Media consultant and ex-Singaporean Peter Ong, a friend from Australia, dropped by here over the weekend on his way home from South Africa where he has been doing consultancy work with a newspaper there.
Apart from touching base with his son, grandson and other family members, he couldn't resist doing a bit of shopping. So he went to Tang's on Sunday (April 4) to see whether he could part with some of his money.
His email to me started like this: "I am appalled at the lack of knowledge of many sales assistants in Singapore, particularly those at the big department stores."
Then he went on to give an example: "Yesterday, Sunday april 4, I was at Tang's when I saw an automatic watch winder. Being a watch collector, I wanted to find out more about the winders which are supposed to keep your automatic watches going without you having to wear them.
"When I asked the girl manning the counter selling Mitch & Marc watch winders where the movement was from, she said "Australia".
"Indeed, Mitch & Marc is an Australian brand of fashion goods, but it was obvious that she did not undertsand the difference between the brand and the internal workings of the winder. Thereupon, I explained to her what I wanted to know. And again she said "Australia".
"I said: "I know this is an Australian brand. I want to know exactly where the mechanism for the winder is from."
"She just did not know. Worse still, there was no attempt whatsoever to find out.
"Result? I walked away.
"Each of these automatic winders costs anything from $1,000 to several thousand dollars. If Tang's wants to sell any of them, they should teach their staff to answer questions customers like me may have.
"Contrast this to sales assistants in Australia where I live, or Europe or the USA where your every question is answered happily and knowledgeably and you begin to understand how frustrating it is to shop in Singapore."
As far as I know, Tang's is reputed to have a team of helpful and friendly sales staff. However, my friend Peter's experience shows that upgrading is clearly needed.
In a knowledge-based society, customers have become more demanding in their quest for technical details. On their part, retail personnel and management must respond urgently --- or simply fade away.