No touching: the future of retail
Despite a spike in retail sales in March the month ended with most retailers closing their doors, stand down employees, and apply for the Jobkeeper allowance.
Unlike the supermarkets, sporting goods stores, home entertainment stores and those catering to the burgeoning working from home market, it has been a VERY tough month for the industry.
And it’s not like it was easy pre pandemic. Many of our giants had already gone into administration or were closing their doors.
So now that the government has announced that retail will be back in business soon (albeit with tight health and safety restrictions), what’s left for them?
Crisis can inspire new ways of working and this is retail’s chance to do something different. Their survival probably depends on it. Indeed, when has there been a better time to rewrite the way retail welcomes its customers back?
ONE: What fewer customers means
Thousands of Australians face an uncertain job future. Over 750,000 casual workers don’t qualify for Jobkeeper and those who do may want to keep as much of that in their bank accounts more than they want to part with it – they may need it. So with fewer customers around, retail needs less staff with more proactivity and greater levels of accountability and ownership.
Less customer numbers means staff must be equipped to do more with less: make every customer count. Staff who know how to improve average transaction values with customers who feel engaged. And that means creating an environment that makes them feel safe to take their time, happy to interact with merchandise and confident that the staff are interested in them as people first and are on top of things.
No more inexperienced, undertrained casuals sitting behind the counter on their phone “manning the store” in case someone buys.
Those days are over. Online took care of that.
TWO: Flexible shopping hours
This is where the independent stores can really take a foothold. Those who have taken the time to develop an online relationship with their customers using db marketing software, can start to provide personal shopping experiences where a limited number of customers and their friends can come in for an exclusive shopping experience. It meets physical distancing regulations as well.
One retailer I know is doing this at times that suit the customer: champagne or fragrant tea is on offer, distancing is enforced and safety procedures are in place without a store experience that feels sterile or impersonal.
They are citing relaxed customers who actually enjoy themselves. Great forum to deepen customer relationships, deepen connections with their brand and move towards what matters to the customer. Consultation = selling. Consultation = improved average transaction value.
THREE: Different skills/Better skills
We MUST educate our staff to actively engage with customers.
Do you have a team who genuinely loves people? It matters now more than ever. Have they developed communication skills that make customers feel safe, welcome and let them know that we actually care about them? Not got through the motions that we care. Really CARE.
It means getting out from behind the counter.
It means no phones while working.
It means treating the store with attention to detail like it’s their own.
Does your team have the skills to conduct a conversation beyond: “Hi how are you? If you need anything I’ll be way over there…..but don’t hesitate to ask…”type skills. Do they know how to ask questions that encourage understanding? Can they read the room?
Some customers won’t want to talk much.
Others will be craving adult conversation after weeks of being a quasi teacher or only talking with work colleagues.
As customers, some of us like to be reminded of who we are in the world beyond home and work.
Unless you take action now to help your team develop their communication skills please don’t complain when customers revert to online shopping. If customers have bothered to come to see you in person, please make them glad they did.
FOUR: Connection without touching
Connection is the ability to get on the same page as your customer, so that you can communicate in a way that makes sense to your customer and smoothes the interaction.
This ability can be learnt, refined and deliberately applied with the intention to provide the best possible service to each customer – as each customer is different. Building your team’s communication and behavioural dexterity requires training and practice. Invest in your staff so they can communicate well with every customer and make buying from your store easy and enjoyable for all customers.
FIVE: Make customers feel welcome
With barriers dispensing sanitizer, counting customer numbers and in some cases temperature checking, customers could be forgiven for feeling like it’s all too hard – how much do I really need to go into that store?
If however, customers are prepared to go through all of these barriers (and okay, we’re doing it for theirs and for our staff’s protection) in order to shop in your store, don’t let it be for nought.
Just having a well stocked shop isn’t enough. It never was but it certainly isn’t enough now – remember if that’s all they want, they can get stock from your website.
Make them feel welcome.
Greet them with a smile, ask questions, be interested in them. Connect. Emotion is a powerful decider. Will they be moved to spend with you or with someone else who makes them feel better than you do? Customers need to feel safe, yes. But not at the expense of feeling human, connected and glad they made the effort to get out of the house.
It’s your chance retail.
If you want a future, do it differently. Less staff with better skills. Greater levels of ownership and accountablility. Whether you survive or not will depend on how well your team can SELL. Not force. Not pressure. But SELL, which means being interested in serving customers. In helping them to buy the way they want to from you and making them feel great in the process.
Watch this space: it’s about to get really interesting.