Isn’t it touching how the owner of this sweet shop cares about the well-being of his customers? Obviously, the customer is at the centre of everything he does. But customer-centricity means that business activities are geared to the needs of the customer. The goal is to create value for the customer. And indeed, many retailers and SMEs seem to confuse “value” with “persuasion to buy”. Clearly the ad above is meant as a joke, but I found it really hard to laugh.

Time and again, retailers complain that potential customers seek advice but then buy the products “on the internet”. Why are people so nasty, so low, so treacherous, so despicable? Maybe because the advice was bad? Because the retailer tries to sell me last year’s model at that year’s price? Because the retailer doesn’t have my wishes, my needs in mind at all, but his warehouse? Because the retailer is perhaps not as great a specialist as he would like to be? Because he only sells certain manufacturer products and does not have access to the entire product range offered by the market? Because guaranteeing is associated with hard struggles? What about my son’s hiking boots that lose their soles after two uses and we are now actually discussing whether this is normal wear and tear for which the manufacturer does not provide a warranty – after 4 months!

Perhaps customers simply drop out of consultations because they are pushed too hard or given too one-sided advice. For decades, customers had no choice. If they needed something, they just went to the shop. For special things, they drove to a big city and dropped into a shopping paradise – but not for a washing machine, a television or a radio. For decades, the retail trade had no need for customer-centricity. You only had to be nice if you had a local competitor. If you didn’t have one, even that didn’t matter.

The digitalisation of the economy and the disruption of the retail and mail order business models are changing the competence of customers. Today’s customers know the product range and what they want. Advice is helpful today if it enriches knowledge. Trying to sell products deters even the most willing customer. In many shops today, I would rather not be approached – the salesman in the camera department actually tells me that he wouldn’t buy the telephoto lens because it is more expensive than the camera itself. This is advice from someone who has obviously never taken photos with anything other than his mobile phone. That’s not a bad thing, he should just know that he has no idea and then better be quiet. So I don’t buy the lens online because it’s 30 euros cheaper, but because I don’t want this guy to be paid by me.

Of course, I don’t get advice on the big sales platforms – but there I can click through customer reviews and get a feeling for whether the selected product can actually do what I want. Isn’t it crazy that those who are directly on the customer’s doorstep only focus on their own concerns in order to sell their chocolate, even propagate getting fat, while the one furthest away from direct customer contact – Amazon – includes the customer experience in its corporate vision? What happens when I buy something that then can’t do what I want it to do? In retail? After a hard fight, I might get a voucher. In the case of the hiking boots, they actually want to improve them. Sure, they are allowed to do that. Legally. But not from the customer’s point of view. I regret having bought the shoes there and advise everyone not to go there. In online shops, I simply send the product back and get a new one or a credit note. I had a coffee machine that broke after 11 months – because the model was no longer available, they simply refunded the purchase price. I can try that at the local hardware store.

Confronted with this, a retailer friend of mine only replied: “they’re ruining our business”. I really hope so. Because nobody needs this business. Exactly the same – nobody needs it: outdated products that don’t solve our problems and offer no service in case of warranty. And, why is it that everywhere in Europe I can buy non-prescription drugs in the supermarket or drugstore, at a fraction of the price, but not in Germany? As one pharmacist told me, because there is no advice there at all. Because people there would be exposed to an increased risk potential because anyone could just buy anything. Then there should be data on aspirin abuse in Holland. Wouldn’t there!? When was the last time I needed advice on aspirin, my hay fever remedy or vitamin preparations? And what advice did I get at the pharmacy? Exactly, none. It’s not about customer safety, it’s about lobbying – it’s about trying to preserve old structures by force. The bliss of retail has been lost, but pharmacies are fighting hard against it – instead of setting themselves up in a modern way and developing real offers that make customers want to go to pharmacies.

We tend to have an amazingly backward-looking view in Germany. Instead of offering our customers service and advice, we restrict distribution channels whenever possible. Instead of developing our own platform technology, we whine about overpowering digital cartels that undermine the old market mechanisms. If we don’t start planning ahead and thinking new ways soon, there will soon only be the few big providers propagating average tastes and only showing us what the majority also found interesting. That would be a great pity. The individualists and creatives among us will then have to look for new sources of inspiration. That, in turn, could be exciting.