Your customers have incredible power. They can take your business down overnight. One unchecked and unanswered complaint, one un-refuted accusation, one video of something you did wrong going viral, and you're gone.
Just ask Paula Dean.
It didn't use to be this way. You used to have all the power. You controlled access to the products. You had all the information. You were the gate-keeper. The customer had to go through you and your policies to get what she wanted.
All that has changed. Thanks to the Internet your customer often knows as much or more about the product than you do. She also found fifteen places where she could buy it without leaving her house.
Never before in the history of retail has the customer had this much power.
According to Tom Wanek, that's a good thing. In his book Currencies that buy Credibility, one of the ways you can earn your customer's trust is by giving up Power & Control. He gives the example of an online shoe seller - Shoeline.com - that puts complete and full reviews (regardless of how good or bad) right below every shoe they sell. They show the warts and all and let the customers know up front what people think about each pair. They don't try to hide anything.
You know that nothing is perfect, right? So does your customer. She knows that everything has a downside and no matter what you try to sell her, she will be looking for that downside. By showing the downside up front, Shoeline.com is building trust. Their transparency of the downsides puts the power and control into the hands of the customer.
Zingerman's Deli in Ann Arbor, MI has another interesting take on transparency. They tell all their employees all of their financials. They believe it is better for everyone to know what is going on with the company. Their experience is that it gives the employees some level of control to know how they influence the financial well-being of the company. It works. They now have nine different parts of their business and do tens of millions of dollars.
Full transparency builds trust. Your customer knows you have an agenda - to sell her stuff. When you are open and honest about the downsides, open and honest about your pricing, open and honest about why you do what you do, you cede all power and control to her, which earns her trust and, more importantly, the sale.
She already has most of the power, yet she's standing in your store. No sense holding on to what little power you have left.
PS Speaking of transparency, I don't get a single penny from any affiliate programs. Tom did give me some free books for a class I was teaching a couple months ago, but I write about his book not for any financial gain (other than yours). I get paid through my retail business at Toy House and for doing speaking gigs. I write this blog and give away information for free because A) I can, B) I love helping. I've done these posts about Trust because I believe it is one of the single most important tools indie retailers have left that we can use better than our competitors.