“It’s all about the in-store experience!” is the mantra of just about every retail article we read these days. The word “experience” by retail definition might mean “what happens to you on the sales floor; something important that affects you personally.” Notice that definition does not include the words “customer service,” but to many retailers that’s exactly what in-store experience means.
And that’s a problem.
Each year we track our “KIZER & BENDER Invisibility Tour,” a tongue in cheek list of places we visited but were never acknowledged the entire time we were there. Really, how hard is it to say hello to a shopper who walks in your door? With what shoppers experience in an interaction – on the sales floor, online or social media – the store is more important than ever. Customers have a tendency to shop in patterns, faithfully visiting their favorite stores, and if you want to make that list of favorites you need to create and cultivate an experience that cannot be duplicated by a competitor. Here are some ideas to get you started:
Build your legends Perhaps you’ve heard the famous story about Nordstrom taking back a set of snow tires? Now, Nordstrom has never sold snow tires but one day an associate in the men’s shoe department happily authorized that return. See, the associate had recently been in trouble for giving a customer a hard time about returning a pair of shoes. He swore to himself that this would never happen again, so when a woman walked in carrying two snow tires she wanted to return, his answer was “How would you like your refund?” And the rest is history.
We don’t know what happened to that associate, but we do know that the story has morphed into a retail legend. Nordstrom has shared it for years, so has every person who has ever written or spoken about the company, including us. People who talk about extraordinary customer service still talk about Nordstrom.
Every store has legends. What are yours? If you don’t know, open a discussion at a store meeting. Things happen in your store that you might have missed – good things. Share your stories with the media via a press release*, tell them online, on social media, in email blasts, and on signs in your store. Stories are part of your unique in-store experience. Embrace them.
Start a conversation When the customer leads, it’s a dance. When you try too hard to lead, it's manipulation, and really, who enjoys being manipulated? Let customers lead by asking for their opinion. Comment cards don’t cut it anymore; you need to actually talk with customers. Engage them in conversation on the sales floor, at the cashwrap, during in-store events, and in exit interviews. Open-ended questions will get you the best information, so put our Big Question to work. Ask, “What ONE thing could we do to ________________?” You fill in the blank.
“What ONE thing could we do to improve your in-store experience?” or “What ONE service could we add to make it easier to shop here?” We guarantee you will hear constructive comments that may surprise you, and you’ll probably hear several variations on the same theme. Asking questions will help you uncover what customers are thinking, and what they expect from a visit to your store.
Go deep We host numerous customer focus groups each year because they allow us to take a deep dive into the mind of the consumer. They will work for you, too. Host one in your store or off-site, serve refreshments, and have a list of questions ready to start the conversation. Keep an open mind no matter what you hear and don’t get defensive. Reward participants with $50 – $100 cash (or store gift card). Your meeting should last no longer than 90 minutes.
Identify your top 25 customers Keep a running list of your top 25 customers’ snail mail and email addresses and take it with you to every trade show and conference you attend. Drop them an email to share what you have found that you know they will love. Or visit the hotel gift shop and buy 25 postcards that represent the city or state you are in. In Las Vegas, for example, you might say, “I hit the jackpot of cool items to bring to the store!” Have fun; it’s the fact that it’s personal that matters.
Collect customer testimonials A customer testimonial is 10 to 20 times more powerful than what you have to say about yourself, so when a customer says something good about your store, write it down.
Testimonials are particularly effective because customers tend to believe what other customers have to say before they believe you – you’re supposed to say good things about your store. That “word of mouth” advertising is the number one reason new customers come to your store. Give customers an opportunity to tell you how good you are, and then use their quotes (or videos you take with your smart phone) as part of your marketing campaign. Don’t wait for someone to say something nice. ASK!
Personalize your loyalty program You have a working loyalty program, right? Is it a one-size-fits-all experience or is it personalized to individual customers? This is easier than it sounds. Think about a program for furniture buyers, and another for people who like to purchase home decor and accessories. You can use the same platform, just tweak it for different customers. A mom might receive an email that recommends kids backpacks or rain gear. A fashionista might receive an email suggesting handbags or jewelry she might not realize she needs. Separate your email lists into customer categories, then tailor your emails to each customer group.
Adopt a local cause Camille and John Akin, former owners of Ever After Scrapbooks in Carlsbad, Calif., held a Survivor Crop, an annual 24 Hour Scrapbook Marathon that was attended by locals, plus scrapbookers from other states, and even other countries. Survivor Crop began in 2002 and by 2014 it had raised more than $500,000 for the local chapter of the Susan G. Komen Foundation.
Adopting a local cause is not only good for your karma, it brings your store great community visibility. Millennials and Gen Z customers say they choose stores based on the good works they do, so why not host an annual event and invite your customers help plan and run it?
Rich Kizer and Georganne Bender are consumer anthropologists, keynote speakers, authors, and consultants who have helped thousands of businesses in retail, restaurant, hospitality, travel, death care, and service industries since 1990. They are contributors to MSNBC’s television program Your Business. They have been named two of Retailing's Most Influential People, and have been listed among the Top 40 Omnichannel Retail Influencers and the Top 50 Retail Influencers since 2014. Their award-winning Retail Adventures blog was named the Top Retail Blog by PR Newswire Media, and is consistently listed among important retail and small business blogs.
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January 2019 Market Preview
The Atlanta International Gift & Home Furnishings Market® July
ShowroomsJuly 9 - 15, 2019
TemporariesJuly 10 - 14, 2019
July 2019 Market Preview
The Atlanta International Gift and Home Furnishings Market® will present more than 8,000 brands across all categories of gift and home décor at its summer 2019 staging, July 9-15, 2019 at AmericasMart® Atlanta.