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Monday, November 15, 2010

Have You Adapted Your Retail Experience?

Have You Adapted Your Retail Experience? by Christine B. Whittemore
This article about the retail experience and adapting it to a changed consumer appeared in the January 25-February 1, 2010 issue of Floor Covering Weekly.

Have you adapted your retail experience?

By Christine B. Whittemore

Have you noticed that our flooring consumer has changed?  It’s a change both subtle and obvious - subtle because it’s a natural evolution of forces that have been building over time and obvious because it’s now fully operational.  The end result is that our consumer has a new definition of value.  Unless you adapt the retail experience you offer your customer, you will lose her completely.

I see three major fronts of opportunity, each interconnected, based on three categories of influence.

Let’s start with the influences.

The era of frugality.
Our consumer has embraced the era of frugality in reaction to the economic turmoil we’re in.  If she hasn’t been directly affected by job loss, someone in her family or neighborhood has and she’s being cautious.  It doesn’t mean that she won’t purchase. But it does mean that she needs good reasons to do so.

She doesn’t trust what marketers tell her.
She’s been lied to, disrespected, taken advantage of and she’s tired of it.  She has access to information 24/7 via the Internet and will make sure she knows all that she needs to know before entering a floor covering store. Furthermore, she will tap into her social networks – online and off – to obtain additional guidance, perspective and context.  She wants to maintain control over her interactions and transactions with retail salespeople.  If you are not careful, she won’t trust you, either.

Her definition of value includes wanting to improve the world with her purchase decisions.
Women are concerned about the greater good and the environment they and their families live in.  They expect you to care, too, and be involved. If you aren’t involved in finding solutions to problems in your community, they will vote for others who are.

Furthermore, given a woman’s role of chief purchasing officer, chief moral promoter and chief home coordinator, you can be sure that she has generated discussion about these influences with each of her constituents.  She can help shape her children’s future by ensuring they don’t repeat our past excesses.

As dismal as you may consider the influences, they actually offer many opportunities – assuming you’re willing to adapt to our new consumer.

Make it simpler.
As much as the era of frugality is in response to the unfortunate economic environment, it’s also a reaction to excess.  In the consumer marketplace, consumers face an onslaught of choices.  Through frugality they can justify walking away from the overwhelming choices available.  Think of a sea of 50 similar beige carpet styles to choose from; each looks identical.  Having to figure out differences and benefits wastes her time.  Make the retail experience simpler.  Simplify product selection, edit the choices and offer meaningful options.  And don’t forget to include product maintenance solutions to tide her over until she decides to purchase new product.

Don’t lie to her or waste her time.
Our consumer is far from stupid. She also has access to more information than most flooring retail salespeople have available. Don’t even bother lying to her, she’ll find you out.  Don’t push product on her without truly understanding what she needs: that wastes her time.  Focus on consultative selling, on establishing relationships and offering solutions.  With that mindset, you and your retail salespeople have the opportunity to better understand the marketplace you do business in by exploring the world outside your store.  Ditch the hard sell and spend time listening to potential customers offline and online to hear what matters. 

Don’t make her regret that she gave you her money.
Your reputation matters – with your employees, your customers, in the community, with the environment.  How committed are you to outstanding customer service? What about product quality? Is your pricing deliberately confusing? Are you doing your share to support your community? How serious are you about green? Do you truly and actively support causes or are you a fake? She’s looking for authenticity and transparency.

Change is painful.  Ask our consumer. She’s had many changes to deal with. You have a great opportunity to adapt the retail experience you offer and create a customer for life.

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