Putonghua still poor behind the counter

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 April, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 April, 2006, 12:00am

Shop staff in Hong Kong still can't speak Putonghua well enough to deal appropriately with mainland customers, say shoppers.

'Frontline staff may be unsure of, or not very confident about, whether their spoken Putonghua is sufficient to deal with these customers,' said Judy Tsui Lam Sin-lai, dean of Polytechnic University's school of business, as she announced results of a shoppers' survey.

Fashion and electronics store staff have the worst Putonghua, the survey shows.

'It's not just about studying the language. There have to be proper and objective criteria and standards to assess Putonghua language skills. Retailers can do more in this area,' said Mrs Tsui.

The study, the fourth of its kind the university has carried out, was conducted in January and February. Of 2,432 respondents interviewed for the half-yearly survey, 62 per cent were from the mainland, 9 per cent were local and the rest from elsewhere in Asia and from North America and Europe.

Shoppers' ratings of price, service, shopping environment and merchandise showed little change from July 2005, the last time the survey was carried out.

Cosmetics store staff had the lowest average score, and shoe and jewellery shop staff the highest.

Associate Professor Sherriff Luk Ting-kwong said the attentive service enjoyed by customers, especially those from the mainland, in footwear and jewellery outlets may account for their higher marks.

Americans and Europeans were generally happy with their shopping experience. Local, mainland and Australian tourists were the hardest to please.

Asked to score their overall shopping experience in the city from 0 (the worst) to 7 (the best), Hong Kong shoppers gave the lowest mark, 5.04. Mainland customers gave a score of 5.26. Europeans were the most generous, giving a score of 5.47.

The survey has a confidence level of 95 per cent - meaning pollsters could expect the same spread of responses if they asked the same questions of a similar sample of shoppers.