The One Reason Customers Aren’t Returning To Retail Stores

By Bob Phibbs

customer service problems how to fixLet’s stop kidding each other and be honest…

When a customers' experience in your store was crappy, they won’t be back.

And let’s put a finer point on it… when shoppers don’t return, it's because of your employees.

And that is employees at both ends of the spectrum.

They either have been around so long and know too much that they can come off elitist, judging, disinterested and intimidating, or they’re so new that they know too little and can come off as ignorant.

The first salesperson prides themselves on and receives their own self-worth from their intricate product knowledge. The employee who knows everything believes that is what the customer wants to hear instead of making a meaningful emotional connection. They feel compelled to vomit feature after feature onto the unsuspecting customer, which oftentimes makes the customer feel stupid

And if someone, God forbid, purchased something online, those senior employees take it as a personal slight.

Have employees around long enough and those with a lot of product information can come off even worse as condescending, dismissive and arrogant.  

But on the other hand, an employee without any retail sales training or product knowledge is little more than a warm body who has to pass-on the shopper’ requests, questions or problems. These employees add friction to the customer’s path to purchase.

How do employees end up that way?

It often happens when management turns a blind-eye to employees’ bad behaviors. You can’t do that.

I once had a manager who, while I was giving her a corrective action, walked away and started furiously cleaning the displays at the front of the store. I had to bring her back to the office, away from other employees, to tell her such passive/aggressive actions were not tolerated as the entire crew - and our customers - could see how she was acting. It was just one symptom of how she ran her store.

I had a store owner ask me recently, “If an employee is great on eight things but not good on two, don’t the eight compensate for the two?” I had to tell him, “No, not if the two they missed were how to engage a stranger and make a sale.”

Product knowledge as their valuable asset just isn’t an asset as much these days.  That’s because customers can research anything any time and know more about a product than the salesperson.

That’s a far cry from just ten years ago when the salesperson was master of their universe and knowledge was everything. The only place you could find anyone who knew anything then was at the store.

Wisdom is everything today.

Wisdom means your salespeople need to be able to compare and contrast. They need to be able to truly listen and fully understand in order to present your merchandise in a way that makes the complex simple.

Without that ability, the employees will never get the chance to share all they know, and their shopper will just walk. And when those shoppers walk, they’ll tell their friends on social media, at work, on the street, everywhere but to your face.

And let’s face it, many salespeople won’t care that their customers walked because they’ve been there so long and had such lax management that they feel safe.

Big changes coming 

But as the $15 an hour working wage gains momentum, retailers will have an opportunity – no will demand – employees do everything well – otherwise they’ll fire them quickly.  

And if retailers don’t do that, they’ll be out of business.

Some employers already feel they are paying a lot for not a lot of value – and in many cases I see what they see.

But entry-wage economics haven’t made them better managers. In fact for many, they’ve been lulled into believing their employees are doing everything right.

Those managers point to the fact they rarely hire someone, which they think means they have good and loyal employees. Maybe.

But when I go around the world encountering apathetic employees who seem to have a certain self-loathing about working retail, it shows in their words, actions, and body posture.

The real reason shoppers aren’t returning to stores?

Shoppers don’t want to have to deal with any of that so they instead shop online.

Don’t you?

What to do

If you are reading this as a senior employee, now’s the time to change.  Just because you’ve been there awhile, doesn’t give you a free pass.  

It sounds brutal, but you’re only good as the last sale you made. With traffic counts down about 15% in brick and mortar stores, your opportunity to make sales and standout from competitors is smaller.

Learn something.

Go to a conference.

Visit another store you know absolutely nothing about. 

For example, if you are a guy - go visit a sewing store. If you are a woman, go visit a welding supply. You get the idea.

See what it feels like to be a stranger in a strange store.  See how much they allow you in or make you uncomfortable.  Notice how it either seems they have a moat around the counter, waiting for you to come to them before they let down the bridge to talk to you, or how they approach you with a sense of openness and curiosity.

Next, go back to your store and look at how you or your crew treat a stranger in your jewelry, appliance, hobby, or other store.

How can you make them feel, at this very minute, that they are the most important person in your world? How can you make the complex decision of buying running shoes, a tablet, or a gift easy?

What do you need to learn? What do you struggle with? Are you stuck, treating everyone the same with minimal effort? Are you easily frustrated by the same five questions customers ask you? Be honest. Change it!

If you are a manager or owner -  now is the time to build your skillset and manage your employees better. While you too should visit a store like I mentioned above, you need to look at the choices you have made with the personnel you have on your sales floor.

We’re known more for our compromises than our successes.

Who do you know needs to go? Even if you’re married to them?

Who needs to get out and see something other than your four walls to know what needs to change? Who needs a review? Who needs a warning?

Now ask yourself why you avoid doing what you know needs to be done. Are you so needy of friendship from employees that you can’t hold them accountable? Are you afraid of rocking the boat? Are you terrified they might leave you?

I can tell you from personal experience, all of those emotions are valid. But I can also tell you if you push through the fears, a better working environment is on the other side.

See also, 10 Non-Negotiables Customers Expect When Visiting A Retail Store

In Sum

So many retailers are fishing for ways to get shoppers to return:

  • Loyalty shopping rewards like Nordstrom

  • Flashing lights and Djs in store like Macy’s Herald Square

  • Price Matching like Best Buy

  • Mobile order and pay like Starbucks

But jamming a 60-inch monitor on a display table with jeans isn’t going to bring them back. Or another app they have to download. Or free shipping.

We are social creatures. Until and unless your store has employees focused on making the shopper's day, those brick and mortar customers won’t return to your store.  

Or many others.

Seize the day. Christmas is coming.

Subscribe to the Retail Doctor's  Free Retail RX newsletter

The 5 Shifts Brick-and-Mortar Retailers Are Making to Generate Up to 20% Higher Profits Every Month

Are you a hungry brick-and-mortar store owner who’s ready for a fresh, people-obsessed strategy? This training is for you if you want to grow your business using a powerful customer experience formula proven to make your cash register chirp.

I'm ready to win