I've realised that I've become a retail sales staff stalker.
I'm obsessed with how much better the experience of shopping in a retail store can be. From a professional point of view as a marketer - there is the obvious benefit of happier customers buying more, and in an effort to build a sustainable business, surely happier trained staff and slicker processes should all make for stronger businesses.
The natural sales woman
I was suddenly aware of my retail sales staff stalking when I realised that the only reason I was still browsing in Accessories Staines, was because I was listening to the young sales lady behind the till. She was doing a great job of making her young customer feel welcome, and leave with an overall positive feeling about shopping there. She'd asked what the customer was buying the accessories for, and managed to turn it into a conversation about parties and fun and looking great. I welled up with pride, and I have never even met the girl before, much less talked to her. I'm a sucker for a job well done.
The 'don't come back' store
In sheer contrast, on a day when I was out shopping with my two kids, I spent a fraught 10 minutes collecting things to try on in a new Topshop store. I was the only customer in the store, there were at least three sales staff, and it was quarter past 5. I had even raced to the store to make it there before it closed. So it's 5:25, I've found 3 things to try on, I've got two moaning kiddies, go to the change room, only to be told by the sales girl that she's closed the change room already because the shop closes at 5:30.
Forget even an apology, I was informed like I was a menace. Really? So there was no opportunity to tell me while I was battling around the store that you were closing up, and I should try on now if I wanted to? Or how about, if the store closes at 5:30, close the store at 5:30? Very easy way to ensure that I don't come back to your new store, ever. (I'm like that). And tell several hundred people that you turned down my custom. How do you get so disillusioned after a store's been open a couple of weeks? Aren't the customers ensuring you have a job? More importantly, just who is behind that sort of policy? Effectively it amounts to - we don't want customers hanging around potentially buying things even one minute after closing. I'd like to see a study on just what percentage of turnover is from items purchased just on store closing times - if you have ever seen how many people are left just passed closing time in a supermarket - as a retailer you'd be a fool to miss the sales. And I know the hours are long. It's the business you are in.
The 'how can our products suit you' store
I find myself visiting Body Shop stores just because I'm fascinated by how much knowledge the sales staff have about their products, and importantly, how that product could suit me. The customer experience there is an amazing value add to the actual product which most of the time actually does a surprisingly excellent job - reinforcing the entire positive experience. Yet another accolade to the amazing history of this brand.
Queuing in the name of 'fashion'
How about a H&M? Where you get to challenge yourself to how long you can hold out in the queue. Is your reward getting to buy something? Is this arrogance meant to replicate the perceived attitude of the fashion world? Does this make it cool?
Surely if you are a profit orientated business, customer niceties and value added bits aside - the goal is surely to take as many sales as quickly as possible, giving customers as much reason to come back and do it all over again as soon as possible?
Simple pleasures like Sainsburys calling all trained till staff to tills before there is much of a queue. And actually having more trained staff on hand to serve customers?
Yes, you can go above and beyond
In another supermarket, Waitrose, I was amazed that a member of staff (not even a manager) picked up on me grumbling that I couldn't find the loaf if bread I wanted, offered to help, told me they had been short delivered that kind a few times lately, and that to avoid being disappointed, please could I call next time I knew I was coming, and one of them would be happy to put one aside for me. Heavens. (If only my previous car insurance company who took the cost of a loaf of bread off me every few hours had 1% of that customer care.) I even believe that if I ever took them up on it, they really would do it.
It really doesn't take much to impress a customer in a retail environment these days. The bar is so low, you could wow with a smile.
Retail, whether it is high street based or not, has a lot to answer for in bringing hard times to themselves. I suppose you could argue that in times of plenty, customers want the merchandise, so come whether you are nice to them or not.
I don't dispute that there are great things about a lot of the big retail brands. I am a fan of the empires they have built, and in stark contrast to a lot of people, I appreciate what it takes to build them. But really, the world is changing, and I really believe that now more than ever, you need to give as much reason as possible to a customer for them to choose you to take their money. Not caring about their experience in store, at the hands of your staff, or once they have spent their money, is the potential undoing of all the blood-sweat-money and tears it takes to make a business.
Walk a mile in your customer's shoes
And if you are a smaller retail business - wondering what it is you could do right now to make a difference to your sales - walk a mile in your customer's shoes. Chances are, you won't be impressed with your own experience either. Do you have what your customer's need? Can they enjoy the experience of buying it from you, and what do you do once the deal is done?
And for those of you with the web-only retail experience, don't think you are excluded. I was astounded recently by an online-only store that didn't have a single phone number that I could address someone about the fact that my order was over two weeks late, only an online form to send any contact (3 weeks since I did that and STILL no response). Communication and customer experience are critical - your operational difficulties should not be the customer's to bear - and if you can't get around them, give the customer the choice to buy from you honestly under those circumstances.
The goal really isn't to make as much money as possible
Get everyone in your organisation behind the same goal - the goal is not to make as much money as possible. The goal is to make the right customers as happy as possible so that the business and employees can thrive.
Bronwyn Durand writes Marketing Ideaology for JupiterJasper, the on-demand marketer service for small businesses.