but what you can do for your customers.” A twist on the famous words spoken by JFK during his inauguration speech but very applicable when it comes to brick and mortar businesses today. 2018 was not kind to brick and mortar and 2019 is not projected to be any kinder. Let’s face it, online businesses have made it very easy and convenient to shop online. The best ones offer free next day or 2 day shipping, usually a discounted price, no checkout lines or traffic to deal with, that’s a lot to overcome.
So how does a small business retail store owner compete with the online giants? They need to focus on the customer experience so that the customer wants to come back and support their store. Easier said than done you say, but it really isn’t, not if you do some homework and actually interact with your customers. Here are some of the things consumers are looking for from their in store experience;
1. Consumers want a memorable experience. Your business space should be bright, uncluttered, provide easy access to products with a pleasant scent throughout the space. Shelves and aisles should be well maintained and stocked and your staff should be friendly and informed on the products you sell. I personally hate going into Home Depot, the store is dark, the shelves are usually messy, there’s never anyone around to assist you and if you do happen to find someone that works there, they don’t work in the department you need assistance in. Conversely, the Apple Store is bright and open. Their staff is friendly, typically greeting people as they enter, well trained and can not only assist you with selecting your product but paying for it as well.
2. Consumers prefer to touch and try products, many also want the instant gratification of owning a product once they decide to buy it so inventory and accessibility is critical to having customers return to your business. Utilizing your store space efficiently by placing your best selling products up front ensures customers can likely find what they are looking for. Prime shelf space should be reserved for the best-selling products, and poor moving products should be discounted and sold off to free up valuable shelf space and cash flow.
3. Brand authenticity. Most small businesses have an online presence, whether it be a website, social media page or both. Your store brand, business practices and in store experience should match your online presence. There’s nothing more disappointing than visiting a retail store that fails to live up to the expectations they establish with their online presence. Avoid using stock photos, making false claims about your business online or using gimmicks to attract foot traffic to your store. Your website or social media page should be a true reflection of your store, using stock photos or questionable methods to get people to visit your store is your first indication you have a problem in your store that needs to be addressed.
4. Reward loyalty, we’re not just talking about discounts or free stuff which is nice but we’re talking about tailoring the experience of your loyal customers. Get to know your best customers, their name, kids names, their buying habits and make them feel appreciated and important. As you get to know your customers, you’ll get a sense for what they like. Imagine their reaction when you put aside a great selling new product that you believe they’d want to buy. Even if they choose not to buy it, the fact you thought enough about them to do that will earn you a customer for life.
5. This next one is a bit controversial, charitable donations and tip jars. Many consumers I interact with don’t wish to be nickel and dime’d during checkout. Charities are great but asking your customers to donate to your selected charity or contribute to a tip jar on your counter at the end of their shopping experience is awkward and uncomfortable. This form of retail panhandling depends on peer pressure to get your customers to contribute to a charity or tip jar that they otherwise would not and often can sour an otherwise positive experience. Unless you’re a restaurant, pay your staff a fair wage and stop expecting your customers to supplement their income with tips. Sorry, but placing bagels in a bag, making a sandwich or scooping some ice cream into a cup isn’t tip worthy. The $20 in tips they may get isn’t worth the impact on the consumer experience as they exit your store and could result in them not returning.
We all shop online and we know the reasons why. Your job as a brick and mortar business owner is to address those reasons. Look at your business objectively as a customer and consumer and determine if you’d leave the comforts of your home to shop in it. Ask your loyal customers what they like best and what they’d like to see you change. We business owners don’t have all the answers but we can get most of them from talking to our customers, so that’s where you should start.