Think Like A Customer…Not Like A Retailer

We are often surprised by retailers who seem to forget what it is all about. It isn’t about them…it is about the customer. Isn’t it?

While we don’t mean to insult anyone, retailing is currently dominated by old men. This is ironic since retail spending is primarily done by women who are young or think and act like they are young. But the disconnect does not end there…

Many retail organizations are controlled by left-brain analytical minded people (and while we fear we may be accused of male-bashing, in most cases these are usually male types as well). The best store experiences are those that are holistic and oriented towards the senses and emotions. Analytics have trouble with terms like branding and they think store design is about building fixtures to house inventory. If you have been reading our newsletters regularly, you know that we feel branding and design is much more than that and is about reaching your customer at every touchpoint from the sidewalk outside to the music and ambiance inside.

This week there has been a lot of discussion among retail professionals and self proclaimed experts about J.C. Penney’s decision to drop commission selling. We were shocked that most proclaimed experts unanimously disagreed with Penney’s decision. Most in fact supported commission sales in retail stores. This was so surprising to us because we thought we cannot be the only ones tuned in to the disconnects mentioned above. We believe that our fellow retailers must be aware that the vast majority of shoppers abhor the prospect of dealing with commission salespeople.  

Consumers (particularly female) like to browse, do not like to be pressured, and do not like false or phony conversation. Successful (and well loved) retail stores like Trader Joe’s, Apple, Container Store, and Crate & Barrel pay their help well and heavily invest in training their people. The staff in these stores work as teams to keep their stores looking and working great. When customers want (key word is WANT) help they are most able to provide it but employees are never forced on people. Success in these stores is measured  by how happy customers are with their shopping experience as opposed to analytics such as average sale, average units per sale, conversion rate etc. And none of these stores use commission to motivate their employees.

A happy customer has a huge lifetime value and will buy when they choose over many, many visits. Commission victims, and customers who are pressured, may buy more on that one visit but because they were made uncomfortable in that store they will seldom return. They may not even consciously realize why they don’t want to shop there, only that other stores can provide what they want in a more enjoyable experience. Or that they can go online and not be forced to deal with an employee (for all those retailers so worried about showrooming, don’t make it a self-fulfilling prophecy by driving your customers away with overly aggressive and commissioned sales people!)

Real customer service is giving the customer exactly what she wants (and more), exactly when she wants it. To do so you must understand her (and him too). That is not that hard since we all are consumers. However, most stores make this hard by trying to outsmart shoppers and getting them to buy more through false promotions (can anyone say Jos. A. Banks?) and antiquated selling techniques that in no way relate to today’s consumer. These tactics create a disconnect between staff and management and what is retail reality. Not only does being open, honest and transparent with customers work better in the long run for a retail business but also you have choices about what kind of people you want to be and what kind of team you want to work with. 

So you choose what type of retailer you want to be. Is it one where people are are required by bosses to pressure and coerce and practice selling techniques on consumers? Or is it an environment where employees job is to inform and make customers happy?


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