The last sentence in the article is the most relevant and quality service is what we aim for

Category Customer Service is key

I got my first Edgars card at university, when all I had was a part-time job, with pay that was also part-time. How I loved that card, and how it enabled a fashionista with ambition but no money to also look smart.

At the time, there was no bigger treat than going to the flagship Edgars store in Eloff Street, Johannesburg; and to dream big while buying an item now and again.

Sydney Press, the retailer who made Edgars a household name - and took its revenue up to a stratospheric R4.2bn, one ecstatic year in the mid-Nineties - knew his customers.

We were people with aspirations bigger than our pockets, so Edgars extended credit more easily to the black market than other retailers would. Press banked on working-class mothers like mine, with sterling credit records, to help him grow the Edgards empire. Becoming an Edgars' customer was a generational thing.


So I was shocked to read that Edcon, the company that Edgars was corporatised as when it expanded, may be crashing. It has about 21 000 full-time employees, many of whom were panicked when a regular downpour of bad news this year ended in a thunderstorm on Sunday, with the Sunday Times announcing that it was in a tailspin and in need of an emergency rescue.

Corporate denials followed, but to all intents and purposes, Edcon is on the way out. The bad business decisions of almost all the CEOs who followed Press, as well as a disastrous buyout (followed by a fire sale) by Bain Capital Private Equity, have meant Edcon is now so indebted that it has had to offer shares to its landlords in return for the rents it cannot pay.

ith all the heart for the staff, you still can't see how Edgars can survive without customers, no matter how good CEO Grant Pattison's slim-down and recapitalisation strategy may be.

Customers and customer loyalty are what Edgars and its associated stores lack. Here's what happened, in my experience. At some point, I felt like Edgars stores lost me. They became a confused mess of stores within stores as it introduced brands within brands like La Senza or Accessoreyes. It felt like loyal customers like my mom and I were sacrificed to mad-cap visions of imported executives who didn't really know their market.

The shops were staffed with insipid sales-people who were so badly managed, they often packed shelves or merchandised incessantly while completely ignoring their customers. Poorly trained, they did not know how to sell or to up-sell. And so I think we left in droves and never came back.

This happened just as apartheid's barriers came down and Chinese products flooded the market. Zara came in; so did Legit and Cotton On - all stores that own the middle-class market.

Mr Price took over where Edgars lost the plot with buyers, marketers and managers who really understood the fortune at the bottom of the pyramid.

Over the past two months, Edgars has been spamming me with offers of free this and that, even though I gave up my card years ago. It's clear now that the store needs us back.

Gone for good

But the thing about a loyal customer is that once you're gone, you're gone for good. I've taken my money (way too much of it, sometimes) to Woolworths. What used to be a solid but boring brand (or perhaps I've just grown solid and boring) is, to me, now stocked with great clothes and interesting brands, other than the unfortunate David Jones experiment. That Australian brand has dragged down Woolworths profits for all of 2018, but the introduction and expansion of Woolworths Food have been a revelation and a money-spinner.

Whereas Edgars was always changing brands and store layouts for at least the past two decades, when you go to Woolworths, there is a brand consistency anywhere in the country. That matters. They know their customers and use the intelligence on the Woolworths cards to keep creating products with resonance and desirability while maintaining a golden thread of dependability.

Edgars lost its golden thread; it is going to take a very special Midas touch to bring it back.

The tsunami of globalisation, the kleptocratic decade of former President Jacob Zuma - which put the economy into a tailspin - China and bloody poor management took down the once-iconic Edgars that was such a signature of South Africa's shopping landscape.

But more than all that, Edgars' biggest mistake was to lose sight of its most valuable asset: the customer.

Author: Ferial Hafajee

Submitted 20 Dec 18 / Views 792

Durban, KwaZulu Natal

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