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Belk Elite Customers Need Elite Experiences

By Robert Hetu | October 25, 2022 | 0 Comments

Retail Digital Transformation and Innovation

The hardest thing about being a retail analyst is that every experience you have can lead to endless analysis. However, this one is super easy to understand, elite customers need elite experiences. Recently I found myself in need of a few items very quickly before heading to Gartner’s Symposium in Orlando, so I visited the Belk store at West Town Mall in Knoxville, TN. I did not give myself the title of elite customer, that designation was bestowed on me by Belk Department Stores. My credit card even says that I am. Its black with the word elite clearly printed on the front.

On this day I walked out of the Belk store leaving $1000 worth of merchandise at the checkout stand in the men’s department.  

Belk at West Town Mall  

Website showing Belk at West Town Mall

What happened?

I have seen a lot of things during my time in retail, but I have never seen a retailer that could resist selling things. I won’t drag out the story but the net cause was that their credit card service provider had issued me a new card through the mail and I was trying to use the old card. It was explained to me that their system is designed in a way that, when a new card is shipped, the old card is deactivated. I have never experienced anything like this before, but okay, I did not have the new card. Surely there would be a way to manually override and approve the transaction, but sadly no, no way existed. Certainly one option would be to use a different payment method, no problem, I only use the card to get the loyalty points and leverage coupons.  But to use the 60% off coupon I was required to use the Belk credit card that I did not have. I spoke to two different customer service agents on the phone at the register and was offered no other solutions. While writing this post, I logged onto my Belk online account and saw there an image of a credit card with a QR code that would allow me to use my charge in store without the card. Fascinating!

At that point I was quite frustrated and just left everything there. Before leaving the Belk store, I spoke with an assistant manager and it was confirmed that there was no way to work around the issue.  Just to be clear, every Belk associate was very polite and tried to help, but ultimately they lacked empowerment and training. I departed, crossed the mall to the Dillard’s Department Store and had a great experience. Not only was the store much better merchandised, they were well staffed and allowed me to use my charge account even though I did not present the card.  

Lessons for retailers

There are a few lessons here for retailers, and I hope Belk in particular will pay attention.  

  1. Live up to expectations – If you tell your customers that they have status, or are simply important to you, you must live up to the expectations. 
  2. Get the basics right – Be careful who you partner with, your credit card servicer should never be the cause these kinds of access issues.
  3. Train associates – Someone should have known that there was a way for me to get digital access to the account to complete the transaction in store.
  4. Empower associates – At a minimum, a manger should have been able to authorize the coupon through a transaction using a different form of payment. 

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