Selling In A Retail Store: How to Disarm Customers in 10 Seconds

Customers entering retail store

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At the moment after someone has walked into your store but before the salesperson has spoken to them, anticipation builds. Here’s how to ensure you engage and do not turn off each customer.

I walked into a jewelry store in the mall the other day to look at men’s rings.

Within seconds, I wished I’d headed across the mall to Cinnabon.

The jewelry salesman committed several mistakes typical of untrained employees. Within three seconds of my arrival, he reached his hand across the counter and, with all fingers extended, pushed it toward my face and announced, “I’m Winston.”

I thought about not shaking it. I’m one of those people who don’t want to be forced to shake hands.

I hate people when people do this, from car dealers to flooring guys; it makes me defensive. And I'll bet it makes you aggravated too.

He then stood there with his outstretched hand in my face, waiting for me to shake it, which I reluctantly did without saying a word. He stared into my eyes and said under his breath but loud enough for me to hear, “Hi Winston,” as if he were instructing me.

I wanted to bolt, go to the nearest restroom, and wash my hand.

What Winston did that so many untrained employees do time and again is force themselves onto the unsuspecting public. That makes it harder for every other salesperson trying to build rapport in the store.

A moment later, a young man and woman came up next to me. A saleswoman whisked behind the counter and committed an even worse selling mistake.

And it happened within 10 seconds.

She asked the young man, “Do you know about gemstones?” He replied, “No.”

She asked him, “What do you do for a living?” He replied, “I cut meat.”

She said, “Well, don’t get a titanium ring then; it crumbles. I had an uncle who lost a finger when he got his ring caught in a machine.”

The couple, shocked, looked at each other with disbelief as if they had been smacked by a bloody hand.

What the woman did was share an inappropriate story, which was inappropriate at any time but particularly at the beginning when you’re trying to build a relationship. I don’t even think what she said was true about titanium rings not being tough. 

In both cases, these salespeople did what salespeople who do not read their customers do; they tried to make strangers like them.

But you get how Winston got there, right?

He was trying to be polite. When we go shopping, buying from someone seen as a friend than a stranger always feels more natural. Right?

Though his intent was right, his approach and greeting were all wrong. He missed a crucial opportunity.

The handshake started back in medieval times as a way of relaying peaceful intentions and disarming strangers. A person would extend their empty hand to show a stranger they were not holding weapons. The up-and-down motion is thought to have removed any knives or daggers hidden up a sleeve.

Nowadays, you disarm the shopper when greeting them with the correct words.

A handshake is earned by the end of a sale, not forced; a satisfied customer initiates it.

I get how the saleswoman was trying to bond with the shopper based on what he said by using her own personal story. We all remember that old kids’ song John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt, and the line that’s my name too!

She, too, missed the crucial opportunity.

What should happen during the first 10 seconds of a sale to win customer loyalty?

When a fly enters a room, do you grab a flyswatter and run around trying to swat it? Unless you’re five, I’ll guess not. No, you wait for it to get comfortable enough to alight.

That’s the number one goal of your first 10 seconds of a sale, to get the shopper comfortable enough to linger and trust you.

When you miss this moment, it’s like you’re focused from the start on closing the sale. Both of these approaches are amateurish and built from desperation.

When a salesperson feels every sale means the difference between them making rent or not, they tend to go rogue and do whatever they feel is right at the moment. Or worse, they default to the forced handshake gimmick from the ’50s.

If you’re looking for how to sell to a customer who says they are just looking, realize you as the salesperson caused them to tell you they were just looking because you said some variation of, “Can I help you?” when you greeted them.

When you wing a greeting or try to qualify a customer and expect them to tell you what specific item they are looking for, it is often due to your needs. 

Shoppers already browsed online while also watching Game of Thrones on an iPad before they ever visited your store. They figuratively raised their hand; they were interested in buying from you when they searched and found your retail location.

When they got in their car to make a special trip to your business in bad traffic and weather, they raised their hand again that they were interested. When they struggled to find a parking place and walked through your doors, they too had the hope they’d find something in your four walls.

What shoppers want when they walk into a store is an acknowledgment of their efforts to get to that point.

What is the flawed approach to greeting a shopper?

To answer that, picture what happens at the start of a concert or live show. The actors are all ready to go. The house lights dim. Everyone is poised with hope for a good time. That moment after the house lights dim and the curtain comes up is filled with anticipation for a good time. The curtain rises and we are drawn into the event.

Likewise, when someone enters a store, there is a moment of anticipation of finding that perfect dress, the right gift, or the new furniture. Tension builds with hope until they are greeted. You either add to that hope or dash it.

When a salesperson runs up to a shopper and asks, “How are you doing?” or forces their greeting on an unsuspecting public, it disperses that anticipation of hope. The chance to engage is thrown away.

When the saleswoman started oversharing her uncle’s story, it squandered her greatest chance to engage and captivate the young couple in a good way. She let go of her potential to become a trusted advisor.

Instead, to the shopper, she became a cautionary tale of what not to buy, and for anyone studying selling, she was a textbook example of what not to do. Ever.

A salesperson’s task in the first 10 seconds is to build on the wary shoppers’ hope they had when they came in and to make sure they feel welcome as they get their bearings in the store.

How to disarm customers? Simply stated, “Good morning, good afternoon, or good evening.” Yes, it’s that simple.

When you do this, the shopper's hope is maintained, and they relax.

Anything more in the first 10 seconds can take you seriously off course by invading a person’s privacy, like Winston, or jolting a shopper into having to think about something they never wanted to, like the saleswoman.

Shoppers are most likely to buy from a salesperson when they’re emotionally invested in working with them.

Quite simply, people who feel they matter buy more.  

Selling gets easier when your sales team understands this concept.

When you consciously obsess about how every word you utter helps lead that shopper to trust you, you will make more sales.

See also, 10 Retail Selling Tips

In Sum

I was ready to leave and wash my hand because the salesman had not built my trust. He’d abused it.  The young couple left because they didn’t come in to feel violated by images of dismemberment.

Unless and until you can disarm a shopper in the first 10 seconds with a greeting that carries hope, you’ll find it tough to build credibility or grow your sales.