Sep 20, 2007

Attention K-Mart PR Team

Fascinating story in today's Wall Street Journal about what happens when you put customer service last.

Journal editor Laura Landro (pictured above, photo from was shopping for beach gear at Kmart with her family when she found a pair of flip-flops in a bin. The flip-flops were not in a box, the bin was in complete disarray, and Landro couldn't find a sales associate. So she put the shoes in what she assumed was the correct box and proceeded to the register.

Landro and her family spent around $800 that day. But on her way out, she was detained by a KMart security guard, held for several hours, had her credit card and drivers license confiscated and ordered never to set foot in Kmart again.

Her crime? She'd put the flip-flops in a box belonging to a pair that was $8 cheaper. And Kmart, in their quest to cut down on shoplifting and price-swapping (putting the price tag of a lower priced item on a more expensive one) claimed that Landro did this on purpose.

Her article talks to many security experts and lawyers, all of whom agree that Kmart was within their rights legally.

Fine, but let's talk about the incredible damage this does to customer relations. Because I can't think of a clearer way to telegraph that at Kmart, the customer is always WRONG.

Even if Landro wasn't a WSJ editor, she'd just spent $800 in the store. Something she claimed she did fairly often. To lose a customer like Landro over an $8 mistake just seems absurd. To lose hundreds if not thousands of customers as a result of Landro's article takes it to a whole other level.

While I understand that theft is a real problem for Kmart, there are steps the store could take to ensure that these sorts of situations don't happen. Obvious ones like making sure bins aren't chaotic and in disarray. Slightly less obvious ones like putting in signs reminding people that if they can't find a box to just bring the item up to the register without one. Or to let the cashier know they're not sure if it's the right box.

Then there's the damage control that's needed right now. Kmart needs to respond to this article immediately. Apologize to Landro and let her (and all the other upscale shoppers who frequent Kmart and Target and WalMart for low prices on disposable goods) know that they are truly sorry this happened and that they value her business and that they are taking steps to ensure that this doesn't happen again.

Kmart, are you listening?

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