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Tips on Selling

Navigating traditional retail and the savvy consumer

The need to continually improve the customer experience raises challenges aplenty for retailers, and ELIZABETH BOYD believes there has been a major shift in customer behaviour.

There is no doubt that one of the fastest changing components of the industry is the customer piece – up until about five years ago, retailers couldn’t stop talking about customer service; four years ago, they shifted to customer experience; now, it’s all about ‘customer engagement’.

This is an expected component of the interaction a customer has with a brand, regardless of how or where the interaction originated – retailers are seeing customers in bricks-and-mortar stores use their smartphones to check if they can get a better price on an item elsewhere.

Retail businesses today need to have a multi-channel presence.

Greater customer expectations mean stores must now possess the ability to appeal to a customer’s want for instant gratification by delivering a great, meaningful experience that compels them to buy immediately.

Multi-channel retailing defined

In its most basic terms, multi-channel or omni-channel retailing means connected customers can shop for and purchase the same items across many different channels.

Mobile devices allow them to shop online for virtually anything virtually everywhere: on the bus, on the street, in the parking lot, at the kitchen table, in bed and even while standing in the middle of the sales floor.

Nothing sells like success

One critical piece of delivering results is making certain that sales staff have as much information about a store’s products as does the customer, if not more.

The ability to answer questions, overcome objections, and communicate the benefits of products is key to capturing the attention and trust of the customer.

Not to mention the convenience of ‘scan and go’ self-checkout on mobile phones.

Survival of the fittest

According to Ruchika Kumar, founder of internet insight company Boutiika Labs, “The growth of online sales has threatened the traditional bricks-and- mortar business but it is possible to not just survive but succeed.

“The biggest challenge is adapting to being an omni-channel experience. Bricks-and-mortar retailers have been catapulted into a multi-channel shopping cycle due to changing customer behaviours and advanced technology.”

It is estimated that customers who respond to ‘being engaged’ spend 30 per cent more money on average than those who do not.

This means customer engagement is a big deal, especially if customer loyalty is important to the industry within which the business operates and if business expansion is a must – customer engagement innovates, develops intimacy and also generates growth.

A focus on customer engagement and commitment can significantly decrease in- store shopping-cart abandonment costs.

When retailers shortcut or ignore training and development, they are making the decision to erode the customer experience in some way.

“This is the in-store equivalent to the online phenomenon of shopping-cart abandonment,” Barbara Farfan wrote on

“While there’s no easy way to quantify the amount of sales that are lost when frustrated customers change their minds about making a purchase in physical stores.

“[However] when 75 per cent of internet shoppers are willing to walk away from
the items in their online cart, they’re predisposed to exhibiting shopping-cart abandonment behaviours in physical stores as well,” Farfan added.

Amping up engagement

According to Creating a Seamless Retail Customer Experience, a study by The Economist’s Intelligence Unit, more than half of consumers said their customer experience has improved over the past three years.

This is great news because retailers still have ample opportunity to deliver great experiences that resonate with customers and reflect brand promises.

However, two-thirds of retailers still look at sales volumes to measure performance rather than longer-term indicators, such as length of customer engagement.

To overcome the impact of multi-channel retailing, retailers need to understand and communicate the changes and expectations these alternative business platforms create for the customer’s perception of their business.

“The true test of any leader’s mettle is to extract all of these ‘go-to’ excuses and then use them as opportunities to elevate the performance of their teams.”

They need to work with staff members to support the in-store experience.

Bricks-and-mortar sales staff need to be fully aware that they are working within
an environment that demands selling a high-level of product knowledge and a ruthless and passionate focus on customer engagement and appreciation.

Customers make little distinction between the various platforms on offer today
and judge companies on their overall performance.

Customers look at the whole transaction – they want simplicity, speed and accuracy across all channels and they will walk away from companies that fail to satisfy their non-negotiables. Three-quarters of consumers say that they will stop doing business with a company following a bad experience.

In retail, business owners have a terrible habit of establishing the criteria of hiring ‘warm bodies’ at the supervisor and sales levels and then training them ‘on the job’ in a sink-or-swim environment.

Retailers aren’t making smart investments into workplace induction and training, especially for critical roles.

Too often, staff with the greatest amount of customer-facing time are required to ‘wing it’. These are the obstacles retailers are facing that need to change quickly if they are to protect and support their organisations.

Business executives say the biggest obstacles to better customer service are organisational, rather than technical. They see ‘silos’ within the business as the biggest hurdle.

Executive and senior-level leadership is not keeping pace with the organisation’s presence on various platforms, which means critical communication can be neglected to support the customer’s expectations of brand experience.

Retail leaders need to proactively seek out the parallels and how they can support
the other platforms of the business that exist. They must also create strategies with teams to overcome the obstacles.

Obstacle or opportunity?

According to a shopping report conducted by SapientNitro and Gfk Roper, 51 per cent of respondents admitted to showrooming.

Showrooming is the process of visiting bricks-and-mortar stores to test, try on, or observe a product before purchasing it online at a cheaper price.

Though a majority of retailers see showrooming as an obstacle to business, it presents a unique opportunity to blend physical and digital marketing and compelling service to amplify sales.

Showrooming and other emerging consumer trends have placed new operational and technological challenges on retail brands and the trends are here to stay and will continue to evolve as more customers embrace the multi- channel existence of their favourite products and brands.

Bricks-and-mortar retail can thrive by offering an unequalled level of customer experience and personalised engagement.

This is an area that has built the reputation of many amazing retail brands, which are still around and flourishing today.

Retailers can embrace the experience and engagement approach to boost retention and reduce customer churn – that is, the proportion of customers who leave the business during a given time, normally in the course of a year.

By truly shaping staff understanding of the business through continuous training, development and exceptional communication, customers will buy into the experience and leave stores feeling included, engaged and appreciated.

To truly deliver on brand promises, storeowners and their employees should look to customer behaviour to develop strategies that elevate the level of service that consumers in their retail category have come to appreciate and advocate.

Retail leadership today is all about turning obstacles into opportunities for staff.

There is no doubt that the same businesses that have been using external issues such as the weather, current affairs and customer behaviours to excuse soft results will try to use the availability of the store’s online presence to further excuse missed performance targets.

The true test of any leader’s mettle is to extract all of these ‘go-to’ excuses
and then use them as opportunities to elevate the performance of their teams in customer experience, business metrics and overall retail excellence.

This approach will deliver great results to the organisation consistently.

Elizabeth Boyd

Contributor • Excellence in Retail

Elizabeth Boyd is founder and editor in chief of Excellence in Retail. She has 18 years' retail experience. Learn more:

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