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Retail sector can do with more smiles and positive attitude [04-03-2013]  
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THE corporate reporting season is over with mixed report cards on the back of Malaysia's better-than-expected gross domestic product (GDP) growth and record investment figures.

News of duties cut for imported cars has brought cheer to people on the street amid Bursa Malaysia's lacklustre trading as election jitters overhang the market.

The retail sector, which has yet to announce its sales figures for 2012, is expected to do better than the GDP growth.

Retail Group Malaysia had earlier forecasted a 6.0 per cent growth rate for the retail sector as it was anticipating 4.5 to 5.0 per cent GDP growth for the year. Now that the GDP figure is out, with growth at 5.6 per cent in 2012, it is also likely that the retail sector did better as well last year.

Last year, the retail sector had benefited from expenditures following government incentives such as 1Malaysia People's Aid, bonuses for civil servants and pensioners, and book vouchers.

This year, more cash incentives are in store, with spillover effects that will benefit the sector.

Besides the nationwide Mega Sale Carnival every year, retailers have also come out with their own creative promotions to attract customers and boost sales.

Majority of retail establishments are independent retailers, or those who own only a few retail stores or just a single store or franchise outlet.

For these small and medium retailers, competition is very tough, especially if they are in the mass consumer products segment such as clothing, general merchandise and women accessories. What differentiates one retailer from another is the services.

All entrepreneurs, regardless of sectors, know that customers can make or break their businesses.

In the retail business, if customers are not happy with certain outlets, they can always buy goods at other outlets, which, in the rapidly developing country like Malaysia, are ubiquitous.

In the 1990s and earlier, shop owners had inferior customer services, especially in terms of friendliness and attentiveness.

Although this has changed significantly with more positive attitude, the transformation sometimes stops at store owners only.

Just walk into a few shops (not shopping malls), there is a likelihood that in about four out of 10, you would find shop assistants who would totally ignore you. Some would give curt answers with the absence of a smile when you enquire about their products. Worse still, a few don't even realise there are customers in the stores as they are so busy fiddling with their mobile phones!

But the attitudes are different when their bosses are around.

Some shop assistants, meanwhile, are on the extreme, walking very close behind the customers and giving the impression that they want the customers out from their stores ASAP. Then, there are also the OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) ones, who immediately fold or re-arrange goods as soon as you touch them, which also tend to chase the customers away.

These shop assistants, mostly young ladies, should be told that smiling and being attentive to the customers would bring in more sales and thus, better pay or even bonuses for them.

In fact, you would more likely find Indonesian helpers at shops or food outlets friendlier and more helpful.

Last but not least, those at some of boutiques should learn about customer service from their counterparts at Cosway outlets, who are well-trained for fast-service, being friendly and never ignoring any customer, even during busy hours.

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