The Shop Local movement has been trying hard to encourage more people to consider shopping local and independent rather than defaulting to the big boxes or ordering online. Clever marketing has helped get us in the shop where we find a carefully-curated selection of products, creative merchandising, and better customer service. Unless it’s a store I visited recently where I was not only completely ignored but when I asked a question, I was barely acknowledged let alone provided the right answer.
Here are three things that drive me nuts but are easy for retailers to fix–if they care about serving their customers.
1. Greet me when I enter your business.
You don’t need to jump on customers as soon as they pass the door threshold but simply acknowledging their presence can go a long way. It breaks down the barrier between customer and proprietor and makes it easier for your customers to reach out to you if they have a question. There have been plenty of times when this simply polite gesture could’ve kept me in a shop rather than making me feel like an intrusion and unwelcomed.
Bonus point: One retailer I used to support regularly would offer me a cup of hot tea or apple cider in a pottery mug (all of which it sold, of course). Sure it takes time to wash that mug and it costs money to offer hot tea to each customer, but it made me feel welcomed and encouraged me to take my time to enjoy my tea and consider gifts I may not have purchased had I not made the time. I never once left that shop without buying something.
2. Don’t gossip in front of me.
I realize a merchant’s shop is their place of work and like in most workspaces, employees gossip. When a customer enters, though, the gossip needs to pause. If I continue to hear employees gossiping, I begin to wonder what they might say about me when I walk out the door. Creating a warm and inviting atmosphere goes a long way with customers who want to shop, not feel like they might be gabbed about later on.
Bonus point: One retailer put out a little bistro table near her cash wrap and would often invite friends to stop in and catch up with her. She also had two chairs nearby with a wrap or throw blanket (merchandise) which she’d move whenever a new customer entered and she’d make it a point to invite the customer to join her if she was with someone else. It was a gesture many appreciated and friendships formed over the years. Eventually, the owner added more chairs, a longer table, and held a book club meeting and other events in that space.
3. Don’t Assume My Price Point.
There are times when I need a small gift and other times I’m seeking for something unique and willing to pay a premium. Rather than guessing my price point is low, ask me if I have a budget in mind because you might be surprised.
Bonus point: Chicago-based REP CHI, an independent gift retailer, has been my go-to for Chicago-specific gifts for years. Among the gifts I buy often is a set of four coasters which she makes herself but doesn’t always have in stock. On a recent visit, she’d mentioned she was making more and if I’d like her to set aside a set. Not only did I buy one, I bought four, even after she told me the price increased by 30 percent. I didn’t care because the coasters are worth it but also because she went through so much trouble to make me feel like a valued customer.
The purpose of any business is to please our customers. Notice that each of the top three things that drive me nuts deal with customer service more than the selection of products and that’s because a transaction is simple. You find what you need at the price you want to pay and you buy it. But if I wanted that kind of experience, why wouldn’t I just go online or a big box store? If a customer is willing to support your business, whether it’s a retail shop or a hair salon or an auto body clinic, make sure you take a moment to honor their time and consideration.