I'm a buyer - Stop shuffling and sell me something.

I'm a painful customer.  As the owner of a Mystery Shopping company, I have a good idea of what retailers are looking for in staff.

So imagine my horror when I saw 5 staff in a camping store, all busy NOT helping customers.  I was shopping for a foldout camping bed.  My wife had already done the internet research but we had to test the comfort.

There was a staff member in the area we were approaching. As soon as he we entered, he left.  I watched him and he very busily moved around the store stocking and tidying shelves.  Another staff member was doing the same, and three were at the (same) cash register talking and putting stickers on stock.

In the meantime, the 15 customers in store were left unattended.

I may have bought that bed with some help, but the lack of attention gave them no chance.  Everyone was busy but the sale was lost.  I am a buyer looking for a seller.

I see this in my Mystery Shopping company all the time.  It's just more real when you see it for yourself.  And now the sad news.  They are a company who told me the don't need Mystery Shopping.  Really?

This behaviour can be fixed.  But first, quantify the problem.

Signed ***Frustrated***

We don't all like black jellybeans so don't ask stupid sales questions

Is there a particular colour jellybean you don't like.  I don't like green. So why is it that when I'm offerred a product I'm forced to eat the whole lot?

I see a lot of customer service and sales questionnaires in my Mystery Shopping company.

The tempatation for clients is to ask as many questions as possible. But sometimes those questions make no sense and can send you down the wrong, and very expensive path.

For example.  I recently saw a mobile phone questionnaire which asked if the Mystery Shopper was told about the email features, the internet browsing, and other features such as the talk-to text-feature.

The idea is that is these things should be mentioned in the sale, then it's a bad thing if not mentioned. The sales person is then trained (corrected) to ensure they mention all the features.

However, a good sales person does not have to mention all the features of a product to make a sale, especially if they have first evaluated the customer's needs.

Here are two examples where the questions are irrelevant.

  1. The customer walks in and says - I don't use internet or email on the phone, or
  2. The sales person sees the customer is uneasy, and simply shows them the phone they are using (as happenned with my wife).

Expecting a sales person to extol the virtues of every feature of a product is boring for the customer and does not connect. It also assumes the customer understands or cares about those features.

So in this situation, a good sales person will be chastised and forced to sell in a sub-optimal way because of a poorly designed sales process and therefore poor mystery shopping questionniare.

The fix: 

  1. Don't be so dogmatic with your staff, and
  2. Make sure they talk about Benefit, and then the Features which provide those benefits.

Oh and the same applies to car sales, whitegoods, TV's, PC's and Banking. Be aware wherever there is a list of product features.

Don't tell me there are green jellybeans in the packet, it won't help the sale.

See also:  Features and Benefits are not the same as Benefits and Features

All is not as it seems - beware fake customers

You see the perfect couple at a party

You see a powerful executive walking down the street.

You see a skilled tradesman working on a job.

And what happens?  There is admiration.  Well earned admiration.... but

In customer service and sales we get put off by these traits and we make the wrong assumptions.

The married couple might be putting on a show, the executive might be one step away from being fired, and the skilled tradesman might be completely unhappy with his job.

All is not as it seems, so in customer service and sales, don't judge your customers.

Don't assume they know what they want.

Don't assume they are above you.

Don't assume they are below you.

Just let the situation develop, and get to know them.  Look through the show.

Make a boring product interesting

Is there anything more boring than a washing machine?

They are all the same, the pricing is similar, and the stores seem to be closely clustered together.

B o r i n g

So now it's time to buy one. Here's what will likely happen when you walk in a store.

You might get approached by someone who will walk you through the features, and then you'll ask the best price.

They'll reduce the price by a couple bucks and say if you get a better offer elsewhere to come back.  A pleasant goodbye and your off to the next interaction which is exactly the same.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

As soon as a you say you will price match, you admit you have not given your best price.  As soon as you say goodbye, chances are, your sale waves goodbye too.

Oh, and then there's the internet. We'll deal with that last.

Here are three things you can do.

1) Sell the benefits before the features - it will esptablish you as the expert and build rapport.

2) Ask the customer what's stopping them buying right now.  

Address that head on. The most probable answer is "Oh we're just shopping around" which is code for "I'm looking for the best price"

So help the customer buy.  Ask them if they are simply looking for the best price.  .The last similar price they see they will buy.  That's the danger.  There is no walking back to your store unless you are exceptional.

3) Tackle price head on.  

Go to the web and look up the same product online for them.  If you're prices are reasonable you will save the customer walking around, you win.  

You will also be comparing your price to an undiscounted price so there is more chance of winning the sale.  Offer a coffee or the kids a sweet and sit down for 5 minutes.

Just three steps and you become the helpful person who made it easy.  The customer probably won't walk away for a few bucks.  

If that doesn't work then never never never let the customer leave without getting their details.

Some customers just want to research online at home, maybe read some reviews.  If you can't do it in store, then they'll do it at home.  So call the customer and see if they found out anyting new.  If they have any further questions.  

Why do this?  Because no one else will.  You win!

How to compete with the Internet

We've all heard the doom and gloom stories about the Internet killing retail stores.
We heard similar cries that it would destroy the movie industry.
We also heard the Internet would kill retail bank branches.

Just as those last two predictions are wrong, so is the first.

Retail shops 'can' survive with the internet.

Shoppers don't want to window shop anymore, they want to buy as efficiently as possible.

I recently had to buy some work shoes, so I went during lunchtime while ordering my Sushi. I walked in the store, surveyed the displays, found a pair I liked, got asked for assistance, tried some different sizes, chatted with the assistant and bought a pair. The whole process took 10 minutes. Over the Internet I couldn't get close to that level of service and experimentation although I might get a slightly cheaper price.

Humans are tactile creatures who also crave social interaction. This is not always the case, but mostly the case.

So why are store retailers missing the mark?

They need to do a lot of things:

  1. Be clear about the role of the store. Is it a showcase, or a place to buy? Is it a destination shop or a practical shop?
  2. Be clear about the type of shopper you expect. Build an avatar of some typical customers. What do the typical customers look like? Male. Female? With kids? In their lunch break? Rich or poor? How do they shop? How would they like to be served?
  3. Build up on the staff knowledge. Knowledge and engagement are powerful sales weapons.
  4. Give staff the latitude and confidence to talk to customers using their knowledge.
  5. Suggest a product.
  6. Close the sale.
  7. Make it easy.


Engagement is not enough, nor is a discount, nor is a fancy display. Just make it easy. Although the 'easy' is difficult to implement, it's the rewards are large.