Logic Is Sinking Your Retail Sales. Here’s How To Counter It.

By Bob Phibbs

retail sales training for better customer serviceI was interviewed this past week, and the host went on and on about how wonderful he thought the Apple store experience was. He held Apple up as his holy grail of how to sell.

Really? I asked. Then I related my own experience from earlier that week when I entered the store and was asked, “Can I help you?” I replied, “I have a new Apple TV, and I can’t pair the second remote.”

She answered, “Go over there to the woman at the TV.” She pointed to a woman who was staring at a video game screensaver on a TV. I went over and told her my problem.

She answered, while still looking at the TV much of the time, “You can pair one remote and one phone or one Ipad and a remote but not two remotes.”

I answered, “My old one had two remotes…” She answered turning back to the game, “It is what it is.”

No emotion. No compassion. No understanding of what it might feel like to be in my shoes.

I would never buy anything from someone like her.

I would never willingly return to a store where behavior like that was acceptable.

Even if the store is an Apple Store. And I own a ton of Apple products.

Unfeeling, uncaring, and clueless seems to define too many retail employees, and shoppers have noticed.

Macy’s, this week, noted that their sales have dropped and as a result, stores are awash with merchandise; they will be forced to go all-out on discounts during the holidays. I can’t think of a clearer message to consumers of fear over the future than huge discounts. 

Nordstrom lowered their earnings guidance for the year this week too. Mike Koppel, their CFO stated, “It appears that there has been a slowdown in the overall demand for the customer that is purchasing what we sell.”

James Nordstrom, president of stores offered, “It’s just a traffic problem. “We’ve got less people buying clothes this quarter than we expected.”

Hmmm.

When the economy was worse, retailers blamed lower sales on high unemployment and even higher gas prices. But the October jobs report is up 5.5% from last year. Regular gas averaged only $2.19 a gallon Friday versus $2.92 a year earlier.

So can we say it is something as simple as unemployment and gas?

No, I don’t think so…

I think retail is dying because logical, analytical, and unfeeling employees have killed the customer experience.

Let me ask you...

If we are all truly logical buyers, who among us would buy the new iPhone? A Tesla? A Tommy Bahama sport shirt? A watch? A new pair of blue jeans? A new shade of lipstick?  

There is a train of thought saying we are in a replacement-only economy, that retail is bloated. We all have enough of what we need and the only retailers who will survive will be those focused on replacement items.

In short, they believe there is no need for new.

And that’s right…if you assume we live in a logical, analytical world.

But we don’t.  Customers live in an emotional world.

Their girlfriend left, so they want to look better and get on with their lives.

Their baby is bored with the toys they have, and they want to see a smile.

The husband has a new hobby, and he wants the thrill of making something with his own hands.

The wife has a friend with a beautiful garden, so she wants to grow something too.

A gay couple got married.

Fill in the blank.

We buy on emotions. On feelings. On dreams.

Emotions are the one thing you need to have in every sale or every sale is at risk of being lost.

Emotions are what we really sell in a retail shop. The hope for younger skin, the thrill of a new piece of equipment, the glee of the perfect gift - the list is endless.

And if you understand that, you must understand there are three ways you must use emotion to make the sale.

#1 Show the customer that you are interesting, fun, smart, trustworthy and engaged. Your employees have to sell themselves.

When a salesperson doesn’t engage with emotion, the merchandise doesn’t have a chance of getting sold. You’ll be stuck with a sea of signs ditching items at 40% off… on this day, this weekend, and next month.

If your employees are so jaded, so bitter, so over working retail that all they care about is getting hours, and they are unable to feel the rush of endorphins when the perfect look, fit, or item is discovered – they’ll add nothing to the shopper’s experience.

You might as well put them back in a stockroom or have them sweep the floor.

#2 Be emotionally curious about a stranger.

Ask emotionally connecting, open-ended questions. What are you looking to achieve? How will you use it? Did you have one before? What was your favorite and why? Questions like these allow salespeople to connect with a customer.

When you tap emotions of a customer, you can discover how long they’ve been thinking…dreaming really…of buying this item.  Why today? What’s in it for them? How do they become a hero to their spouse, their kid, or even to themselves?

Yes, even if it is a vacuum cleaner, socket set, or engagement ring, there is often a hero aspect to a purchase.

And hero buying is emotional...

#3 You have to sell the merchandise you have.  

While a customer might come in asking for a model you don’t have, that doesn’t mean they aren’t open to what else you might have.  Once you’ve sold them on you and used your curiosity to engage them, you can use that connection and trust to sell them something they hadn’t considered but would make them just as happy...maybe even more happy.

Just how much do Nordstrom or Macy’s employees encourage emotion in shoppers?

In my experience, not much.

They are efficient when you ask a question, but do they initiate wonder, inspire extra purchases, or encourage you to try-on additional items you didn’t ask for? Not often.

And don’t mistake finding a different size for creating emotion.

Don’t mistake unlocking a dressing room for engaging us.

Don’t mistake triple reward points or coupons for making shopping fun and rewarding.

Sorry Mr. Koppel, if traffic is down, that doesn’t give you a pass to assume we just don’t want what you have to sell.

For any retailer, if traffic is down that means you have to up your game with the only lever you really control…your employees.

You can’t have employees who turn the other way when they see someone on the sales floor.

You can’t have them asking the same robotic question, Can I help you find something? and expect customers to open their arms to what you offer.

You can’t just offer discounts as your lead generation. There has to be substance there when customers arrive at your doors.

You have to train your employees to find a way to sell themselves as a person first, to be curious about each stranger, and then to sell the full gamut of merchandise so each customer’s search is successful and they leave happy they made the effort to come to you.

See also, Your Luxury Retail Brand Is Memorable; Why Not Your Sales Professionals?

In Sum

I write this two days after the massacres in Paris.  It is crushing to be viewing the real world of hate, of murder, of chaos.

It would be easy to say, How can you talk about selling at a time like this?

I do it because the holidays are coming. We don’t need more reality.

We don’t need a trumped-up excuse to bitch about a red cup.

Most of us feel powerless to stop the world, the madness, the vulnerability.

We don’t need more bs about what someone thinks they would do.

For our customers, this is a season they can choose to put a smile on someone’s face, to start a new life together, to put into concrete form their hope for a better world.

Can a gift do that?

I think so.

But it is up to the retailers across the world to use their retail sales training to impart to their employees that they embody that hope.

That they can allow their shoppers to experience an emotion outside of world events. This pair of sneeks, this blouse, this ring, is a symbol of my belief in you...and us.

We need something to pick us up. Today. And every day.

Because to paraphrase composer David Friedman’s song, The Truth About Christmas

      We want it to be nice...

We want it to be fun...

The holidays make me see that everyone’s like me.

The pain I’m going through is pain they’re all feeling too.

And it’s so encouraging to know we want the same things:

To be loved, to be happy, to have hope.

It’s all based on emotions, on our belief that we can make the world a better place.  

The holidays are just around the corner.

Engage your heart; your shoppers’ hearts are counting on you to give them hope.

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