't up to spec when they arrive. Likewise, there is an assumed trust of the big brands, but locals can compete well with them if their goods and services are always set at the high end of quality.

*Balance Consulting is a Whanganui consultancy specialising in business strategy, process excellence and leadership mentoring — contact Russell Bell on 021 2442421 or John Taylor on 027 4995872.