Annual occasions such as birthdays, anniversaries and the holiday shopping season leave many consumers continually brainstorming for new gift ideas. As a result, independent retailers have found a profitable niche in the sale of unique gifts that express thoughtfulness and sentiment. Main Street USA can more times often than not promise an unusual present “that has a great story behind it,” says Alison Jatlow Levy, a retail strategist at consulting firm Kurt Salmon, in a recent USA Today article, adding, “Local stores can add to the treasure-hunting aspect of gift shopping that the national chain stores often miss.” Being different and offering one of a kind merchandise is top criteria in creating a successful retail market, especially during holiday sales, which typically make up about 20 to 30 percent of retailers’ annual sales, according to the NRF. However, there is more to the equation for success and survival. As USA Today explains, “While many small stores have a special cachet, they typically lack the resources of their larger competitors. Stores that don’t place big bulk orders miss out on hefty discounts. Smaller shops’ often tighter return policies and less-convenient hours add to the challenge of competing with chains.” While unique and unusual merchandise might draw customers to your storefront, below are some tactics to help drive home the sale:
Small Business Survival Strategies
Focus on personal service.
According to American Express Global Customer Service Barometer, a survey conducted in the U.S. and nine other countries, “70 percent of the Americans surveyed are willing to spend an average of 13 percent more with companies they believe provide excellent customer service.” Confirming this, a nationwide survey conducted for the Consumer Reports July 2011 edition, reveals that, “64 percent of respondents said that during the previous 12 months they had left a store because service was poor, and 67 percent had hung up on customer service without having had their problem addressed.” The survey also reports that, “65 percent felt ‘tremendously annoyed’ about rude salespeople. And 56 percent felt that way about having to take multiple phone steps to reach the right place.”
You could seek out numerous consulting firms that offer you and your staff training in quality customer service, but a few simple steps in polishing up your demeanor and service may be all you need in boosting sales.
1) Smile when greeting a customer. In person and on the phone, customers know when you are are genuinely smiling, as well as genuinely concerned about their wants and needs.
2) Never judge a book by a cover. Regardless of your customer’s age or appearance, keep judgement out of the store. The only differences you should acknowledge are the different shopping needs of your customers.
3) Find out if you don’t know. You don’t need to have every answer. However, if a customer asks you a question you don’t have an answer to, you should try your best to find out.
4) Learn to read body language. Body language is worth a thousand words. If your customer appears pensive, perhaps they have a question, giving you an opportunity to ask.
5) Smile while saying goodbye. Even if your customer walks out without a shopping bag in hand, he or she leaves with the impression of your welcoming and friendly attitude. That impression might be what keeps them coming back.
Play up community impact.
According to the Northwest Earth Institute’s Choices for Sustainable Living, “A dollar spent at a locally owned store is usually spent 6 to 15 times before it leaves the community. From $1, you create $5 to $14 in value within that community.” Yet retailers can’t expect customers to support their buy local campaigns, without verification that the retailer they are supporting is in fact an active, involved and helpful member of the community, local and worldwide. There is value to incorporating a ‘giving back’ strategy and approach, not as an add-on to how you run business at key parts of the year (holiday season), but rather by fully integrating ‘giving back’ as a way of doing business.
While most independent retailers have only enough resources to give back to their local community, that is enough and speaks highly of any retail brand. ROI can’t always be measured in terms of dollars and cents. Philanthropy provides broader benefits such as earning good will with future long term customers, attracting new customers to the brand, and PR.
Tap into social media.
Businesses and independent retailers have a legitimate place on Facebook. With an unimaginable 600 million members and a more routinely visited website than Google, Facebook promises more than friend requests and fan bases, but also acts as a marketing tool to access the millions of shoppers that login on a daily basis. Gigya, Software as a Service (SaaS) technology company, integrating online businesses and social networks, released a white paper on the three best practices to ensure expected ROI from Facebook. The goal is to create a customer experience that reflects your brand, and Gigya’s researchers believe this is possible with the following practices:
1) Integrate Facebook features into your website design. You don’t necessarily need to send your customers away to be social.
2) Incorporate ecommerce and social best practices both on your site and on Facebook.com. Keep the browsing and shopping experience consistent on both sites, making the customer feel as if they are viewing an extension of your company website.
3) Close the loop to enable seamless shopping. Understand the power of the “Like” button. So what if online viewers like your product and they’ve let everyone know on their Facebook wall? The important question: did they buy the product? If you are looking to make money, this is the question you have to answer.