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Empty Handed

Recent studies have shown that shoppers often leave stores without purchasing anything. Why? One study found two-thirds of the time the store didn’t have or the shopper couldn’t find the desired product. Fifty-one percent of the time they found lines were too long and nearly 40% of the time shoppers left due to poor customer service.

A Wall Street Journal study published today finds that big chains are slashing head counts faster than store counts. Over the past 12 months alone, 86% of U.S. consumers say they have left a store due to long lines, according to a survey conducted by Adyen, a credit-card processor, and payment system. Adyen estimates that it resulted in $37.7 billion in lost sales for retailers.

Jessica Tokarski recently stopped by a Target store in Orchard Park, NY, to buy a phone case. But the 23-year-old couldn’t find anyone to unlock it from the rack, so she left the store without making a purchase. “I’ve turned to online shopping because customer service in stores has gotten really bad,” Ms. Tokarski said.

Some retailers are reversing the staffing trend. Kroger just announced the addition of 11,000 more staff for their 2800 stores and Dick’s Sporting Goods wants to add 10% to their floor staff. With low unemployment, retail pay may climb as they look to attract and retain clerks.

If retailers fail to provide the product and service, they will cede two prime advantages – immediacy and face-to-face advice – to online options. As they battle to control costs, retailers must also reduce the number of instances when shoppers arrive ready to buy yet leave empty-handed. It’s a tough tightrope walk but one they must master to survive.