Inspiring Retail Experiences

Inspiring Retail Experiences


Times are tough. People are out of work. Spending is down. And so is the number of customers coming in to shop. 
So why wouldn’t you capitalize on the people who are coming into your store?

I did a little field research recently, hopping into three photography retailers in Los Angeles. Two were independents and one was a chain. The result? With a combined 14 employees on the sales floor, not one said hello. I spent 15 minutes roaming each store, and no one offered to help me.

My little study of three photography retailers isn’t indicative of the whole industry, or is it? One thing I learned by managing 65 stores for a start-up retailer is that if it’s happening in one store, it’s happening in others as well. And that always held true. So, I’m assuming my experiences at other photography retailers may prove to be the same.
In a specialty or independent shop, the onus is on the owner or manager to create a point of differentiation with the customer, and to create a reason to shop at a store that most likely has less selection and higher prices than the big-box camera and electronics chains—a store that may be a little more off the beaten path. Those are a lot of barriers to overcome for a customer. 

So how do you break out of the mold?

Say Hi and Engage
Saying hello is the first step to building a relationship with your customer. So what happens when you don’t say hi to a customer? Well, it’s as if you just fell into a well. And now you have to start climbing out, even before any interaction with the customer takes place. That’s right; based on the [non]interaction, the customer has started forming a [negative] opinion of your store. Best to act quickly to remedy the situation.

But greeting the customer is just the start. You need to engage the customer. Engaging does not mean asking, “Can I help you find something?” Engaging means using a conversation starter that doesn’t even have to be about photography. From there, you begin to build rapport.

Share the Passion
Sharing the passion for photography builds loyalty through a common interest. I want an employee to share my love of photography with me, or help me to be an enthusiast. I want an employee to be more than a clerk. It’s tough to fake passion.

Sharing the passion means you’re there to talk photography, not sell something. Sharing the passion means you’re hiring photographers, not salespeople. Sharing the passion means you’re offering events and/or classes to create a bond with customers through photography. Sharing the passion means you’re making a photocopy of a great article you just read that’s applicable to that customer.

Passion is infectious. It jumps from you to your customer. It’s not something you can create; it just is.

Helping Customers Understand the Why
Helping customers understand why you’re recommending what you’re recommending, and sharing your knowledge with them, helps to build credibility in your expertise. Will some of them take the knowledge you’ve given them and go buy their photography equipment and accessories online or at a big electronics retailer who gives them a better price? Absolutely. But building a rapport with your customers, which ultimately leads to increased loyalty, will have a big impact in the long run and will become a business driver as the positive word of mouth (and Twitter of mouth) spreads.

In a world ruled by discounts, you can succeed and be the expert, the go-to person whose knowledge and customer service trumps price. There are plenty of customers in the world who want engaging interactions at retail that allow them to share the passion, to learn and to develop a relationship with a retailer. How are you becoming that retailer and differentiating yourself in the process?

Editor’s Note: Mike Kraus has a distinguished track record in general management, marketing and e-commerce, with nearly 20 years’ experience in the retail, restaurant and location-based entertainment sectors. He has worked for Fortune 500, start-up and nonprofit companies such as The Walt Disney Company and Viacom. As principal of StoreTouch, a retail consultancy, Kraus strategically partners with entrepreneurial retailers to help them find the retail “sweet spot,” the place where operational efficiency meets inspired store experiences, creating profitable retail experiences. You can follow StoreTouch on Twitter.