Will greeters make Penney a more inviting place to shop?

Discussion
Wikipedia/Mike Kalasnik
Oct 13, 2016

If greeters worked for Home Depot, perhaps they can do the same at J.C. Penney. That’s what many have concluded with news that the department store chain, led by CEO Marvin Ellison, a former Home Depot executive, has been testing greeters at locations in the Northeast since the summer.

Greeters at the Penney stores are not full-shift positions. Instead, stores make use of associates from other jobs in two-hour shifts. The New York Post interviewed an unnamed Penney employee who said workers were assigned to work as greeters during “power hours” between noon and 2:00 p.m.

Stores that employ greeters at entrances typically do so with one or more objectives in mind, including creating a friendly shopping environment, answering customer questions and reducing losses due to theft. The Penney associate who spoke with the Post said staff was told the intention was to increase sales.

As might be expected, the employee said not all in the store were thrilled with the test, citing longer lines at the checkout and workers being pulled from jobs they were comfortable with (such as unloading trucks) and put in another where they were not.

Earlier this year, Walmart brought back greeters at the majority of its stores. The chain, which had removed greeters from store lobbies in 2012, made the decision after assessing a test that began last year. Walmart also created a new position, customer host, which is responsible for fulfilling the traditional role of a greeter while also policing entrances to deter theft.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Why do you think J.C. Penney’s test only includes using greeters during a two-hour window? Where do you expect Penney will go from here?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Divorcing the greeting from the sales process is little more than making an employee into a robot. "
"Is greeting the customer a good idea? Yes ... Will it sell more stuff, especially clothing? No!"
"Personally, I find greeters to be annoying. I don't know you, and I don't want to know you."

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23 Comments on "Will greeters make Penney a more inviting place to shop?"


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David Livingston
Guest
5 years 7 months ago

I have no idea where people come up with these greeter stories about Walmart. I don’t recall them ever going away. Usually it’s someone who is challenged and Walmart was kind enough to provide employment. Sounds to me that sales are so slow at J.C. Penney their employees need something to do. Just as easy to stand around at the entrance as it is in their department. Just another recycled idea.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

Walmart greeters going away was widely covered and their return in May of 2016 as well. One example here.

David Livingston
Guest
5 years 7 months ago

The greeter program languished but was never eliminated. They did start adding people to assist the mentally and physically challenged people who were greeters. There might have been articles in the press that greeters were going away, that we all knew. But they never had the heart to fire all those challenged people and they still stayed on in many stores.

Dick Seesel
BrainTrust

There is nothing wrong with what J.C. Penney is doing — especially to create a halo effect — but I think it will be hard to measure the results from such a limited test. (I haven’t visited a lot of malls where I would describe 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. as “power hours,” unless it’s on a weekend.) I hope anybody assigned to this job is already a sales associate working on the selling floor and comfortable dealing with customers in a friendly way.

Chris Petersen, PhD.
Guest

J.C. Penney first has to get the customers to the entrance of the store.

Nothing wrong with a two-hour test before going all in. But in order to evaluate success variables, it would seem that the two-hour blocks must be more than noon to 2 p.m. And the tests should definitely include different blocks on weekends as well as holidays.

While I like the concept of exposing many staff to shoppers, the plan can easily backfire if staff in the backroom/operations don’t feel comfortable engaging customers. An unhappy greeter can make a poor ambassador.

There is only one chance to make a first impression. Apple trains it’s “greeters” for days before they engage customers on the floor … will J.C. Penney staff get any training? If the goal is increasing sales, then training/coaching on how to “greet” would seem to be mission critical.

Tony Orlando
Guest

It is nice to do something like this, but we have greeters as well — they are called my employees. I am not against this as it is important to recognize customers as they walk in, but I don’t see this as a bold move to improve sales and service. Perhaps there should be a boost in training employees in front-end courtesy and how to engage in the selling process, at the counters and on the floor. The shopping experience on the floor in most department stores is pretty bland at best, and if you make it an outstanding experience then that is where the bottom line will grow.

Ian Percy
BrainTrust

Tony, you may have hit it on the head better than any of us this morning. “It’s the employees, stupid!” I haven’t been to your place, though that is going on my bucket list, but it sounds like you’re creating a greeting or welcoming culture where I’m welcomed and helped by any employee I happen to run into. That is how it should be whether big box or mom-and-pop.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust
Without adding this position separate from sales it’s another example of “just do more with less” to employees. I’m not surprised they balk. As a retail sales trainer I can tell you divorcing the greeting from the sales process is little more than making an employee into a robot. The greeting is what starts to build rapport between people. It’s the first inclination to the customer that for those few minutes, they will be the most important person in the world to the employee. That is probably why this one post How to Approach A Customer in a Good Way has been shared over 3000 times — retailers are hungry to master this. But the greeting is just the start of an interaction — it establishes a promise of a personal shopping experience. Retailers have to be willing to put in the time and resources to see the greeting as the direct connection to a process that takes two strangers from being two people in a chance encounter to being a shopper buying from a… Read more »
Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

While it seems a little old-fashion, if done well greeters can play a role in helping direct shoppers which can improve conversion rates. However, using existing staff to play greeter for a couple of hours a day may not be the best way to test efficacy. If existing staff are being pulled off of other tasks, like processing sales transactions, and checkout lines get longer they will quickly undo any good the greeter may have created.

I’d suggest that J.C. Penney consider hiring a handful of actual greeters and implement them in test stores and then measure results from these test stores vs. a set of control stores. Anything that might help improve conversion rates is worth testing, but it’s critical to get the test structure right. If a test showed that stores with greeters had higher conversion rates and customer experience scores than non-greeter control stores, then I would expect to see greeters rolled out to more J.C. Penney stores. Experimentation is the precursor to discovery.

Ian Percy
BrainTrust

The encouragement to do actual research is well stated, Mark. The part I need help with is the the definition of “conversion.” Does that mean I got what I came in for or that I bought more than I intended? I’ve done a lot of research over the years but I don’t see how you can eliminate other variables (like product availability, price, etc.) and attribute my purchase to being greeted. I’m not at all being critical, I have a feeling you know a lot more about this than I do.

Ian Percy
BrainTrust
Well, let’s face it: this “greeter test” is not going to win the Nobel Peace Prize. I don’t even know how it qualifies as a test. Like David Livingston said, I’m glad to see a greeter at Walmart because they at least have something somewhat purposeful to do and they can make a little money. I greet them back and, frankly, admire them for getting out there. Heck, I might be one of them some day and I will knock it out of the park! Greeters alone are not going to create a “friendly shopping environment.” “How are you doing today?” is one of the most pointless questions in Western culture. There’s only one acceptable answer and 85 percent of the time it’s a lie. What I DO appreciated in Home Depot upon meeting someone at the door is the question: “Do you know where to find what you’re looking for?” I say “irrigation nozzles” and she says “Back of aisle 16, before you get to the appliance section.” Now that is useful and memorable.… Read more »
Bob Amster
BrainTrust

J.C. Penney is trying the greeters at those times at which they can get the most bang for the [payroll] buck. Additionally, by testing the same time of day across all test stores, they eliminate one variable (they can test other times if they find this one successful). One question remains unanswered as of now: is every associate adequately qualified to be a greeter? What is the result of putting in the wrong person to do the right job?

Steve Montgomery
BrainTrust

Why is J.C. Penney testing in a two-hour window between noon and 2 p.m.? Perhaps become someone thinks people on their lunch hours are going to rush to the mall to buy something. Or perhaps they believe as malls morph into food halls that people coming to eat at the mall might have some time to wander the mall. Other than those weak theories I can think of no reason for selecting those two hours.

As other have indicated this isn’t really a test. The scale and scope are not sufficient to measure consumer response. Instead what J.C. Penney has done is taken people from un-staffed stores and asked them to spend two hours away from their work.

J. Peter Deeb
Guest

J.C. Penney would be better served finding ways to increase traffic and then have sufficient well-trained sales people on the floor to greet customers and offer assistance in finding items. These days many department stores are virtual ghost towns when it comes to helping customers.

Mohamed Amer, PhD
BrainTrust
Mohamed Amer, PhD
Independent Board Member, Investor and Startup Advisor
5 years 7 months ago

Nothing wrong with the idea of greeters. At stores as diverse as Petco and CVS, as you enter the store the cashier welcomes you to the store. It puts a human face to the brand and banner — but its a first step that must continue with how store associates engage and converse with shoppers.

How J.C. Penney executes on the concept and frames it to their associates will determine internal adoption and how shoppers will respond. It’s worth a try but must be part of a larger cohesive strategy to make their stores a more desirable destination.

Lee Kent
Guest

The idea of having greeters during peak hours does make sense, in a way. Greeters are not there simply to be friendly. The other intent would be to direct people to what they were looking for. Folks coming in at peak times may benefit from someone pointing them in the right direction. I’m just not sure that J.C. Penney really needs that but let them try and see for themselves. Bottom line, the greeters need to know where everything is in the store.

For my 2 cents.

Tom Redd
Guest

It is good to take employees out from behind the racks and get them out in the open. Some of them are shy and thus complain. Getting the right greeters that can communicate and make the shopper smile as they enter the store is where the money is. Walmarts in my area have great greeters as do the Home Depots. Home Depot greeters that are pros know how to ask the shopper what they can help them with or mention things like “do not miss the deals on our new end caps for each aisle.”

Someday I will be a greeter and change the space — I will sell more as a greeter then associates do. There is a way that retailers can work with greeter scripts and inventory issues and promos to do this. AI and tech cannot replace a funny, smart and deal-pushing greeter.

GO GREETERS GO!

Marge Laney
Guest
5 years 7 months ago

Is greeting the customer a good idea? Yes, if you have all of your other customer engagement bases covered! Will it sell more stuff, especially clothing? No!

Apparel department store retailers need to engage with customers where they are making their buying decisions — in the fitting room!

Take the payroll being used for the greeter initiative and make these people available to keep the fitting rooms clean and maybe even offer some help. Your customers will love shopping in your stores and you’ll sell more. I guarantee it!

Brian Kelly
Guest
5 years 7 months ago
I’ve run stores and I’ve been an ad guy. Increasing payroll dollars can add more value to the brand experience than ad dollars. Of course, in both tactics, the devil is in the details. Bad ads are a waste of money. Bad front-liners are also a waste of money and potentially worse. A measurable ROI goal is desirable in both cases. Which assumes there is a customer-centric objective to be fulfilled. Greeters must be hired with the appropriate attributes and trained for a specific purpose. For heavy traffic days, when shoppers are weary or confused, a well-trained greeter can convert traffic to transaction. J.C. Penney’s other challenge is where to position the greeter: mall entrance (which level) or at which exterior entrance. Payroll is always a percent of sales. Allocation of dollars for greeters would assume these would be positioned during the day or week with the highest-traffic (sales follow footsteps) volume hours. I think this is a great idea. We all know, brick-and-mortar must provide a differentiating and positive shopping experience. The human element… Read more »
Tom Dougherty
Guest

I expect they will go nowhere from here. The shopping experience is not made inclusive and fun by having greeters. It is the other way around. Many shoppers see it as an intrusion and most think it is just so much a marketing ploy.

Joel Rubinson
BrainTrust

Personally, I find greeters to be annoying. I don’t know you, and I don’t want to know you. If you are visible and I need help, I will ask and that is fine. But greeters saying, “Hello, how are you,” or “welcome to blah blah”? … annoying. It’s like waiters in French restaurants. They know how to be visible but not obtrusive. More of that would be better, N = 1.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

Uhmm, Home Depot and Walmart are big-box stores that have a single entrance: not too hard to have a greeter … notice the “a” part.

JCP for the most part is an anchor at a mall, with anywhere from three to six entrances, so right away you’re looking at multiples of expense before you even get to the inherent merits of the idea.

Good intentions, but I don’t see it working.

Jerry Gelsomino
Guest

When you think about it you can enter a Penney’s or for that matter any department store from the mall, and nobody knows you’re there. Having greeters at the mall entrance is a great idea. Now they have to get the greeters to agree.

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Braintrust
"Divorcing the greeting from the sales process is little more than making an employee into a robot. "
"Is greeting the customer a good idea? Yes ... Will it sell more stuff, especially clothing? No!"
"Personally, I find greeters to be annoying. I don't know you, and I don't want to know you."

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