Not too long ago, customers walked into retail stores without knowing much about their products. They’d browse the merchandise to discover items they liked, relying on store associates for more details and information.
But the retail landscape has changed. Thanks to the internet and smartphones, today’s shoppers are more well-informed than ever. They do tons of research before purchasing, and they often arrive at a store knowing exactly what they want and how much it costs.
Because of this, it’s getting harder for retailers to connect with consumers. So how do you engage and convert shoppers if they can get product details, prices, and alternatives with a few clicks or taps of a button?
Answer: Level up your product knowledge, and give them something (be it information or an experience) that no website or app can.
These five tactics will help you do just that. Check them out below!
1. Dish out little-known product facts and tidbits.
Staff product knowledge is usually limited to what’s in stock or which colors and sizes a particular item comes in. But to really grab customers’ attention, go beyond basic details.
When you’re educating staff on your merchandise, tell the stories behind each product. Who designed it? What’s it made from? What’s unique about its ingredients or materials?
Knowing these things — and sharing them with shoppers — helps you engage with them more effectively. Just ask CONVEY, a successful fashion and lifestyle boutique in Toronto.
“We love to talk about who our designers are — their names, where they’re from, what they like to do, what inspired the collection, why they did one piece this way or why they used a certain fabric,” shares Jennifer, co-owner of CONVEY. “It really builds that trust and creates that experience with our customers where they feel proud to own the pieces they take home.”
Consider doing something similar in your store. If your products have interesting components or backstories, make your associates aware of them, and encourage them to share that information with shoppers.
2. Learn about the customer’s lifestyle.
Go beyond simply asking customers what they’re looking for. Inquire about their lifestyles!
This way, you’ll learn information you can use to provide tailored feedback or tips. And in some cases, learning about a lifestyle opens opportunities for upselling or cross-selling. Just make sure you’re recommending products the shopper needs. You want them to feel good about their purchases — not push them into buying something that isn’t right for them.
If they’re looking for (or at) a particular dress, ask where they plan to wear it. Is it for an event? For work? Depending on the answer, either recommend relevant items (“A pair of black pumps would go so well with this dress!”) or offer advice on how to care for the product (“Air drying will make it last longer.”).
Here’s another tip: Don’t bombard customers with questions to learn more about them. Just be observant, and you’ll pick up on lifestyle details without being too “in your face.”
For instance: at the Apple Store, associates are tasked with identifying business owners so they can mention relevant solutions that Apple provides. A subtle way of doing this is to take note of the credit card a customer uses at checkout.
When associates see that a shopper uses a business credit card, they can take that opportunity to talk about Apple’s offerings for entrepreneurs by saying something like, “Oh, you own a business? Just so you know, we have some small business solutions you might be interested in…”
3. Know how to curate merchandise.
Being able to do research online certainly makes things more challenging for retailers (especially brick-and-mortar stores) — but if you think about it, it also presents opportunities to connect with shoppers and to stand out.
Having too much information can get overwhelming. Often, customers just need someone to show them the best products so they can make an easy decision.
That’s where you come in. Rather than stocking up on more items, strive to curate merchandise and assortments for your customers. As Stephen Mader (VP of Digital Insights at Kantar Retail) puts it: “If you can extend your expertise to shoppers through a curated selection of items, that is very, very powerful.”
“A retailer can say, ‘I’m an expert in fashion, or I’m an expert in eyeglasses (e.g., Warby Parker). I’m not going to give you every single choice out there; instead, I’m going to give you these five choices. And these are the five that I know you need, because you either filled out a form or you checked out a style guide, or because I’m just an expert in this specific category, and I know the trends and what to recommend for you.’”
So get to know your target customers. Be more thoughtful about the products you present to them. A good way to do this is to simply pay attention to their feedback. What would they like to see more of? Do they have special product requests?
Bal Harbour Boutique in the UK pays attention to these details, and it’s worked out well for them. “We keep a book of requested items from our customers. Then, when we’re on a buying trip and see something a customer requested, we buy it especially with them in mind. They feel special, and we have another happy customer,” says owner Dena Stemmer.
4. Wise up on ratings and reviews.
A 2015 study by PowerReviews found that 86% of consumers think ratings and reviews are essential to the shopping experience. And while people usually view them online, retailers can still leverage them in-store.
Pay attention to what consumers are saying about your products, and take note of the best and worst-reviewed ones. This should be easy since most ecommerce sites contain ratings and reviews.
The information you gather will help you assist shoppers as they browse your store. For example, if you see someone checking out a certain item, you could mention similar merchandise that customers reviewed and help them compare products.
If you have ratings and reviews on your website, consider incorporating them in your physical location. Take Amazon Books in Seattle. The retailer has a “Highly Rated” section in-store where it showcases top-rated books alongside real reviews from Amazon users.
5. Know about trends and current events in your industry and community.
Don’t limit your knowledge to product and store information; develop an expertise in your industry by keeping up with the latest trends and happenings.
Let’s say you sell cell phone accessories. You should know when the latest smartphone models come out and be able to discuss all their cool features and functionalities. This will give you excellent customer talking points, and it’ll reinforce your image as an expert.
Yes, people can find that information online — but there’s still a great deal of value in conversing with customers, swapping tips, and relating to them on a personal level.
You should also wise up on what’s happening in your local community. Are there any exciting events in the near future? What are the coolest spots around? Be aware of these things, and bring them up (naturally) in conversations with shoppers. It’s a great way to enrich interactions and to provide people with a unique, memorable experience.
When you do this, customers will see you not just as the person who sells them stuff, but as a trusted advisor (or even a friend) who tells them about the great things they can do in the neighborhood.
Retailers who want to stay competitive should re-think the role of the store associate. Having basic product knowledge won’t cut it when you’re dealing with savvy customers who’ve done their research.
You (or your store associates) need to take on the role of industry expert, advisor, and product curator, among other things, to be able to deliver value to today’s modern shoppers. It’s a lot more work, but the payoffs — i.e. better in-store experiences, increased sales, and loyal customers — are more than worth it.
Speaking of store associates, if you’re looking for ways to engage and motivate your staff, you may want to check out Vend’s Staffing Guide.
This free resource is chock-full of advice and insights that can help you empower your staff and increase your store’s productivity. Specifically, you’ll learn about:
- Hiring and training retail employees
- Using a mix of learning tools to improve staff knowledge
- Inspiring team members to be top performers
Get it free here
About Francesca Nicasio
Francesca Nicasio is Vend's Retail Expert and Content Strategist. She writes about trends, tips, and other cool things that enable retailers to increase sales, serve customers better, and be more awesome overall. She's also the author of Retail Survival of the Fittest, a free eBook to help retailers future-proof their stores. Connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Google+.