I have been following some interesting discussions in several web forums about prices we pay in regular bricks and mortar stores compared to online and where the anti-online buying move and misrepresentation on both sides leaves the argument undecided.
Not surprisingly, methods to retain customers were raised, which of course raised the whole can of worms about pricing, how GST influences things so much, that items are cheaper to buy overseas, etc. Of course each of these factors has their merits and counter argument.
There were even proposals that traditional bricks and mortar stores needed to set up online versions of themselves – even to the extent that sales staff could be made redundant and stores operate merely as pick-up points. (Harvey Norman is moving to this is a very limited way – allowing online sales and in-store pickup.)
Then, discussions turned to the issues that B&M stores created for themselves….yes if was admitted at about the same time in several forum discussions that there were real and concrete steps that store owners and managers could take to help themselves.
I would like to divert momentarily and just say that this is categorically NOT doing anything to do with price. In many instances stores are locked into pricing arrangements that cannot be modified.
Why are Australian prices generally higher than overseas? There are a range of factors, but few have to do with GST or duty. To claim these two as the sole reason is simplifying the response. In many cases it is because there are extra fees imposed in many other parts of the supply chain that pushes prices up – not least licencing and copyright fees for software and books. Some could also claim protectionist policies by successive governments are maintaining artificially high prices for products like cars.
So back to how B&M stores can help themselves.
A simple and powerful method is the age old practice of customer service and salesmanship.
There have been millions of words written about this but the fact remains that for most businesses, it is the least developed part of the business…even if business owners like to claim otherwise.
On one side of the forum, discussions covered the aspect of people going into stores, asking questions, trying on clothing and them walking out, only to subsequently order online.
The other side bemoaned the fact that they could not get service…staff were disinterested (to the point of ignoring customers completely) to making the briefest contact with the customer before withdrawing.
It is little wonder, in cases like these, that the internet may seem more appealing…if you want to be treated like a visiting robot, then the net is the place to be.
So what can be done? Simple…customer service and sales training.
But first, lets talk attitude. Especially Australian attitude.
When I was delivering my customer service training course, one issue that was constantly raised was’ servant v service’. It seems Australians have difficulty recognising that to provide excellent customer service is not in fact a demeaning occupation akin to being a servant. Instead, the training spent time in self-discovery in the value of their knowledge and the reliance by the customer of that knowledge in solving the customer’s problem.
The turning point was in self-actualising this awareness into their every-day activities.
So with this new phase of self-worth, how can this be best implemented?
The first is to engage the customer with something other than “Is there something I can help you with…” which can be interpreted in many ways depending on the tone of voice and body language. Depending on the retail situation the wording of the opening greeting should be directed at swiftly getting the customer to acknowledge their need. In a dress shop this could be an open ended question such as “Hello, my name is Sarah, what sort of occasion are you looking to dress for?” This invokes a response that allows a natural progression to helping fulfill the customers need and leads to active and ongoing engagement with the customer covering issues including style length, colour/s and price.
By addressing these aspects you are also removing the customers objections to closing the sale.
This focusing on the customer’s needs and matching goods against their needs is perceived by the customer as a genuine interest in them as a human.
It is this human interaction that can never be beaten by online and for a huge number of customers, the sales person is regarded not only as an expert, but also as a problem solver.
During the customer service training I provided I asked participants to look at examples of this. Every person came up with at least one example. Not surprisingly they also said they made regular purchases from that shop provided the same salesperson was there or they had an equally good experience with another sales person.
Unfortunately many business owners do not know they are providing poor customer service and therefore do not recognise the need to invest in training for themselves and their staff.
It is vital in today’s rapidly evolving retail market staff need to be trained to me more than ‘transaction agents’ who’s dealings with customers revolves only around ringing upo the sale on the till and placing the order into the bag.
To do so spells closure for many businesses, large and small.