When asked about what factors impact sales, many retailers will allude to the economy, weak consumer spending, competition and recent ‘shop from home’ innovations.
While those factors certainly play a role, I often find that the real reason is where employees unwittingly chase away new potential customers and most employees have no idea that they are committing any wrongdoing. In retail right now, we have employees acting as if they are doing the customer a big favour by being present on the shop floor. This is all very wrong. How often have you observed salespeople huddled around a counter or keeping out of sight behind a display or increasingly hovering at a corner texting on their mobiles or merely flopping around like dying fish? Notice how their demeanour changes between talking animatedly amongst themselves or when good humouredly teasing each other and when they interact with the customer.
Shop owners must realise that regardless of whatever their staff are doing, if they’re not properly engaging with customers, they are only there for each other - not the buyer… and that’s never going to put money into the cash register. In most instances, shop floors become a nursery for untrained poker-faced sales staff, engaged in an idle game of hide-and-seek with potential customers.
Past surveys reveal that the average customer, who visits a mall, enters only three stores (could be more in the local scenario) out of all the stores they walk past. That’s basically a one-in-three likelihood that they’ll buy something. There is also a long-held belief that 70 percent of the decision to purchase is made in the shop and effective shopper communications will in most cases close the deal and even stimulate upsell.
The long and winding road
If ever there was a song which summed up the fraught nature of the retail business – especially in Sri Lanka, it is ‘The Long and Winding Road’ by the Beatles. It’s a sad song because it’s all about the unattainable, the door you never quite reach. This is the road that you never get to the end of and retailers really need to get smarter about shopper behaviour. There is no one sure road to purchase anymore: consumers have several choices and shop/store operators need to understand the complete customer journey.
With the proliferation of retailers and malls, the ‘where’ I buy becomes just as important as the ‘what’. As a shopper, I had already made a decision to buy and headed out to the recently refurbished ‘Liberty Plaza’. In this instance, I was looking to purchase a white coloured, easy to iron, long-sleeved shirt.
My journey began at the newly opened shirt store, sporting the name of a prized green gemstone. Walking towards the glass-fronted store entrance, I observed a smartly attired member of staff striding purposefully from within, towards the doors. ‘That’s interesting’ I told myself, only to have my initial bubble of expectation burst abruptly. I reached and pushed the door open before he could, fleetingly assuming that the shop employee had mistimed the distance to the door. That’s forgivable.
We then passed each other and the employee kept walking towards the doors, neither acknowledging nor greeting me. Intrigued by this behaviour, I looked back to see where the ‘fire’ was. What had caught this employee’s attention was the crooked ‘Open’ sign-board on the door handle and his immediate focus was to straighten it … never mind the potential customer about to enter the store. Now that’s unforgivable.
I was in the store looking at a wide range of shirts for about 10 minutes and couldn’t get greeted - not a word out of anyone. On hindsight, this really was not upsetting – as on the upside, no one attached themselves to me right when I walked in, as happens in most shops, (like grabbing the mosquito swatter as the mosquito flies in via the window). This branch did not have the particular shirt of my collar size (15”) - which I thought was ridiculous, considering that it was the flagship store of a local shirt manufacture, who claims to be in the business since 1940s.
Told that a fresh stock was expected from the factory within the week, I was asked to write down my name and contact details to enable shop staff inform me immediately the shirt arrived. Three weeks later, whilst passing by, I dropped in and enquired from the same salesperson as to why I had not heard anything regarding the shirt. His reply with no apology whatsoever, “As we still haven’t received new stocks we did not call you.” Sardonically, I posed the question “what is the store’s policy on how long a customer should wait for a shirt?” End of story.
Another one bites the dust
Some of us may remember this song by the British rock band Queen. Released in 1980, it reached number one in the US charts. ‘Biting the dust’ is what happens when you fall face first into the dirt. So when ‘another one bites the dust’, it means someone has fallen out of the competition.
Located on the ground floor of the Liberty Plaza mall is a piano shop. My wife, who is an exceptionally gifted pianist, walked in to check their range, which consisted of four upright pianos, with the cheapest priced at Rs.280,000. The sole employee, a middle-aged female who was seated at a tiny desk reading a newspaper, hurriedly got up and came over. When asked whether they had any grand piano for sale, she replied, “Yes, but they can be viewed at our stores in Seeduwa.” Pressed for more details, she suggested we speak to the store owner over the phone. Upon requesting for the owner’s name and contact details, she nonchalantly pointed towards a piece of paper pasted on the door, saying, “You can write it down – it is all there.” Completely nonplussed we walked away… whilst a relieved saleswoman got back to continue reading her newspaper. It’s said that idle hands are the devil’s playground. How true.
The A to E in A.P.P.L.E.
Everyone knows about Apple. Founded by Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak and Ronald Wayne in 1976, it is the world’s largest information technology company by revenue, the world’s largest technology company by total assets and the world’s second-largest mobile phone manufacturer. Apple Retail adopted several techniques directly from a well-known luxury hotelier as its gold standard of customer service.
It makes perfect sense that the Apple Retail Store—the most profitable retailer in America— would benchmark itself against a brand known for its legendary service. In fact, everything you’ve expected from the moment you walk in to the time you leave has been arduously thought out and most of it clearly defined. So what does A.P.P.L.E. really stand for when it comes to training staff how to sell? It actually means:
A - Approach customers with a personalized, warm welcome. P - Probe politely to understand all the customer’s needs. P - Present a solution for the customer to take home today. L - Listen for and resolve any issues or concerns, E - End with a fond farewell and an invitation to return.
Steve Jobs once said, “Good artists copy; great artists steal.” The Apple Store took a leaf from a luxury hotel on customer service techniques and it has served the brand phenomenally. If a computer retailer can learn something from the king of hospitality, why cannot other retailers (and hoteliers) too?
Anything but wow!
Sri Lanka’s pioneer e-commerce, e-shopping and online retailing business (where one could buy ‘anything’), came somewhat close to emulating what Apple does. In those early days, every staff member had to work in the store, welcoming and meeting customers, talking to them, understanding their needs and showing them around. However, after the country’s largest telecommunications service provider took control and drastically slashed floor staff, the wow factor remains only by name.
On one occasion, happening to see some perfumes on display, I asked the salesman the price. Pointing towards a computer he told me to log on to their website. I proceeded to do that and discovered that the product was not listed. When told of this, the staff informed me that it would be uploaded the following week!
More recently, when visiting the store to collect an item I had purchased online, I happened to notice several tubs of premium ice cream approaching an idle salesman, I asked if there was any special offer on ice cream. Unsurprisingly, he asked me to check their website. Surprisingly, he then went and stood at the glass-fronted entrance door, gazing aimlessly at the roadside. Here was a sales guy with a mission – to ensure that whatever traffic there was, stayed on the road. And retailers wonder why shop traffic is on the slide?
(Shafeek Wahab, a hospitality consultant, professional trainer and speaker, works with organisations that want to become more customer-centric by changing how they deal with customers and are passionate about enhancing their reputation. With an extensive background in hospitality management spanning over 30 years, he uses his experience and knowledge to provide assistance to clients who want to move beyond the limitations of traditional ‘best practices’. He can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org. Website: www.in2ition.biz)