How To Fix The Fatal Mistake You Don’t Realize You’re Making That’s Losing Retail Customers

By Bob Phibbs

retail customer service tips to not lose customersOnline retailers and discounters have taken their toll on many brick and mortar stores. Macys, JC Penney, and Kohl’s are closing locations and the Limited is going out of business altogether.

You might be worried that you are next, especially if you are seeing fewer customers walking into your store.

The fatal mistake you can make in a retail store isn’t that you don’t have an app or a Big Data strategy.

It isn’t that you don’t have an endless aisle of online products, magic mirror kiosks, or robots that talk.

The fatal and most common mistake retailers make is staying beige, and that big mistake is losing them customers. When your store is beige, customers leave without any impression of your brand whatsoever.

Shoppers are fickle and busy. They have too many places they can buy too much of the same thing.

If you don’t make a remarkable impression, all traces of the visit to your store will have evaporated from your shoppers’ memory before they get in their car.

The always on consumer isn’t always on the search for stuff. But when they are looking for products you carry, they have to be able to remember you so they can come back to your store or website.

You can't just take customers for granted.

I was in Des Moines recently and came across a store with “The Greatest Store In The Universe” emblazoned on the side of the building.  I had to go in.

Once inside, I discovered all kinds of cheeky, urban, Made in Iowa merchandise such as greeting cards, notepads, sweatshirts, you get it. The store had about a dozen shoppers and you know what? The crew was talking behind the counter the whole time I was there, never venturing out to engage the shoppers with their great merchandise. Too many left after just looking.

These days, there are some pretty cool shops out there. Really interesting and unique handmade or limited-production items that you can’t find in a search online because there are no right words to put in the search box.

How do you make an impression on jaded shoppers these days? You have to have employees who are fully present and understand they are there to get the customers to engage with themselves first and then with the merchandise.

You don't get partial credit for having great merchandise.

I was in a store that carried Sticks hand-made furniture and art. Sticks’ expensive whimsical, and colorful products are one-of-a-kind. I walked into the empty store to see  a woman clutching her iPhone behind the counter. After she said, “Let me know if I can help you,” I never heard from her again even though I walked around the store for ten minutes.

Contrast that to the time I was in Portland and entered a crowded gift and stationery store.  After a minute or so, a smiling young woman came up to me and bid me welcome and then pointed to a chicken flower pot display. “Have you ever seen anything like that anywhere?” she asked.

I answered, “No.” She followed up by saying, “That’s just some of the great merchandise we have here, so take a look and I’m Miranda. I’ll check back with you. Enjoy.”

If you’ve been in your store awhile you might think it is best to try to not stand out, to let shoppers look and not bug them. That’s the worst thing you can do.

You might please an introvert in the moment, but you won’t have left a positive mark on your customer’s psyche. You won’t get the customer to let their guard down and consider something they hadn’t been searching for, and you most certainly won’t give them a different impression from the hundreds of other stores they’ve visited.

You’ll be beige. Not nice. Not bad. Just beige; drab, uninspired, predictable, and boring.

If we’ve seen anything from the last election it’s that people are looking for bold, for standout, for something that disrupts the status quo.

You can get that from hiring employees who are individuals. Who have a viewpoint. Who aren’t just like you.

Hard Rock Cafe prides themselves that their employees are like the land of misfit toys, they are all unique and different.  

To break out of being beige is hard for many retailers because they’ve been working retail so long, the only place they think they can compete is price.

I’ve got news for you...there’s always someone cheaper.

The Way It Used To Be

This is the analogy I like to use. In the old days customers would come into a store looking for the cheapest cow. The retailer would say it’s over there and the customer would buy it.

Nowadays the retailer has to have the cow, butcher it, put the steak on the BBQ until it is charred on the outside and pink in the middle, cut, put on a fork, and put in the customer’s mouth.

Then they’ll think about purchasing it.

The more steps you can excel at in selling that figurative cow these days, the more you’ll stand out.

Here are 5 Elements Of Being Remarkable:

Exceptional Customer Service. In a doctor’s office, we’d call it bedside manner. The training you provide to your employees on how to engage a stranger, hold their attention, dialogue with them, and display gratitude for their business, the more memorable you will be.

Knowledgeable Service. Note the difference from the one above. While it’s great to have employees who have been trained on your products, shoppers relish salespeople who actually use the products and can share the wisdom they’ve gained from trial and error.

Displays. There’s so much you can do to surprise and delight a customer with a creative displays. Long Tall Sally, a fashion retailer for tall women, created custom mannequins based on the precise proportions of an actual customer who stood 6’ tall. That spoke leagues to their niche market.

Store Design. Own the lifestyle of your shoppers by creating a store that feels like a club. Nike’s new store in SOHO New York is like Legoland for people who love sports. nike-soho.jpg

Source: Nike News

Pricing. This goes beyond how you price your goods but includes free shipping, free gift wrapping, and free events. The more you charge for such items, the more you’re like everyone else, the more beige you are.

See also, How To Help Your Retail Employees Evolve So The Can
Create Exceptional Customer Experiences

In Sum

If Trump’s election taught us anything, it's that being different and zigging when the rest are zagging pays off. Use these tips to push yourself from beige to colorful and from losing customers to attracting them.

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