Retail Sales Strategy
What are the best ways to greet or approach a customer? How do I get shoppers to start a conversation with me, and what are some of the best conversation-starting questions? These are some of the questions answered by having selling strategies in retail stores.
What are some questions to avoid when interacting with shoppers? What do I need to understand when dealing with customers from different generations or different personality styles?
Answer these right and you increase sales, miss and your once loyal customers abandon you for online retailers.
You’ll quickly find that coming up with the idea to change the way you sell is the easy part. Actually executing on that idea is where it gets interesting.
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"People are voting with their feet. They don’t want what Subway has to offer," said Bob Phibbs, CEO of the New York-based consultancy The Retail Doctor. "They’ve been closing stores for a long time. They’re hoping to make this up internationally."
"Who are their shoppers — Moms? Millennials? — they’ve lost their most loyal shoppers,” said Bob Phibbs, CEO of the Retail Doctor. "Plus, the customer experience is forgettable. Nobody is going into a J.C. Penney and saying, "You’ve got to see this place. It’s great."
"This whole idea that there is this retail apocalypse that is inevitable and that the malls are dead? Clearly that's wrong because that's where Macy's is," said Bob Phibbs, CEO of the Retail Doctor, a consulting firm, in an interview after the results came out."
A strategy is how you plan to make more sales in your brick and mortar store. A full lifecycle of selling in a store includes how to greet a shopper, how to build rapport, how to get customers to tell you their wants--not just needs--handling objections, closing the sale, and following up. It is how you make customer service your differentiator.
In the not-too-distant past, retailers and their employees could count on a never-ending stream of shoppers in their store. If they missed one or two, there would be plenty of others. With retail sales high, employees could get away with bad habits and still do well.
That all changed after 9/11 as shoppers pulled back from shopping at previous levels. Then, to make themselves feel better, homeowners took out equity loans and spent lavishly lifting in-store sales. That lasted until the financial crisis of 2008 took hold, when many believe shopping fundamentally changed.
And with the advent of online giant Amazon, it was only a matter of time until employees were sacked and those who were left were having to do more with less. And then omni-channel retail became table stakes for many retailers meaning employees now had to also pick omnichannel shopping orders.
If you're a retailer in search of improving your same-store sales it comes down to improving your sales associates' retail persuasion skills. If you are an individual employee, you need to get a higher conversion rate of shoppers browsing your merchandise to customers purchasing it than you ever had to before.
Unless you get more from those who do come through your door, sales will decline and your own job may be in jeopardy.
The common theme around the top strategies that the best retail sellers employ is to have employees who are able to build rapport and trust before trying to direct shoppers to merchandise. The best salespeople use a step-by-step sales process that builds on your good hiring skills. When you create an exceptional shopping experience, your conversions increase.
Are you interested in learning what it takes to become the best salesperson at your store?
- You have to be willing to be a student of human behavior.
- You have to be willing to analyze your role in each and every conversation you have with a shopper.
- You need to be honest with yourself after every sale to understand what you could have done better.
And you can’t be lazy.
When I was working at an apparel retailer as I put myself through college, I had a guy who came into the store and told me that he needed a red shirt for a party. "Why red?" I asked. "My girlfriend told me to wear red," he replied.
I showed him how red really wasn't a good color for his skin, shared the mistake I'd made getting one once, and showed him a good blue shirt he would wear be able to wear after the party. Because I’d built rapport before showing the merchandise and challenged his request, he also purchased about $300 more clothing.
After I sent him a handwritten note thanking him for his purchase, he returned to the store. He said, "You know, most people would have just gotten me the shirt and been done with it. But you took the time to educate me. Everybody said I looked so great that I should get more, so I'm changing my wardrobe." With that, he purchased thousands of dollars worth of clothes.
A lazy clerk would have simply sold him the $30 red shirt.
The essential skills you need to learn in order to approach customers more effectively, increase ticket value, and close more sales is to master my five-step selling process:
1. The Greeting
- Welcome customers like they’re coming to your home.
- Have a positive, friendly attitude.
- Greet them —but do give them time to enter.
2. Windows of Contact
- Find something that you can talk to them about and build rapport and trust.
- Share something honest about yourself.
- Blow this, and you’re going to get objection after objection at the end, because they simply won’t trust you.
3. Your Question
- Use one general question to gain insight to why and what the customer is trying to do. Otherwise, you’ll be trying to pin them down on a specific item and, like a vending machine, grabbing it, delivering it to them, and having them pay the cashier.
4. Features and Benefits
- A feature is a fact. People don't buy facts, they buy benefits.
- Then explain the benefit in the same breath, so that they understand how the product relates to the needs the shopper told you about.
5. Close with an add-on
- Paint a picture so clearly the customer sees the benefits of an additional product before purchasing the one they came to your store to buy.
When you do all of this, everyone wins. The customer gets more of what they really wanted because you made the effort to get it right, and you included all the other items that would make that first purchase even better.
And you did all of this with a helpful attitude, so you grew sales.This works whether they are new shoppers or existing customers.
The best way to greet a shopper or approach a customer is with an open heart. You have to be more curious about who they are than what they are looking for. Then, you want to:
- Greet shoppers like they are coming to your home, in a friendly and positive manner.
- Let customers browse a bit and then return to make a positive statement about something they are looking at.
Your first goal is to get the shopper to build enough trust in you that your recommendations are valued.
- Compliment or ask a question about it that can’t be answered with "no".
Get this right, and you form the basis for a great conversation that most often leads to a sale. Blow it, and you face objection after objection and often lose the sale simply because potential customers didn’t trust you.
The five worst questions and things to avoid saying when first interacting with shoppers and customers are:
- How are you today? You don’t care, they know it.
- Can I help you find something? This gets the dreaded "No, I’m just looking".
- Let me know if you need help. Very dismissive and often used to get away from a customer.
- Do you have a budget? You’ll limit their choices and your possibilities to get the sale.
- Are you prepared to buy today? Trying to pin a customer down is futile; they can still always change their mind after answering you, so don’t ask.
Other things to note when you are trying to build rapport and get the sale is the differences between generations.
Baby Boomer customers like me enter a retail store more often than not to purchase a branded product. They are met on the floor by Millennials who grew up around various brands but with no particular loyalty. Since those employees themselves can't afford the premium brands—the ones my generation looks for—they suggest a cheaper version that is “just as good” and “not overpriced”.
Because of this, premium brands have become secondary as price and sales promotion becomes the primary criteria for quality and purchase. But...many people don’t just want the cheapest price - regardless of channels.
Unless your salespeople really understand the value of your more expensive merchandise and get that a cheap flannel shirt is the most expensive because the material will shrink appreciably, that the higher priced tool offers much less fatigue, that the engineers at your firm made this one product to specifically do X when the others only do Y, your premium products will remain on the shelf. And your omni-channel strategy will be thwarted at the one place you can most increase conversion rates - your retail shop.
It’s not just generational differences throwing up sales roadblocks.
There are personality style differences to consider as well. Here are the four personality types and what drives their purchasing habits:
The Driver personality type likes to be in charge, speaks in shorter sentences, and needs to be seen as an achiever.
The Analytical type has a logical process to buying which means they want all of the features and benefits explained to their satisfaction before buying...and that can take a while.
The Expressive type sees the possibilities in everything and will follow their own instincts; they know what they like and buy on feeling, not on facts.
The Amiable type doesn’t want to make waves and likes to purchase something that is popular or used by celebrities.
Once you understand the personality styles, you’ll realize most shoppers aren’t trying to be difficult or take a long time—it’s just how they navigate the world. And you’ll be able to navigate alongside them. There is a whole course on selling to different personalities in my online retail sales training program SalesRX.com.
Take The Sales Personality Quiz
No matter your personality type, you can leverage your unique abilities to engage your customers and make better sales. This quiz will not only give you insight into your own type, but will also teach you to recognize, relate to, and connect with the other types to build a solid sales team.
To really succeed in moving most anything, from products in your store to at-home services and more, you need to master the retail strategy of relating the value of a product over the price.
Let's face it: we are living in an era where the only marketing message anyone seems to be able to come up with is a discount--from how to get more followers on social media by offering discounts, to price-matching online retailers' sales, to never-ending limited-time-only sales.
The problem with all of this discounting is that when you can only sell something when it is discounted, you've given up your profit margins; your pricing strategy is in shambles. That margin could be the difference between you getting a raise or your shop opening another location. Or even your business surviving the "retail apocalypse".
To sell value over price, you have to have to get your shopper to open up to you about what they are trying to fix, add, complete, or gift. When you have all those personal details, you can understand what is important to them and highlight those time-saving, energy-saving, all-in-one, one-of-a-kind benefits of the higher priced merchandise you are showing them.
Here’s the key: you have to be genuinely interested in them in the first place to understand where that customer is coming from in their buyer's journey. And if they continually say it’s all about price, that’s often a defense mechanism used to make themselves seem more knowledgeable, and not as someone’s fool to be taken advantage of.
You know yourself that there are products you’ve purchased based on what a great employee told you. And you know that those products gave back more than you thought possible.
That’s why it is so important to bone up not only on the features of your top 100 higher-priced products (that’s what they have) but even more so on their benefits (which is what they give).
This is the fourth part of a sale where you put on a show about how lightweight the earrings feel in her ears, how the automatic settings take user error totally out of taking a picture, or about how the materials in the fine wool jacket compare and contrast to one of lesser quality.
Here’s also where your storytelling abilities can shine.
I used to sell Pendleton shirts, which ran about $100 each. Inside the collar was a label: 100% Virgin Wool. Invariably someone would ask what that meant and I’d make a joke, it’s wool from ugly sheep. Then I would go on to explain how Virgin Wool refers to wool taken from a lamb's first shearing.
I’d ask them if they’d had worn wool shirts before. Most had and immediately told me how scratchy they were or how they shrank while being cleaned.
That’s when I would let them know that Virgin Wool is the softest, finest wool of the sheep's life. A lot of cheaper wool shirts are actually recycled rags or other scraps reprocessed and re-dyed. That’s why they get scratchy and lose their shape. That’s never the case with a Pendleton, and that’s why it costs more than those scratchy ones.
Forget being a social media influencer, on the salesfloor, your ability for suggestive selling the better product is crucial.
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Retail Strategy: Upselling And Cross-Selling
While I'm on the subject of presenting the product features and benefits, you might wonder what the difference is between upselling and cross-selling.
It's simple, upselling is showing a shopper a better product like the Pendleton after showing them a cheaper wool shirt. Cross-selling, also referred to as adding-on, is showing a shopper a companion product or system of products that makes the original product choice more complete. Think the bag with the shoes, the nails with the hammer, the router with the new tablet.
In both cases, you have to believe in your product. How are you going to do that when you can't conceivably buy most of what you sell? One way to build your confidence is by simply asking the customer at the end: when did you know you were going to buy it? Was it something you said? Something they felt? Anything that helps you understand their mindset is great.
Next, don't get so wrapped up in the formula of sell, then upsell. If you've already sold them on a premium product, don't talk yourself out of the sale by making it sound like more work than the basic version. If they balk at the price, always talk about how you lose the X benefit by stepping down. Don't present the two products as about the same, or you'll only sell the cheaper version.
The add-on, however, differs from the upsell. You want to make sure the shopper has decided on the main item first. Once they have gone through the stress of allowing themselves to spend their money and said Yes, I'll take it, it's much easier for them to say yes again.
I remember when I was getting a DSL camera. The poor, untrained salesman kept mentioning filters and batteries and pulling out memory cards, and he overwhelmed me. I didn't buy a thing until I found a better salesman.
If you present all the add-ons too soon, you have again made shopping into work. You've not only tripped their fear of being too stupid to understand or use it properly, but also potentially made them feel like they are in too far over their heads to understand all you're saying.
And that should make sense--they've just dropped into your location like an alien first landing on Earth. They don't work around these products day in and day out. They don't wear or use them. They are lucky to see one is red and the other is black.
I once had a client ask me to do six workshops on how to close the sale, emphasizing closing the sale techniques for retail sales associates. I told them the same thing I'll tell you:
If you have to resort to “closing techniques”, you probably blew the sale long before.
Because in this day and age, most people who are truly only browsing are doing that in their home, dressed in their PJs, while swiping left or right on an iPad, while half-watching Game of Thrones.
Those who make the effort to come into brick and mortar shops are not truly just browsing. They want help but they probably don't know how to ask, and have become gun-shy after failing to learn anything from other retailers who simply asked, "Can I help you?".
The most effective way to close a sale is to read your shopper's body language. Oftentimes you'll see their arms relax; they are not folded across their chest, and the shopper is looking at the product or directly in your eyes. At that point, you're very close.
Even if you don't see that, there is a pause that happens usually after they are asking questions about how it might work, how your payment plan works, what's needed to upkeep, or other questions that arise from seeing themselves owning it.
Then just ask for the sale.
For clothing it could be would you prefer I put it in a box or bag? For a custom order it could be we'll just need 50% to start the design so you can have it by the end of the month. Will you be paying cash or charge?
If you're new to sales, you might get nervous asking for such a commitment. After all, it's a fairly unnatural thing to ask someone to buy something. If you're a veteran salesperson, you may have used the same line for years; consider making it more personal using the information you learned throughout the selling process.
You'll know when that moment is there because figuratively a devil and angel show up in the shoppers' mind. The angel says to go ahead and buy it today, you deserve it, you've taken all their time, you trust them. The devil is saying to wait and think about it, to ask your spouse or friend, to wait for the sale, that you don't really need something so nice.
Your role is to help the angel and minimize the devil, or you'll lose the sale.
So when you ask, understand there's a chance the shopper will say no for some reason. If you can just find out why, you may be able to overcome their objections and kill off the devil.
But you don’t want to start fishing for excuses by asking:
• Was it too much?
• Did you want to look around?
• Did you want to wait?
That will just put more doubt in their minds.
Here’s what to do to convert more sales…
Simply recap three things you learned during the sales process about what they were trying to accomplish, and repeat those specifics back to them. Then shut up.
Your goal in doing this is to see that you really did get them what they wanted, and not just what they originally said they needed.
For most shoppers, shopping can feel like work. And work oftentimes feels lonely. Shoppers who take the trouble to come to a brick and mortar retail store are looking for something more truly personal than they can find online.
Your sales associates create a good in-store experience by making them feel glad they met you that day because of what you added to their shopping experience. There are few greater honors than achieving that--and at the end of the sale, seeing their outreached hand because they just had to connect and say "thank you".
That can't be forced. It is a natural progression when you use the Five Parts to a Sale.
As a transaction is being finalized, if you can use their name, so much the better. You want to remove as much friction as possible and make the merchandise feel even more special.
I once purchased a plant as a gift for my niece. The owner took the plant, trimmed off a few leaves, and dunked it in a bucket of water. As it was draining, she polished the leaves a bit and added a bow.
While every retailer is different, it all comes back to what I said at the outset--you need to be more concerned with someone else than yourself. When you just help enough other people get what they want, you'll find you'll get what you want in life.
As you are thanking the customer, you could also ask for a review on social media--but for most, that marketing strategy can feel forced. Instead, find a reason to get the shopper's email address and send a request a day later. If you did everything well, they will be more than happy to share their experience.
15 Impressive Strategies To Get The Most Out Of Your Retail Employee Training
To be truly effective, retail training must provide practical, actionable information for employees to use. This guide will outline tricks and strategies to ensure your employees have the tools they need to confidently engage with your customers.
Read More About Retail Sales Strategies
Related Blog Posts:
- How To Use Personality Styles To Improve Conversion Rates Of Your Retail Salespeople
- Selling Skills: How To Close A Retail Sale
- How To Engage A Customer Begins With A Wow Moment
- How To Add-On To Any Sale
- How To Approach A Customer – In A Good Way
- Best Cross Selling Tips For Retailers
- How To Avoid Hearing A Customer’s “No, I’m Just Looking” Ever Again
- Lost A Sale? It All Happened With The Greeting
- Checkout Bob's popular speech, Selling Like A Pro
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