Everyone knows that a proper foundation holds a house above ground. But did you know that it also helps keeps out moisture, insulate against the cold, and resist the movement of the earth around it?
Not unlike a home, a retail business, too, needs to be built upon a solid foundation. Otherwise, when the winds of competition blow, a retailer can crumble—perhaps even collapse—not unlike Payless, Charlotte Russe, and others.
With gaps in your business foundation, you’re vulnerable not only to other local retailers, but also online ones like Amazon. The Retail Doctor offers a 5 point blueprint for competing with Amazon today:
1. Deliver Nothing Less Than Phenomenal Customer Service
While Amazon strives to be #1 in convenience, it’s lacking an important feature—a physical place for consumers to visit and engage with the brand. As WWD points out, about 90% of commerce is still happening in stores, because people want live experiences.
“When every inch of your store is thought out to how it could surprise and delight, and you add a professional retail sales team carefully schooled in modern retail sales techniques, who is constantly consumed with making everyone else’s day before they try to make their own day, offering an exceptional experience is a standard, not a rarity.”
Exceptional customer service grows out of a genuine curiosity about each individual who enters your store and why they chose to pass up other competitors to shop with you. It involves offering relevant product options to make the customer’s life better, thanking them for their visit and asking them to shop with you again, following up after the purchase to make sure they’re happy, and keeping in touch so you can send best wishes on special life events and let them know of special offers.
“Customer service is the experience we deliver to our customer. It’s the promise we keep to the customer. It’s how we follow through for the customer. It’s how we make them feel when they do business with us.”
~ Shep Hyken, Customer Service & Experience Expert
Establishing your retail store as an enticing destination with superb customer service will give you a definitive competitive advantage against other local stores and e-commerce giants like Amazon.
“The key is when a customer walks away, thinking ‘Wow, I love doing business with them, and I want to tell others about the experience.’” ~ Shep Hyken
2. Curate, Price, and Manage Inventory for Customers Who Will Buy
As a retailer, it’s up to you to maintain a steady supply of outstanding products that captivate your customers, offer solutions to their problems, and take care of their needs. Because the items you sell can reflect your brand, it’s important to select them with care.
You also need a good understanding of merchandise turns and their margins. “Pricing responsibly is knowing how much you have to markup an item to not only clear your costs but also grow your profitability and account for markdowns,” says The Retail Doctor.
It’s also important not to lower your price too often in order to match those of competitors. When you lower prices anytime a competitor challenges your market share, you start down a dangerous road that you may not be able to recover from. And do you really want customers to think of your brand as a discount retailer?
Remember, your products shouldn’t be all about what YOU want to sell. They should be about what customers want and/or need to buy. Your store merchandise should delight customers, as well as ease their pain points and make their lives better. If you offer good quality, selection, and value, your customers will be willing to pay for it.
3. Focus Marketing Messages on What The Customer Gets
Every single day, consumers are peppered with marketing messages. Are YOUR marketing messages getting past that clutter? To make sure your ads are getting noticed, Entrepreneur suggests answering the following question: “What’s in it for the prospect?”
“So you’ve got a sale? So what! Who doesn’t? Unless you focus your marketing messages on what the customer gets out of shopping with you, you’re like a needy school kid saying look at me all the time.”
Interestingly, Holiday Inn Express once advertised that their motels had the “number-one customer-rated showerhead.” As the company discovered, this was an important feature for its target market. Apparently, it speaks to something all visitors want—a superior shower experience. So the company ran with it, communicating this message directly to their customers.
How does your brand help customers live a better life? What problems do your products solve for them? Do they give the user more time, more beauty, or less stress? Focus on answering these questions in your emails, ads, and social media updates.
4. Provide Your Staff with Solid Training & Development
“A structured training and development program ensures that employees have a consistent experience and background knowledge,” says Chron.
Employees who receive consistent training are better able to perform their jobs. The training can also build employees’ confidence because they’re armed with a better understanding of the industry and the responsibilities of their respective jobs.
“Having the right processes and religiously training your employees make the difference between a retailer who is putting out fires all day long and a low-drama yet high-profit shop.”
Continuous training also ensures that your employees stay on the cutting edge of industry trends and developments. Well-trained employees are more competent and help your company establish a position as an industry leader and a strong competitor.
When companies invest in training programs, it demonstrates that they care about their employees’ success and conveys the message that they are valued. Employees who feel appreciated are more likely to be satisfied with their jobs, increasing the odds that they’ll stick around longer.
Most importantly though, well-trained employees who are happy in their jobs will be more productive—which translates to increased levels of customer service and more sales.
5. Master the Art of Merchandising
“Effective merchandising allows products to be displayed in an appealing manner, strengthens brand messages, and makes stores easy to shop,” says WMG. “Businesses who merchandise well will see huge increases in their total sales and average sales /customer.”
Here’s an example of how this is achieved:
Shelley has a hankering for some ice cream, but she hasn’t decided what type she’d like yet. When she gets to the freezer section of the grocery store, the ice cream in the end cap grabs her attention. The end cap is merchandised in an entire, “make your own sundae” theme. So instead of buying one carton of ice cream, Shelley also purchases hot fudge, chopped peanuts, and whipped cream.
This illustrates how merchandising can influence customers to purchase more than they previously intended. Window displays and signage can also increase traffic into your store, and lead to more sales.
For window displays, The Retail Doctor suggests making sure the focal point is at a normal person’s height. That is the “sweet spot”. Create your display in that area, with the window lights aiming in the middle where a person’s eyes would focus.
Within the store, display the best and brightest merchandise at the front. Make sure clearance items are positioned in the back of your retail space since shopper interest decreases the farther they venture into your store. The Retail Doctor relates how a $500 ski jacket that hadn’t sold in the months prior, sold the day after he helped a client re-merchandise his store. That’s the power of good merchandising!
You can’t control what Amazon does, but you can build a strong foundation for your retail business—one that will help you withstand the stiff winds of competition and keep your company strong while others are falling down all around you.
If you have a brick and mortar store, you already have one hugely important element working in your favor—you have a physical destination where customers can visit and engage with your brand.
Use the 5 points discussed above to improve the foundation of your business and give your retail store a competitive advantage against Amazon in 2019!
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