A few months ago I happened to be driving down the road with my business partners when we passed a relatively new eating establishment. “Have you tried that place yet?”
“Yeah. Sure have. Food was so-so. Nothing exciting.”
“Actually our food was cold, we had to wait so long.”
“Prices were outrageous.”
“Service was terrible. Our waiter was so rude.”
“The place is dark. I felt like I was in a cavern.”
“I won’t be going back.”
When I got back to the office I did a Google search of the restaurant and was not surprised by the stream of bad customer reviews with consistent complaints about the food, service and prices. That was a few months ago. Yesterday, I happened to be driving by the same place and noticed it had already closed; there was a big “For Lease” sign on the door. Such is the power of reputation - especially in the retail trade. Especially in this day and age of Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest when reputations (good and bad) spread like wildfire.
So what do your customers say about your store? Do they like your merchandise? What’s on your “menu?” What’s your niche? Are you a “casual” or “fine dining” establishment? Is your focus on bridal or do you carry more designer goods? Do you have a large inventory of loose diamonds? Some retailers try to be all things to all people and lose focus on what their customers really want or need. But how do you know what your customers really want?
Every day, you and your staff spend time talking with your customers. You greet them when they come into your store, and you chat with them while you make a sale. You’ve got the perfect opportunity to ask them what they think of your establishment and what kind of goods they’d like to see. You may believe that you’re delivering only the best product and service in the best atmosphere, but if your customers don’t agree, your opinion doesn’t matter at all.
You can’t spot a trend by talking to one customer; there’s got to be some methodology and organization behind your survey process. Maybe it’s something as simple as keeping a journal and recording what you hear from customers on a daily basis over a period of a few weeks. If you’re doing a survey in person or on the phone, engage your customers in casual conversation, but keep it low pressure and comfortable. After a month of recording responses, review your notes to see if you can spot consistent feedback on your store operations and merchandise. Maybe you’d like to do a more formal online or in-store survey. The more information you get the better. But how and where to begin?
Asking about the kind of merchandise your customers want to see is a good starting point. You might discover that you need to carry more gemstone jewelry, diamond jewelry, earrings, pendants, pearls, bracelets or watches. Again you can’t be all things to all people, but if there are consistent requests for particular items, make sure you can fill that demand.
What do your customers say about your pricing? In this post-recession era, the average consumer remains extremely price sensitive. In fact it’s usually the key factor in a purchase decision. Studies show that 20% of retail customers care only about price and will shop for the best deal. The mark-up and pricing method you employ to adjust prices should be a strong part of your business strategy.
Successful retailers are better adept at identifying the true market value of the products they sell. They also understand that there are customers who will pay more, customers who may pay more at certain times, and customers who will never pay more. Accordingly the responses to your questions about pricing will vary, but look for an overall consensus.
What do your customers think about your store environment? Ask them how they feel about parking availability, signage, merchandise display, cleanliness, noise level and lighting. Cleanliness should start at the parking lot and continue throughout the entire store. Do your fixtures highlight the best of the merchandise, without overpowering? Choose practical and durable fixtures that don’t fight with the products through offbeat colors or designs. Featured products should be spotlighted to attract customer attention. Keep your store bright and airy, and make sure all areas are adequately lit.
Creating and executing a customer survey takes time. During the holiday season, when things are hopefully stacked up and customers are lined up in front of your register, you won’t have time to get into in-depth conversations. So consider getting customer feedback during the summer months. The information you get now will help you plan for a more profitable holiday shopping season.
You might even send a direct mail letter to your current customers telling them you are planning for the holidays and would like their suggestions and input. Include a savings coupon to thank them for taking the time to give you feedback. Not only will you get valuable information, but you’ll make a potential new sale as well. Include the savings coupon on any other in-store or on-line survey you do.
It’s quite likely that we’ve all shopped in a store that made such a poor first impression we’re determined not to give them the opportunity to make a second one. However, even if you consider yourself the most critical shopper, you may have a blind spot when it comes to evaluating your own store. Not wanting to make anything but a positive first (and second) impression means stepping back to take a look at your store from a critical shopper’s point of view.
By listening to them, asking their opinion and then ideally, acting on those, you’re telling them they really do matter. Continuous improvement should be part of your strategy for success, and for that you rely on constant input. Your livelihood depends on the customer coming back, and sending others to your store. So start now, this summer, to ask them what matters and you’ll set yourself up for success this coming holiday shopping season.
Bob Epstein is CEO of Silverman Consultants. Offering a legacy in sales strategies for jewelers since 1945, Silverman provides guidance to store owners seeking to turn around a business, sell off unwanted inventory, or liquidate an entire store. With offices located in Charleston, SC; New York City; and Saskatoon, Canada; the company helps jewelry store owners and chains formulate strategies designed to maximize revenue in times of transition, whether due to retirement, store closing, or simply when needing a boost in sales. For more information, visit www.silvermanconsultants.com or call Bob direct at 800-347-1500.