I lived in Japan for a year after graduating from university. During the first few months of my stay, every time I entered a shop a number of overly-polite shop attendants would bow to me and call out the words ‘Irasshaimase’.
Being the well-educated young man I was, and thinking that this must be some variant on the good old English ‘Good afternoon’, I thought it only polite to reply to them in kind.
As such, I would bow my head slightly and repeat back to them ‘Irasshaimase’.
It was only after a few months that a friend realised what I was doing and with much amusement corrected me...
‘Irasshaimase’ means ‘Welcome to my shop/restaurant’ and is just one of the many formal Japanese ways of politely welcoming new customers.
It turns out that, instead of saying ‘Good afternoon’, I had being re-welcoming every shop attendant to my shop! It suddenly became clear that all those strange looks I was getting were not just because I was a pale-faced, excessively tall, curly-haired foreigner!
Anyway, the key point of this anecdote is not to highlight my ineptitude at picking up on the subtleties of the Japanese language, more so to highlight the pride that many store owners (especially Japanese ones!) give to the presentation of their shop and how this pride doesn’t always translate to digital commerce.
- Would a misspelt promotional banner proudly hang over the entrance to your high street store?
- Would you hide the umbrellas at the far end of the cosmetics shelf behind the face creams?
- Would you go months without changing your window display?
- If you discovered that the door to enter the checkout area was faulty and only allowed 50% of customers to open it, would you fix it immediately? Or would you pretend you didn’t understand and hope that the maintenance man might happen across it and take it upon himself to repair?
This is not an indictment of every online store. There are thousands of extremely impressive digital commerce sites out there. But there are also a significant number of cases where poor grammar, illogical category structure or complicated user journey seem to be acceptable to store owners, just because they are online.
Perhaps some of these lapses may have passed in the early years of the internet. But for better or for worse, we have moved on — and so have user expectations.
Internet consumers now expect to be treated to a pleasant user experience. They expect to find easily what they are looking for. At the same time, they need to be reassured that buying online holds no more risk than buying in store.
The only way to do this is to take pride in your online store as if you were welcoming every customer, no matter how tall or small, with a polite bow and an ‘Irasshaimase’!