According to the Harvard Business Review, every independent retailer needs to consider the customer’s end-to-end journey in order to reap the highest profits. Focusing solely on the touch points along their journey is not sufficient to keep customers coming back for more. Read on for our 8 best practices to maximize your customer satisfaction (and profits) as an independent retailer…
Train Your Employees Well
If you want your customers to stick around, a high-value staff is critical. You need employees that want to be there, believe they can be successful, and know the value of the unique handmade items you sell . All of that starts with the right beginner training. Many small businesses try to skirt around the importance of employee training by having another employee “show them the ropes”. While easier than developing your own training program, this is not sufficient for top-quality service.
If you want your new employees to be the best representatives for your business, you need to come up with retail sales training program and reinforce what they are learning with additional trainings throughout the year to refresh their knowledge or update them on new products.
Restock Products Quickly
You can spend thousands of hours perfecting your selection of unique handmade goods and setting up your store. But if you don’t restock your products before they run out, then no one is going to be able to make a purchase. The last thing you want is to lose a sale because you don’t have the right size or color of something.
Pay attention to your inventory and when you stock your shop, and if you have too much of one item, consider speaking to the maker or manufacturer about what other products you can order differently next time. Your vendors are your allies, especially if they are makers, as they are highly invested in their brands.
Your vendors are your allies, especially if they are makers, as they are highly invested in their brands. If something you ordered isn’t selling well they definitely want to know about it.
If something you ordered isn’t selling well they definitely want to know about it. They may have suggestions for alternative ways to display the goods that have worked well for their other retailers, or possibly even be willing to swap them out for something else. Telling them about what is and isn’t selling well for you also helps them as they continue to evolve their wholesale lines. Try to create a positive long-term relationship with your vendors, and your business will reap the long-term rewards.
Provide Excellent Customer Service
Part of excellent customer service is having knowledgable and passionate employees. It’s important that you educate your employees on the makers and unique processes behind your handmade items so that they can share these stories with potential customers. The excitement that they show for an item could be what causes a customer to buy it. Knowledgable employees will also naturally be able to upsell your customers when appropriate for their needs. This benefits both you, and the customer who gets exactly what she needed.
While the best employees will dive deep into your products without much prompting, providing incentives like movie tickets or spa experiences, can be highly motivating. At Beauty Brands, some locations hold a contest among the sales associates during their annual liter sale. The employee that sells the most number of liter shampoos or conditioners each week wins a prize, and the person with the most at the end of the sale wins a grand prize.
Beauty Brands also makes it a point to train all of their sales staff thoroughly on the brands that they carry, so that when a customer walks in the door the associate can direct them to the line and the products that are best suited to their hair type and needs. The combination of the friendly competition induced by the contest and the knowledgeability of the staff creates a perfect recipe for high sales and satisfied customers.
Providing excellent customer service also means going the extra mile to show your customers that you know them and care about them as people. Take note of your repeat customers and send them a note thanking them in their next order, or throw in a little something extra to say thanks.
Chewy.com does a great job of making their customers feel extra special by occasionally sending out gifts like small commissioned paintings of customer’s pet or the pet’s favorite treats, or even by simply sending a handwritten note thanking them by name for their order. They have also been known to send condolence flowers to customers whose pets passed away. Talk about creating lifetime brand advocates.
Get Festive at Your Small Retail Business
No matter what holiday it is, your small business should be celebrating. While you don’t have to completely deck the place out, having your employees wear a shamrock on St. Patrick’s Day or putting up a few hearts on Valentine’s Day will go a long way towards endearing you to your customers.
You should also use the holidays as an opportunity to network with other businesses in your community. Consider putting together a trick-or-treating event for kids or a scavenger hunt for Black Friday. Stockabl retailer MADE:Jackson Hole participates in what they call the “Holiday Passport”, along with other local retailers, every November. It’s a huge hit with shoppers, and adds an extra bit of fun to the holiday weekend.
Purchase High-Quality and Unique Products
If your business doesn’t have high-quality products, then you have very little hope of having repeat customers. While you may be able to get people into your store one time, they won’t be likely to return if the shirt they bought develops a hole in it after the first wash or your selection is the same as the shop down the street. Buy wholesale products that you believe in, care about and love.
Although you may be more nervous about the initial investment in high-quality products, you can set the markup to offset a few failures. By marking your goods with a ten percent margin, you aren’t allowing a lot of room for things to not sell, but if it is fifty percent, then you can afford to be riskier.
If you stock products you believe in, then your customers will see your enthusiasm and want to make a purchase. Develop relationships with wholesale vendors who provide you with the kind of items that you just can’t wait to put out in your store. If you make these efforts, then you will see more positive customer reviews on your website causing a snowball effect in revenue growth. Whereas, one well-placed negative review where a customer says you have a poor quality product can spell destruction for your business.
You’re an independent retailer, so Tell YOUR Brand’s Story
Your story and brand ethos are a huge part of your company’s identity. The right identity can help you resonate with your potential customers and let them know that your business is more than just another place to shop.
Branding is a great way to bring in Millennials and other young customers. They have a tendency to shop at businesses that share their values and are more likely to vote with their paycheck for products they believe in. You became an independent retailer for a reason, and you’re passionate about what you do. Share that passion, and your customers will respond to it.
Use Your Data–NOW!
While big data products like floor sensors to track customer’s movements around the store or AI shopping concierge programs may be flashy and exciting, you can incorporate data analytics into your business practices with a much smaller investment. Simple solutions like integrating a smart point-of-sale solution, like Square for Retail can not only give you a smooth checkout system but also a robust set of analytical tools.
You can use your data to see which products (or sales team members!) are performing the best, get cost of goods sold and margin reports, and keep an eye on your inventory. Systems that incorporate customer information can also let you drill down into the specific preferences for each of your customers — now that is powerful marketing information! Imagine being able to alert your customers to their favorite products being restocked, or offering them a discount on items they purchase frequently (remember that point about excellent customer service?).
Oh, and one more thing — if you also run an online store, make sure that whichever POS system you choose also integrates with your online shop to make your life easier.
You can also collect retail data without spending a dime on technology. Collect your customer’s email addresses the old fashioned way with a pen and paper. Offer them a discount via email to lure them back to the store. Use a free email marketing automation program like Mailchimp to send out emails and newsletters.
You can also manually collect data on how your customer’s shop. It’s best to make sure that you have enough staff to cover the floor while you step back and observe. As you watch, take note of things like:
- The number of people who come in the door
- How long shoppers stay
- What areas do people tend to visit
- Are there common paths customers take
- General customer demographics
- How many shoppers become paying customers (this is your conversion rate)
- What days, times, or seasons tend to be the busiest for you
- How long does it take for a sales associate to greet them
It may be helpful to draw a simplified map of your store and break it up into sections to track customer movement. Put a tick mark in each section as a customer passes through it to get an idea of where your customers are going, or draw a line to map out their path.
Your sales team can get involved in data collection too. Instruct them to ask the customer at checkout what brought them into the store, and remind them to snag their email address before they leave.
Build a Community
You can jump up and down as much as you want to try to make headlines about your boutique and bring people in the door. But all of this effort may still fail. The only surefire way to start a business is to build a customer base within your own community that believes in your store and its unique items. They will be more likely to shop consistently and work to keep you in business. If your customers believe you offer a thoughtful and high-quality experience from the first moment they walk in the door, it will keep them coming back for more.
Organize or participate in community events that align with your brand values. One idea that is always popular is to incorporate the makers you stock into the events — if you have the space for it, host a workshop taught by one of your local artisans and invite your customers. Offer complimentary refreshments and other creature comforts to encourage people to stay longer and browse. By the way, if you don’t have the space to host it at your own shop you can always partner with someone else who does. Consider taking some of your best products to set up a small display if you can.
You can still get involved with your community without all the effort of planning and coordinating your own event. Get involved with other organizations and events, like participating in a litter cleanup at a local park, or a dog adoptions through a local rescue group. Your event doesn’t have to be sales-y either (in fact, it’s probably best if it isn’t). Think outside the box, and come up with a few ideas that might appeal to your ideal customer, and then try it.
Not sure which best practice to start with? Allow us to recommend sourcing high-quality products from makers via our unique wholesale marketplace! We only accept makers with wholesale experience who offer at least keystone pricing. Apply for a free retailer account today and you could be putting your first order on the shelves as early as next week!