Creating and delivering consistently good customer service is a battle that happens every day right on your sales floor. We say battle because it isn’t easy when your plate is full and you are being pulled in multiple directions. And even when you think you have it down to a science, there is always someone on your team who is having a bad day. We know because we shop all sorts of independent stores every year, and even when the customer care is better than what we find in most chain stores, it isn’t always the best.
Believe it or not, the customers’ experience in your store is even more important than the product you sell. Good products can be found in any number of places, but the experience a customer gets on your sales floor is unique to your store. It’s like a fingerprint; no other retailer will ever have it. In 2022 we want you to focus hard on the customer experience in your store – even if it is already good. These 10 tips will help you improve the in-store experience and increase sales:
1. Know thy customers. It’s important to know your customer base and what they expect from you. You may have had a bead on customers pre-pandemic, but each new version of COVID-19 continues to change who we are and how we shop.
In 2019 we had impatient buyers who wanted what they wanted, no matter what. In 2020 those impatient buyers became scared buyers who weren’t sure if they should spend money or not. And in 2021 impatient and scared buyers became confident consumers; confident because every retailer, yourself included, bent over backwards to help them out. The grocery industry created curbside service, meal kits, and deliveries within crazy time frames. Other retailers quickly adapted these services for their own stores, and since consumers love the convenience these services will be with us for a very long time. As we begin 2022, retailers are once again scrambling to serve consumers who aren’t sure if they want to brave the in-store experience or stay home and shop inline.
Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) are more at risk for health concerns related to COVID-19, but had less financial issues related to the pandemic than other generations. Accounting for 55 percent of U.S. spending, Boomers continued to buy during the pandemic.
Baby Boomers will always desire highly personalized service from their stores of choice, and still seek those retailers who provide it. It’s dangerous to become too youth focused when customers with the deepest pockets are still actively spending. Be sure to include Baby Boomers in your social media posts and in ads.
Generation X (born 1965-1980) bumped the Boomers to take over the title of the Sandwich Generation as many members of Gen X are caring for their children and their aging parents. Gen X is prepared. As “latch key kids” many let themselves in the house after school, snacked on boxed cookies and entertained themselves with high tech games of the time, like Pong and Frogger, until mom and dad returned from work. This made them highly in dependent and self-sufficient.
It has also made them demanding consumers who will hold your feet to the fire when you promise something. Remember their independence when selling big ticket items. Be a partner, not an authority.
The Millennials (born 1981 – 1995) were busy building their lives when the pandemic hit. Suddenly weddings, buying homes, having kids, even advancing their careers were put on hold. COVID-19 affected their finances and social interaction with friends and family. The real-life experiences they cherish came to a standstill.
Millennials can be loyal customers, but they are also shoppers who will cross-boundaries to find what they want. It’s not unusual for them to do extensive research online before choosing to do business with you. It’s important to remember that growing up Millennials were encouraged to ask questions, so in a sales situation let them talk. Be a collaborator and get ready to answer the pointed questions other generations may not ask.
The pandemic hit Generation Z (born 1996-1980)the worst because it happened during their formative years. Gen Z missed once-in-a-lifetime first and last experiences we all cherish, like graduation, prom, first day of school, new jobs, and internships. Imagine it’s your senior year of college and one day every activity is cancelled; the next day you are told to go home without having the chance to say good-bye to friends and faculty. The things other generations took for granted Generation Z was denied.
Even before 2020, Generation Z was changing everything. Forget about printed brochures, these digital natives want to learn about your store and what you sell on a digital platform. This makes your website and social media posts even more important than pre-pandemic. Gen Z expects every touchpoint to be easy and they will require you to adopt technology. Are you accepting mobile payments yet? How about Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL) programs like After Pay and Klarna that allow shoppers to break payments on transactions as low as $35 up into monthly installments? Why is this important? Because Gen Z now accounts for $143 billion in direct spending (2021 Barkley US Study). And a lot of them are still kids.
2. Strive for loyal, not satisfied, customers. In a retail store the goal of every interaction is to sell something to every customer, sell more to every customer, and to develop relationships that turn satisfied customers into loyal customers. Know why? Because satisfied customers may have had a good experience in your store, but that won’t prevent them from shopping somewhere else. Loyal customers, on the other hand, stay true to you and help spread the word about how wonderful it is to shop at your store. Loyal customers are golden, when you have them, keep they happy.
3. Roll out the welcome mat. When a shopper first enters the store it’s not the time to start the selling process, although for many customers how they are treated in those critical first seconds is where the sale is actually consummated.
Greet every customer with a cheery hello and then talk about something that has nothing to do with the store. A simple, “Isn’t it a gorgeous day?” or “It’s wonderful to see you today!” is a perfect opening. You are simply greeting the customer – breaking the ice – to make her feel welcome.
As consumer anthropologists, one of the things we do frequently is stand near a store’s front door with a stop watch and time how long it takes for shoppers to be greeted by a store associate. In almost every instance the shopper’s perceived time is longer than what really happened. It’s because we all have a clock in our head that tracks time – or at least how we perceive it. A shopper might say she wasn’t greeted for 10 minutes when in reality it was only two. To her, those two minutes are an eternity. Strive to greet every customer within 60-90 seconds.
4. Banish the words “May I help you?” After you break the ice it’s time to transition to the next part of the sale, so unless the customer looks panicked or you can tell from her actions that she is in one big hurry, the words, “May I help you?” should never be uttered on your sales floor.
Ask this question and the majority of shoppers will say, “No, thanks. I’m just looking” even when they came in with something specific in mind. Transition instead with “What brings you in today?” Some people will still say they are just looking; let them browse to their heart’s content, but if they are there for a purpose they’ll let you know.
Make acknowledging every customer, every time a non-negotiable policy. A simple smile or nod is often enough; your associates will know when more conversation is needed.
5. Commit to a weekly store meeting. Really commit. Don’t start 2022 strong and then drop off by week five because something comes up – something will always come up. Keeping all associates in the loop is as important as buying inventory and setting displays. Sometimes it’s more important.
Talk about what’s happening that week in the store, merchandise that is expected to arrive that week, events, sales, and customer requests – anything that will help your team do a better job. It doesn’t matter if you team consists of you and one or two others, hold the meeting anyway. There are only two of us in our office right now and we still hold meetings to keep each other up to speed on what’s happening that week. If a weekly meeting absolutely won’t work for you then consider a weekly “Employees Only” email blast or private Facebook Group that associates are required to read and sign off on.
6. Make suggestive selling an expected part of the job. Can you imagine how much you would add to store sales if every associate added just one additional item on to each sale? Every retail associate we ask assures us they practice suggestive selling, yet that’s not always the case.
One of our favorite retail sales training exercises is to take the attendees to the mall. Each person is given money to spend with the specification that they have to buy everything the store associate suggests they buy. Guess how many come back with more than one item? In a group of 10, maybe two or three will come back with an additional item. Talk about wasted opportunity.
If you know one product needs another product to perform properly, why wouldn’t you share that information with the customer while she is still in the store? Adding-on to the sale isn’t a pushy sales technique when done ethically; it actually helps the customer. Wouldn’t you rather have the associate tell you about an additional item that goes with what you chose so you don’t have to make another trip to the store to buy it later?
At each of your weekly meetings hold up various items and ask the associates to shout out what else could be added-on to it to increase the sale and soon suggestive selling will become automatic.
7. Be clear about daily sales goals. Every chain store at the mall sets a sales goal that needs to be met that day, and each associate understands what part they play in achieving it.
Here’s the thing: You won’t reach your desired numbers if you leave what happens on your sales floor to chance, so share your monthly sales goal with your team, and then break it down to daily sales targets. It is easier to meet your sales goals when associates understand what is expected of them each day.
8. Make your policies competitive and hassle-free. If every retailer in your community happily accepts returns and exchanges but your store does not, or your policies are too strict, there’s a good chance customers will go someplace else to shop.
Your return policy should be a win-win; fair to both the store and the shopper. Clearly post your return policy at the cashwrap and on your website. Write it in a positive tone of voice – if every sentence begins with “No” you have some work to do. It’s also a good idea to have the cashier politely recite it to the customer during the purchase so there is no confusion later on.
9. Move over Multichannel, it’s an Omnichannel world. Multichannel marketing provides information to customers via various channels, like sending a promotion via email, a post on social media, or even direct mail. Using each channel’s analytics it’s easy to see how each one performed, cataloging that information to tweak future messages.
With Omnichannel, your information is shared consistently across all your retail channels, enabling data synchronization between channels. So when a customer shops with you online, the experience on their desktop computer, tablet, and mobile phone will all provide the same information. Beginning a transaction on a laptop, and later finishing it via mobile phone, is seamless because every touchpoint is connected.
You may be currently using a multichannel approach – and that’s okay – but in 2022 make time to explore how omnichannel communications can help you grow your business. Your POS supplier will be able to help you get started.
10. Monitor what’s said about you online. Rich has a t-shirt that reads, “The internet will never call for your side of story”. No kidding. In the age of Karens and cancellations what is said about you online can make or break your business. Consider the following results from a recent survey by Dixa.com:
Buyers are more likely to purchase after reading a trusted review, and 94 percent say an online review convinced them to avoid a business. Do you know what’s being said about you online? Set aside time to focus on your reviews on Facebook, Yelp, Google and every other relevant place customers are likely to comment about your business. Set up notifications on your mobile phone so you are alerted when something happens. The ideal time to respond to an online review is within 24-48 hours.
Facebook reviews are automatic with your business page, but you will need to set up your free business listings on Yelp and Google because you can be reviewed on both sites even if you have not set up your account. The number one type of business that is rated on Yelp is retail stores. Yours included.
While we’re on the topic of reviews, do you know which rating is the best? If you said 5 stars you would be wrong. 4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars is better because it’s more believable, so don’t sweat it if you don’t have a 5 star rating. Amazon’s 4-Star stores feature a curated assortment of items rated 4 stars and above. The FAQ page on its website reads, “Why not open a 5-star store? As with any device or product, there will be a range of customer opinions, but anything that achieves an average of 4 stars or above demonstrates a consistent thumbs up from our customers.” Makes sense to us.
The pandemic continues to up the ante on every aspect of retailing. Large or small, chain or independent, no retailer is immune to the current and coming changes. Customers want what they want, when they want it, the way that they want it, and there are plenty of retailers out there who are ready to deliver. Make tweaking your in-store experience a priority in 2022 and shoppers with thank you in dollars and cents.