When consumers go shopping online and know what they want, it’s pretty easy to find it and purchase it. If they know their way around online, you can price compare and all that jazz to ensure you make a good buying decision. Today when shoppers go to a retail store, they are seeking an experience and goods.
The last three years have provided uncertainty, surprises, shutdowns, and waves of business for many retailers. Retaining good talent and supply chain issues throwing curve balls at every turn. Many retailers have succumbed to this a service level of, “This is the best we can do.” Even highlighting this with signs of short staffing, thank you for your patience, and more. How does that make you feel when you walk into a store? For me, I think, “I hope I don’t need any help in this store”. That’s the message I get from those signs!
The reality is that consumers are not seeing satisfying shopping experiences in many retail settings and retailers are blaming much of it on the pandemic and lack of employees. Does a lack of feet on the floor mean a poor shopping experience is ok to deliver and even imply?
If we go back the basics of good retail, just like you would the basic fundamentals in a sport if your game is suddenly off, you need to get back on track starting with the basics.
Shoppers leave their homes to venture out in hopes of finding what they seek and perhaps spoil themselves if they find the perfect item not on the shopping list. They want a shopping experience and the ability to get pleasant assistance when they need it. The best way to kill that experience plan for them is by providing a poor experience or none at all. Hence dampening their plan.
This past summer my husband and I ventured out to our local towns summer event called Wind Down Wednesdays. Three blocks of streets closed. Vendors, Food Trucks, Entertainment, and picnic tables in the streets. Families, retirees, working folks out on a summer afternoon and evening. The dates are pre-planned and only occurs about three times a summer from 3 pm to 8 pm.
I was curious how the local retailers would respond to this opportunity with families and shoppers filling the streets. Would they pull out all the stops to draw them in to their shops?
As I ventured in and out of some retail shops, I noticed most of them didn’t promote this event. Only a few had retail displays outside of their doors. I had two specific spots I wanted to explore and see how they embraced this opportunity.
In the first retail location, we were greeted by a young associate behind the counter with a pleasant “Hello.” That was the extent of the engagement in this small retail space with two associates working and we were the only customers in the store! Any time I’ve visited this space and been engaged by an associate, I’ve walked out with purchases from this specialty store. Missed opportunity!
In the second retail location, it was my first time visiting. It was a home decor store which is one of my weak spots and a place I like to spoil myself and splurge. As we entered the store, we were intrigued by some displays in the front of the store and started exploring right away. There were three ladies working near the back of the retail space, not one greeted us, but they all looked at us as we entered.
When we ventured off to one side and saw some cool greeting cards, specific to the year you were born, we thought let’s get a bunch of these for our family members. Since the three ladies couldn’t see us from the back of the store it was only then that someone came up and peered down the aisle and said, “Can I help you find something?” in a monotone voice and posture. At that moment, I felt like they didn’t trust us and thought we might be shoplifting. I could be wrong but only when they couldn’t see us is when they first made an effort to engage us with a question which made us feel suspicious.
Just for curiosity’s sake, I attempted to engage all three of the associates during my shopping experience and at the checkout. It was like pulling teeth to get them to engage with me and I felt like my desire to compliment them on their store and merchandising fell on deaf ears or a feeling from them of, “we know.” Why? Because they never appeared interested in conversing with me, the customer. My spouse and I were the only two customers in the store at the time. We both felt uncomfortable.
We spent well over $100 and bought a number of items. I have not returned. I’m not comfortable spending hard-earned money in retail stores that make me feel uncomfortable. I can spare those uncomfortable feelings and shop online. I’ve since spoken to some gal pals of mine, and they’ve encouraged me to give this store another chance. I will likely give them another visit to see if I just picked a bad day for the three working the first time I visited their store.
As someone who has been working with retailers for decades and studying consumer habits, the lost opportunities were upsetting to me even when I tried to get these retailers to provide an experience and engage with me.
Was it only me or wouldn’t it also make sense on these three summer evenings, which are planned months in advance, for the local retailers to consider staying open until 8 pm during the event vs. closing at their normal 4, 5, or 6 pm times? Most continued with the normal shopping hours that eliminated the opportunity for someone working an 8 to 5 job to shop with them.
When I was young, I used to go to an event in the same downtown area called Crazy Days. Retailers would put out displays and items that would draw you in to see more and they made a big deal out of it. If retailers would seize the opportunity to generate new consumers and serve returning customers, at times when the streets are filled with them, doesn’t it seem like a good idea?
Maybe it’s just my basic thinking but it seems like a lot of missed opportunities to me at a time when retailers are trying to figure out an equation that has a lot of new variables. Time to get back to the basics and delight your shoppers and make it easier to shop with you. If you do, you’ll see more of my shopping dollars and more share of the retail spending in your area.