Tuesday, September 8, 2009

What does your retail staff say about your business?

I worked a few retail jobs during my youth from local grocery store, to a toy store, to fashion boutiques. All of them were small businesses with an interesting assortment of hands-on owners. So I understand how difficult and boring these jobs can be. But the owners of this type of business need to understand both their customer and their staff.

As a marketer I have a new perspective of these jobs and their role in marketing a brand. The people that are in your stores are not just sales people or cashiers. They are the living breathing version of your brand. Every single time a customer comes into contact with your brand they leave with a perception of that brand – whether they buy something at your store or NOT.

This is particularly important in a slow economy. Customers have a choice and those that treat their customers and staff well should weather things long term. Pushy, gossiping, upselling, policy pushing, corporate robots can do a lot of harm for your business. Training and managing staff is hard work, but it is a core part of your marketing plan. They need to understand your brand and your priorities. And it shouldn’t just be SELL more product.

This seems like Sales 101, but a few things I’ve learnt…

  1. Not all customers WILL buy from you.

    I had a boss that was convinced that you could sell something to every single person who came into her store. She was a very fashionable boutique situated in a trendy ‘lets hang out and wander around on a Sunday’ part of town. These people were NOT actually shopping. They might buy something on impulse, but generally they were not going to drop $400 on a dress. These people did not react kindly to the high pressure sales tactics we were told to use. So as an employee I was constantly getting cranky customers telling me they were ‘just looking’ as soon as they came into the store. The owner was well known for her tactics and locals knew to enter the store with their guard up and ‘no thank you’ at the ready. I wasn’t pushy enough as a sales person so I didn’t last long, but then again neither did her business.

    You need to know who your customer is and adjust your sales pitch accordingly. Not all customers are the same. Most would like to be greeted warmly and then allowed to look around. Staff should be approachable and helpful. While they may not buy this time, if you leave them with a poor taste in their mouth they certainly WON’T be back to buy next time.
  2. The upsell is more than just annoying.

    I personally hate shopping at stores where you instantly know the staff has been trained in the ‘upsell’. I’m shopping for jeans and they say “have you checked out our accessories which are half off today?” Sure once in a while it works when you have found a dress you love and the staff suggest an interesting piece that matches it. But most staff doesn’t know when to use the upsell to make it relevant to their customers.

    The problem here might be that most staff doesn’t have time to actually service these days. And it annoying to essentially have no service until you get to the cash and then a (unseen until now) staff person starts making suggestions. This makes me think of “would you like fries with that?” And I can imagine you don’t like your store being compared to fast food.

    As a business you are meeting a need – this is sales 101. If your staff is well trained they need to get to know your customer a bit, so they can make suggestions that meet that need. Then when an opportunity exists they can recommend a little something extra to a customer. The customer will appreciate this added value. And your brand will benefit in the long run.
  3. Your store isn’t a water cooler.

    We have all experienced the store where the staff are gossiping with each other or are on their cell phone chatting with a friend. I know it can get boring working in retail. But if a customer is in the store they really don’t need to hear your latest gossip. By all means don’t do the reverse and stalk the customer around the store. But understand that you are reflecting on the business and its brand reputation.

    To be honest owners are often the worst. They are trying to get business done while working in the store. And I’ve heard some pretty heated discussions between owners and staff or suppliers. To me this reflects very badly on your brand. If you treat your employees and partners with that much disrespect in front of your customers - I can only assume what you say or do when we aren’t there. Have an office for your work phone calls and bring in some staff to support your time in the office. The extra hard cost will be worth the potential damage to your business.
  4. Are your staff properly trained in corporate policy as well as common sense?

    How many bad PR stories have we seen recently where poorly trained staff used ‘corporate policy’ to support a bad decision. H&M in Vancouver had such an incident where a staff person tried to get a nursing mom to move to a quiet room to nurse. The corporate policy was to have a room available in case a mother wanted privacy. But that poorly trained person told the mother she had to move it was ‘policy’. H&M got national press and a ‘nurse in’ the next week (although I was impressed how H&M head office handled the poor press). To be honest I’m not surprised that someone at H&M got it wrong. All my experiences there lately have made me wonder if some of their staff members have any brains at all.

    All staff needs to be well trained in corporate policy. But you also need to hire people with enough common sense to think through a situation and adjust accordingly. Each and every sales staff member is a potential spokesperson for your company. They can’t just look good. They need to think too!
  5. Your staff needs to care.

    I know how much customers can get ridiculed by staff. And a customer can tell when a corporate environment considers this appropriate behavior. You can tell when the staff just doesn’t give a crap. Think about an episode of The Office. They don’t really care about their customers. They are just sales to them. This speaks volumes about your brand. Treat people like individuals and valued customers. And they will likely become repeat and valued customers.

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