How To Drive Retail Sales When Consumer Spending Is Stuck In Neutral

By Bob Phibbs

how retail sales need to be positiveI was interviewed by AP this past week about how consumer spending is stuck in neutral at just 0.1 percent and how retail stores of all sizes are feeling the pain. 

I said that the act of buying is a sign of a customer’s hopefulness.

When oil prices plummet and the stock market wavers, when election politics are combative and terrorist attacks are relentlessly thrown up in shoppers’ faces, it makes everyone nervous.

People don’t buy when they are worried.

As a retailer, you can’t look outward for something to make your business magically better. You have to work on yourself first.

Baby Boomers grew up looking backwards. We were steeped in what happened in the past. The few drivels of the future – space travel, aliens, etc. were about all we could look forward to.

I have news for you, Millennials have none of that baggage.

We saw our ticket to happiness as going to college to land a job where someone would reward our efforts with a gold watch when we earned retirement. And then we’d say we were ready to enjoy life.

Boomers might stand agog that some Millennials don’t know who won the Civil War (the North, in case that’s you) or might not be able name who invented the lightbulb; they aren’t bound to the past. They innately seem to look forward to the new... the exciting, and that’s where they find the fun of living, in today and the possibilities the future holds for them.

Sure they may not have a lot of money, but they enjoy whatever it is they are doing. Why do you think brands like Bonobos, Shake Shack, or Hubspot are doing so well? They hire and feed on the positive energy of young people and in turn, give it back.

The election seems to have dredged up countless people willing to go on camera and say the adult life they are now leading isn’t what they thought it would be.

I have news for you, that’s nothing new….

I’m sure my grandparents never thought living during the Depression was where they would be raising eight kids.

I’m sure my parents never thought living through the riots and wars of the 60’s was where they thought they’d be.

And how many of us could even think there would be a September 11?

We need to realize and accept that wherever we are, we are in normal now, whatever that means.

Maybe fewer people are coming through your door, maybe more are shopping online, maybe there are less opportunities for some and more for others.

It is what it is.

Instead of looking backwards at what business was when Amazon was 1/10th of what it is today, the good old days before the iPhone had been introduced, and when shoppers only wanted to buy, not rent…you have to look forward.

You have to find a way every day to find the sunrise of hope.

This is internal work you have to discover. What effect you can personally have at your business today, at this moment -  outside of just paying the bills and waiting on customers or putting fires out, this is what you need to find.

Your own list and actions will vary, but here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Go through your leads, those people who have expressed interest in your products via email, have filled out forms on your website, those who have attended store events, or ones you’ve given a quote to. Go through your customer list line-by-line and see who hasn’t been opening emails.  Find a new way to reconnect with each of them.

  • If you’re a sales representative, understand your dealers are feeling fearful and find ways for them to take action in their stores. For example, help them to remove clutter. That alone will open up space in their store and those dealers will feel more hopeful in the process.

  • Learn something. Take a class. Join my tribe of thousands who are using my retail sales training to sell the merchandise they carry with an open heart.

  • Re-do a section of your store down to the studs. Can’t do that? How about a can of paint? Done that? How about repainting your chipped and dirty metal shelves? Buy the paint, make a date, and just do it.

  • C-level executives, look at your own social media pages and see the positive effects of the products you are selling outside of your silos of marketing or training. You need that validation.

  • Start your day with a glass of water and 20 minutes of meditation. Don’t know how? Check out Oprah and Deepak’s affordable 21-day programs.

  • Make it a point to set a date and visit one outside business a week or other department in your corporate office to talk about what is working. Avoid discussion of what isn’t.

  • Seek out those who share your new goal of finding the sunrise. Avoid exposure to those who only see the sunset, or you’ll be just like them, stuck in neutral.

It all revolves around trying something new. And that's exactly what shoppers are looking for too, what's new I can bring into my life so I don't feel so stressed?

When you take action first, you are putting your positive attitude energy into making the immediate world around you better, amping up the energy and voting yes to a better time to come. Even if this is the new normal.

You are concentrating on the sunrise and not the sundown.

That’s the secret for all of us, finding things that excite us to move us forward each day.

See also, How To Grow Retail Sales And Keep Your Shoppers Blissfully Unaware of Time

The Point In A Nutshell

If you can’t do this for yourself, I guarantee you can’t do it for your employees. And if you can’t do it for your employees, I guarantee you they won’t be able to do that for shoppers.

And that my friend is the crux of the deal.

Let me repeat, people buy as a sign of hope.  Your role is in helping them feel that way.

If you’re stuck feeling uncertain, you’ll sell that to everyone you meet.

You’ll fall backwards and lose hope.

Don’t let that happen.

To drive sales forward when consumer spending is neutral, you have to drive youself every day towards something positive.

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