'Customers want real connection'
Macroom businesswoman Joan Lucey says high quality service can trump might of online sales
A Macroom businesswoman said the introduction of specialist retail training courses could help shops in Cork towns compete with the challenge posed by online after introducing such a course in her Cork city shop helped earn the business a listing in Retail Excellence Ireland's Top 100 stores.
Joan Lucey, who began her retail career running the Macroom Book Shop at West Square, Macroom, availed of the Cork City Customer Service Charter where training and support was provided for retailers in competing with the challenge of online shopping.
And this week Ms Lucey was celebrating when, thanks to signing up to the Cork City Customer Service Charter, her bookshop, Vibes and Scribes on Lavitt's Quay in Cork was one of just five Cork city stores to make it on to the Retail Excellence Ireland Top 100 stores.
"We definitely benefited hugely from signing up to the charter and providing training and support for our staff - in fact four of the five stores in Cork city that made it on to the Retail Excellence Ireland Top 100 list had similarly signed up to the charter," she said.
"And while it is a Cork city initiative, I see no reason why shops in towns like Macroom or Mallow or Fermoy or Kanturk or Charleville or Mitchelstown or Millstreet couldn't sign up to a similar type of initiative in the county that would help them compete with the challenge of online.
"Customers now want a real connection and a very high-quality service, so whether we are trading in the city or the county, we all need to look regularly at our offering," said Ms Lucey who also runs the Vibes and Scribes Wool, Fabrics, Arts and Craft Supplies shop on Bridge Street in Cork city.
The Cork Customers Service Charter is the brainchild of the Cork City Centre Forum, which is a collaboration involving Cork Chamber, Cork Business Association, Cork City Council, Gardai and retail, hospitality and service sectors in the city.
Ms Lucey explained the motivation behind the initiative, pointing out that forecasts earlier this year for 2019 predicted that there was going to be 30pc swing towards online shopping so shops on High Streets needed to respond by making shopping a more enjoyable experience.
"Customers are looking for an interactive shopping experience and this is where we, in the bricks and mortar shops, can compete. Cork has already been named as Europe's friendliest city and we wanted to build on that accolade and become best in quality service also."
"But we need to work together to get there - no matter how wonderful you feel your service offering is, we can all be better," said Ms Lucey, adding that shops in county towns face many of the same type of challenges that Cork city stores do particularly from online.
The Cork Customer Service Charter was developed in conjunction with Cork Institute of Technology which conducted research with city centre businesses before developing a training course for owners /managers which was delivered with the Local Enterprise Office support
The training programme, which was supported by the Local Enterprise Office in Cork city, also included a briefing for business owners/managers, a workshop for training the trainers, customer service progress monitoring using mystery shoppers and a final briefing including feedback.
"While the Charter is about improving customer service there is also an element of community and pride of place and with that in mind we are organising a day out on the Cork City open top bus on October 1 for all the participants in the training course which will enable us to share experiences."