Store traffic around the country is down, and for many salespeople, earnings have dropped as well. This has resulted in a palpable sense of low or negative energy on many furniture sales floors that can be felt by customers. Here are six tips that can help you to turn this situation around.
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Simple ways to engage customers and improve your sales numbers.
Sales Management by Joe Capillo
Let’s face it. There isn’t much difference between the way things have always been done, and the way they are being done now inside retail furniture stores. The big difference is outside of our stores, in the marketplace for furniture where demand is far below the levels of three, five, or fifteen years ago. So, the environment has changed but furniture retailers have not. If I see anything different, it’s in the demeanor and attitude of the people who greet me in stores. Frankly, it’s pretty bad. Sales are down. For many salespeople, earnings are down as well, and you can feel it in the low or negative energy of a store. So can your customers.
It’s almost like everyone is waiting for some miracle to happen that will restore things to the way they were when housing growth and equity money was driving our business, and you could get away with just a pleasant interaction, reasonably good salespeople, and decent promotions. But, if things are as bad as I keep hearing they are (from retailers) those things are no longer enough, isn’t it time to change? Isn’t there a compelling reason to look at the idea of examining your customer experience and take some action to set yourself above your competition in more ways than by simply offering better prices (and lower margins) on the same merchandise?
What is the Customer Experience?
It begins with understanding what people want and expect today in their shopping – particularly relative to high-ticket, discretionary purchases such as furniture.
Large national and international retailers are putting great effort and dollars into creating a rewarding experience for their customers. From the online experience through the in-store experience, savvy retailers are taking steps to be more consumer-centric in everything they do. They strive to deliver a consistent message around the things their consumer research shows are important to potential customers.
Where one-to-one selling is the primary revenue-generating source, special attention is paid to training salespeople in strategic ways that are compatible with the online experience. And these retailers aim their training efforts at enhancing the overall level of service each customer receives, melding the online experience into the in-store experience.
Today, your customer’s experience often begins online at your website. What are you doing there to engage and excite your prospective customers and make them want to buy from you as opposed to the next site they might visit? Can they place an order there, or do they have to call or visit your store? And, when they do that, how are they greeted and served when they finally meet up with one of your employees, whether on the phone or at the door? Do you have interactive room planning software on your site so they can stay longer, and fit things to their room?
And, when a shopper leaves your store, how would they describe their experience? Have you ever asked them to do that?
Most importantly, who determines and controls how your customers are engaged? Is it you or your employees? How would you greet your customers if you could meet every one of them? What approach would you use to make them feel relaxed and welcome?
There has never been a stronger case for strategic thinking and actions than now. Every effort should be made to make your customers’ shopping experiences better than ever before. This probably means a lot of things have to change, most importantly in the way your people interact with your potential customers. If “How ya doin today? And “Are you looking for anything in particular.” are still your prevalent greeting statements, you might have a problem.
If the economy has changed completely and you haven’t changed at all… it’s time to do some planning and execution for new ways to engage your customers.
Here are six ideas you should consider to improve your customers’ buying experience:
1. Clear the door! There is nothing that turns customers more sour than a group of unsmiling people waiting right at the door to pounce on them. They hate it, and they let you know that.
2. Don’t allow any salesperson to greet a customer without a big, sincere smile, and a welcoming greeting. “Hi, Welcome! Thanks for coming in today.” Works wonders if you do it right and pay attention.
3. Stop asking whether shoppers are “looking for anything in particular” because they’re not. Most likely they are looking for something in general – like a bedroom set or a sofa, not one particular one.
4. Stop asking customers questions they can’t answer – like “Do you have a particular style in mind?” because they don’t. Besides meanings are in people, not in words, so words like “traditional” or “contemporary” will have different meanings to different people. People who don’t buy furniture often (everyone) are seeking inspiration in furniture stores and on websites. Is your store inspiring? Are there lots of new ideas abounding throughout? How about your website? Inspiring, or merely just there?
5. Is your store as good as your website? In fact, do you deliver in the store the promises you make on your website? Worse yet – is your store better than your website? If so, it’s time to change that right now because you’ll never see the many people who shop online first, if they have a subpar online experience on your website. Look at all your competitors’ sites, and act to bring your website up to speed. Use your website to draw people into your store. Track your website traffic carefully and use all the tools available to make it better and higher ranking on the web-search engines.
6. Ask every customer as soon as you can if they visited your website. It’s pretty simple: “Have you visited our website?” is all it takes. If they answer yes, probably something there brought them in. So, just ask: “Did you see something on the site you’re interested in?” Record all this on your traffic log, door sheet, or customer engagement software.
Everyone knows the now-famous definition of insanity which states that if you keep doing the same things over and over and expect a different result, that’s insanity. If you want your customers to enjoy their visits to your store, and make more purchases as the result, then examine your engagement strategy carefully. Observe the overall demeanor of your people – use phantom shoppers if you have to, or have your sister’s husband’s cousin’s aunt come in. Do something to make things better in your store – instead of just cutting your margins and your credibility.
Joe Capillo is a furniture industry veteran with 35 years combined experience as a retail consultant and retail industry executive. He is a contributing editor to FURNITURE WORLD and a frequent speaker at industry functions. See all of Joe’s articles on the furninfo.com website.
View all articles by Joe Capillo