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Secret sauce for increased store conversion

Behind every good store is a good manager and behind every good manager is a good process. CHRIS PETERSEN discusses how managers can improve their team’s sales conversions by using service to enhance the in-store experience.

The current landscape shows that a large group of traditional retailers are struggling to increase profitably. It is tempting to blame the economy, but the reason why traditional retailers are struggling is not so simple to understand and it’s even more of a challenge to fix.

Many traditional bricks-and-mortar retailers are facing systemic challenges based on an outdated model of running stores that was successful in the past, without updating their methods for the present. To survive in this digital age, retailers must rethink and reorganise their businesses from the inside out.

This means changing a store’s retail focus from product-centricity to consumer-centricity, creating a business that is focused on managing relationships instead of just selling things.

It starts with management

What do successful store managers do differently from all the rest? There are some truly great store managers in retail and the businesses they run would struggle to survive without them.

In fact, as a group, store managers are the most underappreciated of all staff in retail. Store managers are usually responsible for every aspect of running the store, including recruiting and supervising the talent, and being the coach who trains and motivates.

In major retail chains with 100 or more stores, the top-selling stores out-sell the bottom tier on a per-square-foot basis by a factor of 10 times.

Certainly, location can be factor; however, when one statically adjusts for the store variables, the most powerful predictor of store success is the store manager and the culture he or she establishes. And that’s true for large and small retailers alike.

Why this is important?
"To survive in this digital age, retailers must rethink and reorganise their businesses from the inside out"

All too often, senior management view staff as a ‘cost centre’ instead of an asset. Investing in store managers can pay dividends in a store’s financial success, as well as help stores to stand out with customers.

Converting foot traffic into sales is not only a critical metric for retail success, but also one of the most critical for store survival. Even in grocery stores that are focused on commodities and consumables, it’s been found that staffing makes a difference to the consumer experience.

This doesn’t mean just having ‘bodies’ on the floor; having a store manager who can motivate staff to engage customers is crucial.

Even more important is having a process that differentiates the customer experience so that it becomes a ‘signature’ of the store culture and a reason for customers to return.

The secret to conversion

It is amazing what staff can learn from store managers, yet too often they are buried in paperwork and reports. The sad reality is that senior management views the store manager as the focal point of store operations and cost-centre management.

Great store managers make time to engage both staff and customers on the store floor. More importantly, they lead by example and create a culture focused on customer experience.

Great store managers make the time to change store culture so that it focuses on interactive experiences that engage both customers and staff.

One of the most successful store managers I ever met developed her own formula for coaching staff and building an incredible culture.

She summarised it beautifully around the very simple acronym – ASK: “Our job is not to ‘sell’. We are there to help our customers buy by answering their questions. If we don’t know what answers they are looking for, it is our job to ASK.”

A = Answers

Today’s customers come in loaded with information. The internet is awash with information, however the same cannot be said for facts.

Customers can literally get all the specifications and details online before even visiting the store. The reason they choose to visit your store at all is because they want answers.

But answers to what? Every customer is looking for specific answers related to their situation and lifestyle. How will a particular product fit them? Who else uses the product, where and how? How can this product be incorporated into their home, work and lifestyle?

Customers can get facts and specs anywhere. What they want are answers about what is best for them. If customers don’t know what answers they seek, it is the role of staff to ask customers what they need in order to make a buying decision.

The ASK model is especially critical for ‘considered purchases’ such as jewellery. Yes, customers will want answers about materials, gem quality and so on, however the most important answers they are searching for relate to how the item will ‘fit’ their style and personality. You cannot easily find this kind of assistance on the web.

In order for sales staff to help customers to buy a better solution, they must know whom the item is for. Is it for the person in the store, or are they purchasing a gift? How will be the item be used – occasional accessory, every day, or heirloom? If staff can’t help answer these questions, they will do a poor job of helping to find a best solution.

S = Solutions

Yes, there are times when customers know exactly what they want, especially when buying commodities they have purchased before.

What most stores and staff fail to recognise is that customers do not buy products in a vacuum – when purchasing an article of clothing, customers are thinking about how it fits with their wardrobe; when a customer buys a smart-home device or other electronic gadget, they are thinking about solving how to hook it up and make it all work together.

Stores earn the right to loyalty when they proactively help customers find answers for what will work best for their lifestyles. Customers buy products mostly as part of a bigger picture – home, work or lifestyle.

"Our job is not to ‘sell’. We are there to help our customers buy by answering their questions. If we don’t know what answers they are looking for, it is our job to ask"

Customers are ultimately looking to purchase solutions, items that help them achieve an overarching value, like security, safety, comfort, convenience or health. Of course, jewellery is bought to satisfy any of a range of values, including adornment and the need to be fashionable, image, status and even affluence.

The other critical of the ‘ASK’ model is that many jewellery purchases are gifts. In order to assist in finding the best solution, staff must understand the context and priorities of the end customer who the item is for. The customer purchasing the gift values solution assistance, as well as personalising their own options.

If staff don’t know which of these values the customer is seeking to solve, it is the salesperson’s obligation to ASK.

K = Knock-your-socks-off service

Consumers can shop anywhere. They can even be shopping on their phones while standing in the store. If this is occurring, it’s actually a good thing. Think about it: they are literally standing in the store!

The enlightened store manager asks, “How do we ‘knock their socks off’ with service the customer did not expect? How do we treat them in ways that show we truly appreciate their business? How can we engage them, involve them, make their experience less painful and even fun?”

The genius of ASK is twofold. When hiring new staff, a manager should have applicants audition to show how they would personally knock someone’s socks off with service. Secondly, managers should challenge their staff in the weekly meetings to describe how they ‘knocked it out of the park’, and to identify three new things they will try this week.

The people best placed to come up with innovation are those who face customers every day. Managers need to ASK staff for their ideas on how to take service the next level.

Ask works

Results count and some managers have reported that the ASK models generated 10 times more sales volume in their stores; however, the real genius of the ASK model is that it engages both customers and staff.

It creates new levels of service and, at the same time, creates a culture-based customer satisfaction that lasts beyond the purchase.

Best yet, a fact sure to encourage staff engagement is that the ASK model is not a corporate program but was instead created as a grass-roots initiative by a store manager who cared about the culture in her store.

Store owners would do well to follow in the footsteps of Walmart founder Sam Walton and make visits to stores every week to ASK store managers how they are knocking customers’ socks off with service that goes beyond a sale.

Chris Petersen

Contributor • Integrated Marketing Solutions (IMS)

Chris Petersen is founder and CEO of retail consultancy Integrated Marketing Solutions (IMS). Learn more:

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Saturday, 16 November, 2019 12:28am
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