The giant outlet in Ullared seems to be on everyone’s mind right now, and that goes for researchers as well. A team from the University of Borås is presently examining the frenzy from various perspectives, and has now delivered its first piece of analysis.
Why does Ullared attract so many people? That has been the central issue in the preliminary study of the phenomenon that is Ullared.
”It’s not just about doing what many others are doing, going to Ullared and buying what everyone else is buying. It’s also about being seen and being out there. ‘Gekås’ can’t be compared with a top-of-the-line store like ‘NK,’ but is not a low-end budget alternative either, since you can find quality brands there. The shopping isn’t all that matters either, since queueing here can be a unique experience different from that of many other stores,” explains Karin M. Ekström who is a professor of business focusing on marketing, and the team leader.
She has been focusing her own research part on family consumption and tells us that a trip to Ullared can also be a unique experience, by combining it with a camping holiday.
“The holiday is almost ‘free,’ through the money saved from buying cheap goods. Some families have made coming to Ullared a tradition.”
Giving the Customers Positive Experiences
The other people in the research team have been looking at it from other angles. Subject teacher Daniel Hjelmgren have delved deeper into the company’s ability to provide the customers with positive experiences. He says that it is not only the low prices that make the customers come back to Gekås. It is in equal parts the goods in stock, the services surrounding the store, the accessibility, the treatment from the staff and the physical environment that provide the customers with positive impressions of Ullared. He also emphasizes that many customers do not even distinguish between Gekås and Ullared. That sometimes causes a problem for Gekås, as many of the activities and resources need to satisfy the customers are beyond the direct control of Gekås. Several times Gekås has been forced to increase its degree of influence in Ullared. At one point, Gekås bought Ullared camping, because it was considered to have a negative effect on the customers’ experience of Ullared. Since the purchase, Gekås has invested a lot in enlarging the camping site and improving the level of service provided.
“In order for the customers to have as good of a stay as possible in Ullared, Gekås also partners up with other actors. Recently with the Swedish Road Administration and Falkenberg Municipality, to construct a new bridge. The purpose was to decrease the intensity of traffic in the society and to provide better access for cars and buses. Train trips to Ullared with SJ Event, which makes the trip itself an experience, are also arranged for,” says Daniel Hjelmgren.
Things Move Like in a Factory
”My impression is that all is going well. There is almost something mechanical to it, like in a factory. Flows in and out. Carts being filled and shelves restocked. Everyone seems to know what to do.”
So says subject teacher Johan Hagberg, whose special interest is studying how markets are constructed, in his field notes. The very flow is what he’s been examining. His impression after interviews and presentations with representatives of companies is that it is often not about any revolutionary changes to make things work smoothly, that is instead often the result of continuous work with a lot of details involved. Such continuous work in his opinion contributes to Gekås and Ullared growing as store and tourist city. Something just working might make people take it for granted, thus making it invisible.
“It is the continuous work on details that makes it so much harder for competitors to imitate what works and is successful for us,” he says.
Problematic Service Encounters
But not all encounters between customers and staff are harmonic. In his study, subject teacher Nicklas Salomonson has highlighted the problems with customers acting rudely at the check out counter and in goods exchange. He is basing his statements on interviews with staff members.
“Everyone I’ve interviewed emphasizes that the majority of customers are nice and happy, but it important for companies and organizations to understand negative customer behaviour in order to assist and handle troublesome customers too.”
Nicklas Salomonson has identified different ways in which customers behave badly. Verbal assaults from customers, through cursing and loud voices seem to dominate, but sometimes pure insults occur too.
“Some use goods to emphasize their determination, and goods have been thrown at staff too.”
But what makes these people behave so badly?
“The staff emphasize stress, fatigue and a crowded environment, but also low blood sugar, as possible causes. A common denominator for many of the situations we’ve seen is that the customer reacts towards some company policy.”
Nicklas Salomonson has also eyed the store staff’s way of handling these customers. In advance, it is up to management to suggest solutions that prevent these situations. That might also go for staff at the check out counter being warned about customers that have a history of troublemaking. Another way, from the goods exchange section, is that the staff ‘reads’ the queue and tries to determine if someone is agitated.
“Another way is asking customers to leave the item at goods exchange and go shopping in the store, only to return in a much calmer state.”
Digitalization in Other Ways Than Everyone Else?
Teacher Mikael Lind has examined the role of information technology at Gekås.
“It is in no way vital to development of operations. On the contrary, the operations logic being based on creating conditions for customers to make bargains, attracting people to the same place, and offering everyone the same conditions has led to a couple of innovative investments in digital technology, but nothing spectacular,” he says.
That probably explains why CEO Boris Leennerhov says “E-trade – no thanks, our business model is based on people coming here!”