Thursday, November 18, 2010

You happy with the service at the LCBO?


Let's meditate on something, you and me, in front of 关爷爷. Are you happy with the service you receive at the LCBO?

I'm not. Retail staff at Toronto LCBO locations are indifferent at best, insulting at their worst, and exemplify all the prejudices that have been spun about union workers. Too many times have I been brushed off because an LCBO employee couldn't be bothered to answer a question. And that's if they acknowledge you at all; heaven forbid you disturb them during their shift.

There are two types of retail staff on the floor at major LCBO outlets, say at Queen's Quay, Summerhill, or Bayview Village. Blue shirts are general retail staff. White shirts are Vintages Products Consultants. Don't you dare try to ask a Blue shirt anything wine-related. Their only tasks are to stock shelves, appear busy, and avoid customers - you think I'm joking? If only. Want to ask them where you can find a particular bottle? Forget it. You'll get a grunt and shake of the head, indicating that you need to find a White shirt for that kind of daunting request. The Blue shirt is busy (not) stocking shelves with the latest releases - he simply cannot be bothered. White shirts, on the other hand, answer questions without actually answering any questions. Chin up, chest out, this is an actual conversation I had with one recently:

Hi, excuse me, I'm looking for a 2008 Château Connard.

It's not on shelves? Well, it's in the back then.

Really? Can you grab a few bottles for me?

You'll have to wait until they're on the shelf.

But it's physically in the store! Can't you just head into the back room and pick up a bottle?

It gets frustrating doesn't it? So what's going on? If you compare the wine retail experience of Ontario against anything in the United States, in Europe, even in Asia, there's a clear difference in the level of service being provided. Wine retail in other countries I've visited actually care about wine. They want to make you buy a lot, yes, but they care about selling you wine you'll enjoy, and making sure that you leave happier than when you entered. The days of being on a first name basis with a wine retailer who knows your tastes and educates you on the subject are gone. They're gone, get over it. It'd be nice though, if LCBO customers were treated with more respect. Wouldn't it be nice if they took time to actually talk to you, look you in the eye while they were replying, and give you a proper answer? Would it be so impossible to find that bottle of wine for you, or tell you conclusively when it'll arrive, or give you a decent recommendation for a purchase? I'm tired of chasing after an LCBO employee, only to have him shout some half-answer at me over his shoulder mid-stride, leaving me confused, pissed, and bewildered that I even bothered to ask.

Would you stand for this kind of service at any other retailer? Clothing store? Electronics shop? Commission-earning salespeople aside, there's no excuse for any retail operation to treat its customers so callously. LCBO has the f*ck you advantage of being a monopoly - you have to buy from them, but should that make a difference? We're not paying any less - in fact, we're paying much higher prices for wine than in almost anywhere else in North America. I'm not romanticizing the wine buying experience, but a certain standard of respect is mandatory.

There are lots of fine people at the LCBO location I shop at, but there are still times when I'm treated as little more than an afterthought - this, after I've been shopping there every two weeks for the past 6 years, dropping nearly $28K on Vintages products. And yet I've even started dreading going to different locations because the experience always leaves a sour taste in my mouth. The worst part is that if I spoke up about it, as I probably should have last Thursday, I'd be blacklisted and not allowed back in. I politely asked a question - all I wanted was a proper answer back. Don't give me attitude, don't talk to me like I'm the dipshit. Are these irregular occurences? I wish they were - I could then plead this post off as being temporarily paralyzed by rage. But it's not. This is a regular pattern of indifference exhibited by retail staff at the LCBO.

So, are you happy with the service you receive at your local LCBO outlet? I've met Greg Dunlop, as well as several other senior executives of the LCBO at various tastings. They've been nothing but friendly and cordial - why doesn't that translate to their employees?

I'm going to meditate on that. Until then, so I don't do anything rash (curse out someone, punch someone, bite someone, castrate someone), I'll be asking 关爷爷 for guidance. The fact that he wields an 80 pound halberd doesn't hurt either.



  1. Most of the white shirts are actually pretty friendly and helpful. One way to avoid the blue shirt brush-off is to log into before you even get to the store to help you find the wines you want, at the store you plan to visit.

  2. My approach is to buy immediately on the release, and the location I go to usually has everything - it's those occasions when the shelf is empty, but the wine tag is clearly there that I need their help. They seem hesitant to help you track down a bottle, even though the wine is clearly hidden somewhere in the store.

  3. funny, I find staff [blue and white collar] quite helpful at the Dupont and Summerhill stores. my experiences have been the opposite of yours - staff are most often quite accommodating and grab bottles or cases for me from the back and bring them to the front cash for me. If they're out of stock they'll find it online from the closest store and either call to have them put them on hold for me or have them shipped to their store within 48 hours.
    I've found saying please and thank you goes a long way.
    What a change from years ago.