Destroying your reputation for efficiency?

Recently I read an article recommending that retailers switch their focus from great customer service to efficiency in ringing up the sale.  OK, those weren’t the exact words chosen by the author of the article (he will remain nameless), but it certainly was the gist.   The reasoning went something like this:

Nowadays customers get all the information they need from the web.  They do their own research and educate themselves about the products they want to buy and then simply visit your store to make the purchase.  No preamble or salesmanship necessary, just take the cash and give ‘em the product – and do it quickly.

While there is significant evidence that customers are going to the web before making a purchase, we think it is a mistake for retailers to take this as a reason to eliminate costs by reducing staff training or eliminating knowledgeable staff in favor of cashiers.

Even though they are trying, customers just aren’t that good at finding the right solutions on their own.  There are many reasons –

  1. The “FUD” – Even though customers are visiting the web and reading product reviews and articles there is still a large amount of Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD). Customers know that some internet reviews are extremely biased or written by a reviewer with an agenda that isn’t fully disclosed.  But which ones?
  2. They Don’t Know What They Don’t Know – While customers make an effort to educate themselves, we find that they sometimes are swayed and get focused on irrelevant features or price alone.  Customers think they need Product “A” but really their task requires Product “B.”
  3. Overload – the sheer volume of information out there is staggering.  Sifting through it, comparing options and analyzing results requires a lot of time, patience and search savvy many customers don’t have.  And despite all the information there are almost always facts missing that are key to the particular situation of the customer.
  4. They have a life – While some people can find what they need on the internet, many can’t – and even more don’t want to. They have other things to do and significant time constraints.
  5. Some products really require “in-person” research –  Fashion is the best example here.  While there may be some of us who are shaped like a clothes hanger, most of us want to try on clothes, feel the cloth and the cut  and see how it looks on us.

We think the author of that article was misunderstanding what the web is good for and what customers are really doing there.  Customers are trying to:

  1. Figure out the right questions to ask.
  2. Narrow their choices.
  3. Determine the best place to purchase –mostly based on other customer’s reviews.

How can you make sure your store is the place of purchase?  Well, definitely not by eliminating knowledgeable staff and running the risk of a bad review on a social media site.

  1. Make sure to advertise that you have knowledgeable staff and make sure you do. A good sales person will work with the customer to understand their needs and even discover needs that the customer didn’t know they had.
  2. Make your store a relaxing place to be – embrace the term “retail therapy” by encouraging touching, allow customers to set the pace – some are in a hurry and some want to linger.  Adjust your pace to the individual.
  3. Help customers with choosing the right product for them – not just the one with the best margin for you.  Matching the customer as close as possible with the right product results in a much happier and fulfilled customer.
  4. Ask for recommendations on your social site whenever you assist someone with finding the right product even if they ask for the wrong one –  see our reviews on Facebook.

Efficiency is great. Truthfully most people and businesses can use more. However, the best databases are still the mobile human kind because of their problem solving abilities. You need to stop and look at what really defines your brand.  Do you want to be known as the most efficient store or the most helpful?  Do we really want our stores to be reduced to nothing more than giant warehouses with drive through windows where product is thrown at the customer?  We don’t.


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