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The Vandenborre experience

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Vandenborre is part of the French retailer “Darty” which became famous thanks to its excellent slogan (and promise) “A contract of confidence” (le contrat de confiance).

What Darty realized well in advance was that consumers shopping for electronics and home appliances want to have a professional hassle-free service they can trust. Their simple idea was therefore to make the customer’s life easier with, for instance, an at-home installation of purchased products. It may seem obvious but as I stressed in a previous post some countries (lie France) just lack the service culture and Darty’s strategy was therefore a good one.

Well, not only do you need a good strategy but you must also roll it out effectively. Let me recount my personal experience (anecdotal) on which we will draw some interesting and broad conclusions.

My old 100€ dvd recorder on which I had recorded some 500+ TV shows dies. I’m aware of some compatibility problems with DVD disks between brands of recorders and decide to take a few disks with me to make sure that the next DVD recorder can actually read them.

Here I come at Vandenborre on a Saturday morning at 10:05am, 5 minutes after the stores opened is doors in Brussels’ biggest in-town mall. The store is empty. All salesmen are in the TV department, laughing and watching TV while I go through the DVD department, some 10 meters away. It is an unexciting display of equipment with a technical description on the left mentioning all too technical facts like power consumption, norms, number of channels, … I’m not a specialist and since none of the products on display are directly available in the shelves for purchase (they are stored in the warehouse like in most stores) the help of a salesman is necessary. After 10 minutes waiting I finally succeeded in catching the attention of one of the salesmen who was so busy at watching TV with his colleagues.

He comes and I explain my problem of compatibility:

Me :  “Before I choose one recorder I’d like to make sure that my old DVD can be read. Could you try one of them for me?”

He :  “no I can’t”

Me : “why is it so?”

He : “because the DVD recorders are not configured”

Me : “perhaps you could just configure one of them so that we can carry out the test?”

He : “no I can’t. Products on display are not intended to be used”

Me : “what if I buy on your advice one recorder and I can’t read my DVD’s?”

He : “just bring it back and you’ll get a refund”

Me : “OK. So which model do you recommend?”

He : “I recommend brand X with a hard disk capacity of 320Gb. The picture quality is better than the 160 and 240Gb models”

Me : “What makes the pictures better?”

He : “the electronics is better”

Me : “well, maybe it’s better but I don’t need do much capacity as I record mainly on DVD’s. I go for the 160Gb”

He : “if I were you I would stick for the 320Gb. It’s better than the 160Gb”

Me : “No, thank you. 160Gb is enough for my usage”

We then go together to the check out line.

He : “Do you want the reduced warranty or the normal one”

Me : “what do you mean with reduced warranty?”

He : “reduced warranty is 2 years from purchase date, normal warranty 5 years”

Me : “I prefer the normal warranty of course. Does it come at no costs?”

He : “no it’s XX Euros more”

Me : “in that case I go for the reduced warranty. 2 years is enough”

To make a long story short, I went back home, tried the DVD recorder and guess what, it couldn’t read my old DVD’s. I tried to call the store (I had to let the phone ring 64 times) and eventually got the very salesman I spoke to 1 hour sooner. Call the hotline he said, I can’t decide whether or not we will refund your purchase since since you used the equipment already.

How was I supposed to discover the compatibility issue without unpacking and installing the equipment then ?

The hotline refused to take the recorder back because of the company policy and I had to threaten them in writing to finally get the right to bring the product back.

My take:

My personal story may seem anecdotal but reveals several points that Vandenborre got totally wrong.

  1. Service at the point of sale
    1. Salesmen showed no empathy and are not willing to help the customer promptly and spontaneously.
    2. Products on display are non functional and can not be tested: how is the customer supposed to form a judgment about it then?
    3. Shelves are crowded with products which are unattractively displayed
    4. Salesmen are not knowledgeable about the products they sell.
      Remember, the recorder with the largest capacity was supposed, according to the salesman, to have a better picture quality. I called the manufacturer and this argument proved to be wrong. The salesman just tried to push the sale of a more expensive product by lying.
  2. Incentives
    Most HR-specialists will tell you about the marvelous power of financial incentives on salesmen performances. I would like you to remember that bad incentives will have the worst impact you can imagine on the service quality and on the customer experience.
    In the case of Vandenborre and Darty, salesmen get incentives on the sales of extra warranty leading, in my case, to a salesman making an unlawful statement (the “reduced” warranty he was speaking about was actually the legal 2-year European warranty and the “normal” warranty an extended warranty proposed by Vandenborre) to make extra money.
    Make sure that you set the right incentives in order to have the interests of your customers served first.
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Author: Pierre-Nicolas Schwab

Dr. Pierre-Nicolas Schwab is the founder of IntoTheMinds. He specializes in e-commerce, retail and logistics. He is also a research fellow in the marketing department of the Free University of Brussels and acts as a coach for several startups and public organizations. He holds a PhD in Marketing, a MBA in Finance, and a MSc in Chemistry. He can be contacted by email, Linkedin or by phone (+32 486 42 79 42)

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