According to Julie Baker, a marketing professor at the University of Texas at Arlington, there are three factors that are important to the retail store environment: social, ambient and design. Today, I want to look at the importance of the social factors of your store and how you can make improvements that will increase business.
The social factors of your retail store include every point where the customer is interacting with other people. While ambient and design factors might affect a customer subconsciously, social factors are immediately apparent and make a lasting impression.
There are two kinds of social factors in your retail store: staff/customer interaction, and customer/customer interaction. You have the ability to control both types of interaction in order to make your customers’ experiences pleasant.
Any time a customer speaks to a staff member, he’s forming an opinion of your business. This is Customer Service 101, but it bears repeating here.
- Staff should be friendly and ready to help, but not pushy. A simple “hello” when a customer walks in the door makes all the difference. Your customer feels welcome and is more likely to approach an employee when he needs help.
- Staff should be easy to locate when customers need help. Make sure you have enough employees that your customers don’t have to go on a man-hunt to find someone to ring up their purchases or answer questions.
- Staff should be knowledgeable about products and services. Train employees thoroughly so that they can answer questions with confidence. Show them where to find the information they don’t have memorized.
- Staff should be creative and able to suggest other options and ad-ons to purchases. Up-selling can add a lot to your profit margin. When done correctly, customers actually appreciate the recommendations of salespeople. If your store is out of stock on an item that the customer wants, your employees should be able to suggest an alternative.
- Staff should be well-groomed. Depending on the type of business and your clientele, your employees might have a very strict dress code, or one that’s more relaxed. For instance, if you sell clothing to teens, your staff might be able to get away with visible piercings and pink hair. If you work in the insurance industry, your receptionist should be dressed professionally and probably shouldn’t have a visible tattoo.
- Staff should engage in professional behavior while in front of customers. No one in your store should be talking (or texting) on a cell phone while a customer is in the store. Customers will avoid approaching an employee who appears to be busy with personal business. Employees also shouldn’t be eating or drinking in front of the public–it’s just not professional. And it goes without saying that your employees should never use inappropriate language.
You might feel as if you don’t have any control over how your customers interact with each other, but that’s just not true. You can tailor your store environment to increase or decrease customer/customer interaction.
- Crowding – Americans are accustomed to having a large amount of personal space. They feel uncomfortable when they’re mushed up against each other. Make sure your racks are spaced far enough apart that customers can pass each other without bumping. If your store caters to parents, leave room for stroller traffic. If your store has a more mature crowd that uses walkers or wheelchairs, the same rule applies.
If you have a lot of customers who shop with children, it might be well worth the expense to add a children’s play area to your store. Kids get bored while parents shop, and start running around and climbing on racks and displays. In addition to annoying their parents, they annoy other shoppers and add to the feeling of crowding. Solve the problem by entertaining the kids with videos or toys. The parents will shop longer (and spend more money) and other shoppers won’t be irritated (and they’ll spend more money, too).
- Rules of Etiquette – As much as people may say that they don’t like rules, our society is set up on them. People like to have a clear idea of where to go and how to behave, and shopping in your store is no exception. I often run into problems at my grocery store deli. There’s nowhere to stand in line for service; people just loosely congregate around the counter. The person working the deli finishes with one customer and then says, “Who’s next?” Inevitably, there’s one person who tries to butt ahead of those who were there before her, which annoys everyone else.
Set up a clearly delineated space for customers to form a line while waiting for checkout, or offer numbers for people to take so that they can tell when it’s their turn for service.
- Demographics – Some kinds of customers don’t do well with others. Business customers rushing to get coffee in the morning might be annoyed by moms with three kids who encourage each child to order his own beverage. Seniors shopping in your store might be intimidated by loud teenagers who engage in horseplay in the aisles. A locally-owned drugstore in my hometown had this problem. The owner was selling sodas and snacks to the students of the high school nearby. But his bread-and-butter customers were seniors who were coming in for prescription and over-the-counter medication. The students would come in during lunchtime and be rowdy and loud as they made their way to the back wall of the store where the soda cooler was located. There were a couple close calls when kids almost crashed into elderly people with canes. The kids were just being kids, and the revenue they brought in wasn’t a small enough amount to get rid of the sodas and snack items. But the owner was really worried that the horseplay was going to end up hurting someone. He solved the problem by moving the soda cooler and snacks to the front of the store, right next to the register. This way, the kids had much less interaction with the older customers, and both groups were much happier.