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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Back To Basics in Retail

Back to Basics originally uploaded by echerub.
The basics matter, in everything we do. Yet, they often get overlooked. Or worse, don't get considered -- let alone from the perspective of the end user or customer. Especially at retail.

The basics give us credibility. They are why people consider whether to do business with us or not. They are so basic that we don't have an excuse to get them wrong. And we have every reason to get them right and make sure they remain right.

And, yet....

Take store hours. I've written about them before [see Shattering Expectations]. Wouldn't you agree that store hours are part of the basics? They tell customers when they can come in and shop us. And when they should leave. They set expectations.

What they also do is communicate to customers what our attitude is about them.

Think about it.

Our hours tell people whether we are attuned to them or not. So, if we don't open until 10am when customers wish they could shop at 8am, our hours say that we are clueless about our customer base.

Staples does an amazing job with its hours. I wish BJ's did better with its morning hours, although its evening hours are terrific. Mitchell's, a retailer in Wesport, CT [see A Good Hug Is Worth.... and Hugs or Relentless Customer Focus!] has been known to stores to accommodate customers at the oddest hours...

This is something that Warren Tyler addresses in the April 2008 issue of National Floor Trends, in an article titled "Things to Re-Evaluate When Sales Dip." He says to look at store hours. Are you open when it's convenient for your customers? That means evenings and weekends. Even holidays.

He also brings up another retail basic: merchandising. He refers to Stanley Marcus' [of Neiman Marcus fame] observation that "the broader the selection and lower the price, the lower the sales. Conversely, the more concentrated the selection, the higher the price, the higher the sales." The solution: be sure to display your products as a consumer would use them in her home. Large product samples and vignettes help tell a story. They also help sell product.

Too many retail stores forget that they need to tell a story with their products. That's what The Apple Store does, or Zara, or even IKEA.

Within your store, don't forget to offer chairs to your customers. Paco Underhill makes a big deal about chairs. Chairs send a strong message that you care, that you welcome visitors within. If you don't have chairs, people will improvise. Or they will leave. Too many flooring stores don't offer chairs. It's a basic.

Finally, your people. Do your sales associates truly love your customers? Are they fully focused on delivering a memorable experience or would they rather gather and gossip and ignore those entering into your store? Do they deliberately make life difficult for customers? Or do they suggest solutions so their customers can quickly and happily go about their business?

Retail Design Diva says it perfectly in Customers Don't Shop Here, People Do: "the best retailers sell to people, not customers." [I also love Knoth's suggestion to hire stylists instead of sales people to better assist shoppers. That type of attitude is what I've noticed at Coldwater Creek where they deliberately assign an associate to the fitting rooms to make suggestions and find items. Imagine that kind of assistance in a flooring retail store!]

Have you covered the basics?

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