Monday, November 30, 2009

What Chris Brogan Can Teach You About Retail

Chris Brogan, author and power blogger, just posted a blog about a horrible shopping experience titled What Timberland Taught Me About Retail.

There are many lessons in there for independent retailers. I'm going to talk about two of them.

The gist of the story - he saw a Timberland boot advertised on TV and went to a few brick & mortar stores to find it, make his purchase and move on. Unfortunately, the stores were ill-prepared for his visit. Some didn't even know about the product. Others knew the product but didn't have it. Others had it but not in the color or size he needed. Overall, he was frustrated that he could not find anyone with credible information - let alone the actual item - about a product he saw advertised on TV by a major vendor.

This happens all the time in retail. Customer sees product in advertisement, customer wants product, customer goes to store, store doesn't know product, customer goes away frustrated.

But it doesn't have to happen in your store as long as you are proactive about the situation. To do that you have to know the answer to two questions.

The first question is whether or not the company ever gave such information to all the retailers or whether this was an exclusive channel distribution product.

The best retailers know not only the products they sell, but also the products they don't sell (and why). Do you have major vendors that also sell exclusives to big-box stores and Internet sellers? Have you asked them for info on the exclusives you can't get?

If you want to be the product knowledge king, that is information you need. And don't wait for your reps to give it to you. Ask them right up front to get that info. Start with your top vendors and work down until at least you have a working list of products customers might request that you don't have. (And know why you don't have it - by your choice or the vendor's choice.)

If you choose not to carry an item available to you, there is a reason you didn't buy it. Does your staff know that reason?

Just imagine the different type of experience Chris would have had if an associate said, "I know the boot you saw. We chose not to carry it because we like model x better. It has... which means you'll..."

Or if you couldn't get the product... "I know the boot you saw. We don't have that style, it is only available online, but let me show you this one. It is similar because..."

Can you see the difference between either of those scenarios and, "Nope, never heard of 'em,"?

The second question is whether or not the sales staff even cared about knowing that information.

Maybe the information did come down the pike. What did you do with that info? What did your staff do?

This is a training issue.

The best retailers are motivating their staff to know more about the products than the customers. In this day of endless information on the web, it is vital that your staff are constantly researching product info. Yes, the customers are already coming in armed with more info than ever before. But now it is your job to sort that info for them and give it relevance. Tell them why a certain feature is included and what it will do for them (benefits). Let them know why one item costs more than another and help them figure out if the extra expense is worth it.

How much product knowledge training have you offered to your staff? How much time do you spend on teaching the benefits of every product you sell? How much time is devoted to continually updating that info? If you're not doing this, you're letting customers like Chris get away.

Chris Brogan just told a few hundred thousand people not to go shopping in brick & mortars because they were basically clueless. The only way we can combat messages like that is to constantly give our customers the kind of service that would have made Chris a loyal follower.

Can you do that in your business?


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Don't Make Your Customers Mad

Why would I want to make my customers mad? Apparently some retailers think it's okay to piss off a few people.

This Thursday the fliers hit the door with all the early bird doorbuster specials for Black Friday, and some of them are going to make customers mad.

Look at the fine print in these ads and you'll see what I mean.

Some of the best deals say "minimum 2 per store" meaning that stores in smaller communities (like Jackson) may only have 2 of those great items they're using to draw a big crowd. If you're standing in that line at 5am you gotta ask yourself... Will you be one of the lucky two? Or will you be one of the mad?

Some of those deals aren't deals at all. Read the model numbers and compare them to what the stores currently sell. Some of those doorbusters are what we call derivatives or one-offs. They look the same as the original, but some features have been stripped out to make it cheaper. Will you be one of the shoppers who did the research and is happy with what you gave up? Or will you be one of the mad?

Some of you will give up sleep, fight crowds, and wait in long lines. Some of you will find that fun. Some of you will be mad. (If you ever wondered why some people love Black Friday and others hate it, click here.)

And think about the staff. They had to give up spending time with their families. They got too little sleep. They're overworked (and underpaid). They're on the front lines having to deal with all these unhappy customers. Some of them aren't all that happy now either.

I've never quite figured out why these stores go through all this hassle knowing the outcome is that they will anger as many customers as they please, and not make many friends with their staff, either.

If you're offering any Black Friday specials, do your customers, your store, and your staff a favor.
  • Make sure you have ample supply of anything you advertise.
  • Be honest about the deal. If it's a derivative or one-off, let people know up front.
  • Train your staff to learn how to show empathy with unhappy customers and empower them with tools to solve problems and make the customers happy.
This Black Friday most every major retail chain will make a whole bunch of their customers mad by design.

You don't have to play that game, too.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Monday, November 23, 2009

Currencies That Buy Credibility

I'm reading a brand new book on marketing. Well... okay, I just read a brand new book. I read it in one sitting. And I'm planning to read it again - probably tonight.

Yeah, it was that good.

The book is called "Currencies That Buy Credibility" by Tom Wanek.

Too many times we hear lines in marketing & advertising that just don't ring true. Things like...

"We won't be undersold!"
"The best sales staff in town!"
"The world's largest selection!"
"Lowest prices guaranteed!"

Maybe some of them are true, maybe they aren't. The key is that without something to show us how they are true, our cynical nature leads us to disbelief every single time.

Tom, however, teaches you how to give credibility to your statements, whatever they may be, through six different currencies such as your time, your money, or your control. With credibility you grow trust. And with trust you grow your business.

The book is easy to read, has great examples, and makes perfect sense. You'll be applying his principles almost immediately. I know, because I have. I started reviewing and rewriting my radio ads this morning based on what I've learned.

If you're involved in the marketing of your store, this is one book you should add to your library.

(Full Disclosure: Tom is a Wizard of Ads partner I met 2 years ago. As an acquaintance, I planned to read his book from the moment he announced it being published. But I wouldn't be promoting it here unless I believe it can help you. And, no, I'm not getting anything for promoting his book - except maybe a heartfelt thanks.)


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Three People to Solve the Problem

If you're in retail, at some point you will have a customer with a problem. And your success will depend on how well you solve that problem in the customer's eye.

The key is knowing the three people who can solve the problem. Those people are (in no particular order):
  • The person Most Capable of solving the problem
  • The person Closest to the problem
  • The person Least Busy at the time of the problem
The problem for most businesses is the order in which we prioritize that list. From a business owner's standpoint the ideal priority would be:
  1. Most Capable
  2. Least Busy
  3. Closest
From a customer's point of view, however, the order would be:
  1. Closest
  2. Least Busy
Notice that I left off "Most Capable". The customer expects that everyone will be Most Capable. And that's where the smart retailers succeed. They equip their front line staff with the tools to solve problems so that customers get satisfaction right from the start.

There is nothing more frustrating to a customer who already walked through the door loaded for bear than having to wait around while incompetent fools run off in search of an already over-worked manager to approve a return or refund or some other simple issue.

Conversely, there is nothing so satisfying as a customer than having the first person who greets you being able to fully take care of your problem.

The best thing you can do for your staff is walk them through the basic problems that arise in your business. Show them your thought process and the criteria you use to make decisions. Then empower them to make those same decisions for the customers.

Sure, they might make a mistake or two. Sit down with them when they do and talk through their decision-making to see their process. Use that time to show them (again) how you would handle it. The good ones on your staff will get it quickly. Plus, they'll feel more ownership for the satisfaction of the customers in the first place.

There will still be a time when the person closest to the situation can't solve the problem. But the more often they can, the better your customers will feel about you and your business.

And isn't that the whole point?


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Christmas Tree Lesson

My son gave me the coolest gift for my birthday - a Charlie Brown Christmas Tree.
Now some of you might wonder why I think that is so cool. I mean, it's a lonely, bare tree that represents the ultimate failure of a blockhead child. Charlie was laughed out of the auditorium when he presented it to the Peanuts Gang.
Yet, there are lessons in that tree that all independent retailers can learn.
Think about what happened next to Charlie's tree. (I know you've all seen the Charlie Brown Christmas Special at least a dozen times - this should be a simple exercise.)
Linus wrapped his blanket around it to give it support.
What have you wrapped around the foundation of your business to give it support?
Have you secured your financing? Have you bolstered your training program to make sure your staff is fully trained and ready to deliver excellent customer service? Have you checked to make sure your inventory includes an ample supply of the "must have" items - the stuff you can never be out-of-stock?
These are the foundations that give your business support, no matter how simple or bare your business might be.
Back to the tree... After Charlie Brown left, the other kids gathered around and decorated the tree with stuff from Snoopy's dog house. The finished product looked as good as any tree ever did. But it wasn't the decorations that made the tree special, it was the love they poured into it.
You don't need the budget of Nordstrom's to dress up your store to look its best.
You only need to add in some Love. Pour some love into your business. Show your customers how much you love what you do, and you'll look more special than any overspent, over designed, cold, heartless big box store. Show passion in your design, passion in your policies that serve, and passion in your interactions with the customers and you'll be the best tree on the block.
Even a simple tree like Charlie Brown's can become something special. So, too, can your business.
Merry Christmas (and Happy Birthday to me:-)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

What Are You Tracking?

You can't manage what you don't measure. Here are two numbers you should be measuring this holiday season.

Traffic Count: How many sales do you have per day (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday...)? Per day part (morning, afternoon, evening)?

Knowing this can help you schedule your staff to better meet the peaks and valleys of your daily & weekly sales. It also helps you measure the success of your marketing and your customer service. If traffic counts are up, you're doing something right. If they are down, you better figure out why (and it isn't just the economy).

Average Ticket: How much is the average transaction or sale? Which employees have higher or lower averages (if applicable)?

This number helps you measure the effectiveness of your sales staff and promotions. It also helps you understand your merchandise better. Are you getting the add-on sales? If not it could be that you don't have the right products to complete a customer's purchase. If you sell dolls, you better sell doll stands. If you sell electronics, you better sell batteries.

Measure these two numbers. They have a lot to say about your success.


Monday, November 2, 2009

Yes They are Price Shopping With Their Phone - It's Okay

The new applications on iPhones allow your customers to scan a bar code on a product on your shelf and get all kinds of information online including the price others are charging for the very same item.

Oh no! Oh, yes. Customers can more easily price shop you than ever before. What are you going to do?

Some stores are banning customers who do this. Don't be one of them.

Allow your customers to use this new app. Embrace the technology. As Bob Phibbs pointed out so well, use it as a means of connection with your customer. Ask them what they found. See if the info is accurate. Chances are, you'll be able to add info to what they find, or at the very least be able to make that info relevant by explaining to the customer what it means.

By all means, however, treat these customers with ultimate kindness and respect.

Sure, many of them are price shoppers, transactional customers, who won't ever be loyal or profitable for your business. But that is no excuse not to kill 'em with kindness.

One thing we know about transactional customers is that they are always big on word of mouth. They love to talk about their shopping experiences.

And when they leave your store, they could be saying, "Wow, what a bunch of overpriced jerks!"

Wouldn't you rather they said, "What a friendly knowledgeable store - expensive - but they really know their stuff,"?

Embrace the new iPhone apps and other programs that allow customers to price shop and get other info on your products. And then recognize that they came to you first. Now give them a reason to buy.