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Service Matters When Selling To Millennials

by Robert Hetu  |  July 14, 2015  |  1 Comment

Forever 21 versus a 20 year old college student:

A college student purchases a dress from Forever 21 in a size medium using her debit card. After arriving home she decided a size small would be better so the next day she returns to the same store, receipt in hand, to exchange. The store does not have a small, so she asks them to order it online. No, they cannot order online from the store, she must do it from home. So she asks for a refund, and they tell her she can only get store credit. She takes the credit. When she arrives home she logs onto the website to place the order. As she is a new signup she has a free shipping code. She tries to use the store credit card to place the order and it won’t work so she calls customer service. They tell her that she has the correct balance on the card so they are not sure why it won’t work. The next day she will be near a different Forever 21 store she decides to check there. Again there is no small in stock. She tells the manager about her issues and asks again if they can order it in the store. She is told they cannot help her. Upon returning home she logs on again to try to place the order. This time the card works but – because she had already tried to use the free shipping code she is being charged shipping. So she calls tries an online chat with a representative who again insists that there is nothing that can be done. Frustrated she calls and finally a representative gives her a new free shipping code and cancels the old order. Quite an ordeal for a $21 dress. They have lost a customer.

The customer basics matter, Forever 21 failed spectacularly in three areas:

  • Having products in stock – This is a failure in 2 ways.  First the item was out of stock in the required size in 2 different stores.  Perhaps this is a lack of size optimization or just an inevitable result of sell off.  More importantly its failure to provide technology that allowed the store associates to order the product for the customer while in the store indicates a lack of understanding the current requirements for retailers.  Multichannel best practice indicates that a consistent cross channel shopping process enabled by technology is required to satisfy customers.   
  • Having an available, informed sales staff – Individuals failed to provide the knowledge and adequate support to ensure an appropriate customer experience in stores and online customer service.  Even lacking the ability to order the product from the store the associates should have jumped in to help solve the issue over the phone.  
  • Products being easy to return – Its policy to provide only store credit for returns, even when the receipt is supplied and tags are attached is short sighted.  While not a big surprise that there are good reasons to take this approach, including consumers purchasing an item, wearing once and returning, this is not a strategy that should be employed for all customers.  There is an implicit lack of trust in this policy that penalizes all customers.

Having been recently rated as one of the 5 worst retailers to work for ( this fast growing company must understand that millennials expect excellent customer service by associates and when required enabled by technology.  Frequently this starts with a happy and well informed workforce.

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Category: ecommerce  retail-trends  

Tags: consumers  customer-analytics  customer-centricity  ecommerce  forever-21  millennials  multichannel  omni-channel  retail  satisfaction  stores  

Robert Hetu
VP, Analyst Retail
7 years at Gartner
29 years IT Industry

Bob Hetu is a Research Director with the Gartner Retail Industry Services team. His responsibilities involve tracking the technology markets and trends impacting the broad-based retail merchandising and planning areas. Mr. Hetu is an expert in the areas of brand, vendor and assortment management, merchandise planning, allocation, and replenishment. Read Full Bio

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