10 Common Types of Customers in Retail (and How to Sell to Them)

One of the things that makes running a retail store so interesting and fun (most days) is the fact that you can encounter an array of characters at your shop. From easy-going shoppers who make small talk, to customers on a mission who just want to get in and out of the store, retailers deal with various types of people on a daily basis.

And as any good merchant knows, there isn’t one single solution or best practice for converting all kinds of customers. Every customer comes with his or her own set of traits, and retailers have to acknowledge these distinctions and tailor their approaches accordingly.

To help you do this, we’ve compiled a list of the most common types of retail customers that you may encounter, along with tips on how to approach and sell to each one. Check them out below:

1. The well-informed shopper

Many modern shoppers will likely fall into this category. Consumers these days do a ton of research before making purchase decisions. They read product descriptions, compare prices, and check reviews so you can bet that when they walk into your store, they already know a whole lot about what you have to offer.

The key to connecting with these shoppers is to get on their radar while they’re still in their research phase. Don’t wait until they’re standing in front of you to engage them (well-informed shoppers have likely made up their minds at that point, anyway). Instead, increase your store’s visibility on online and mobile channels.

How do you this?

Start by making sure customers can get information about your store, products, and services particularly when they’re browsing the web. An easy way to do this is by getting your inventory on Google Search and Google Maps.

Solutions like Pointy (acquired by Google in 2020) make this simple. Simply connect Pointy to your point of sale solution, and it will automatically display your real-time inventory online, so your customers can easily see what’s in-store. Here’s an example from the pet supplies retailer, Dingo’s:

Vend Tip

Getting started with Pointy is easy and free if you’re a Vend customer. Just connect your Vend account, follow the prompts, and you’re good to go.

Learn More

How to deal with well-informed customers

In-store, the best way to approach well-informed customers is to first acknowledge their expertise and listen to what they have to say. Then, ask questions to see if you can offer up info that they haven’t uncovered in their research.

Another approach is to provide information in a way that makes them feel like they’re getting insider knowledge or access.

It’s also important to focus on value, rather than just features or prices – which they already know. For instance, if you’re selling something that can be found in other stores, highlight the things that only you can offer. Do you have a better a guarantee or have more superior customer support? Let your customers know.

2. The showroomer

Showroomers are those who try on or check out products in person, but decide to purchase them online if they find a better price. You can usually spot them when you see customers using price comparison apps or scanning your products while browsing in-store.

Many large retailers deal with showroomers by matching their competitors’ prices. Best Buy and Walmart for example, have price-matching strategies to get people to purchase their products in-store. Of course, price matching isn’t always feasible, especially for small and medium retailers with tight margins.

How to deal with showroomers

To convert showroomers, you need to shift their focus from price to value. You can, for example, emphasize the fact that customers can take home the product immediately, instead of having to order it online and wait for the product to ship.

Or, you can bring their attention to any in-store offers, loyalty programs, or benefits that only you can offer. The key is to position your merchandise and store as distinct and aspirational. As we’ve said in our post on beating showrooming, you need to “exert more effort in branding and avoid commoditizing your products. What makes you unique? What emotions or thoughts can you evoke in your customers? Identify these things and use them as selling points.”

3. The wanderer (aka: the “Just looking around” customer)

These are shoppers who just wander into your store without any real intention. They typically walk in because something caught their eye or they’re simply killing time.

How to deal with customers who are just looking around

Customers who are “only looking around” should be acknowledged, but generally left alone. Resist the urge to jump in their face. If someone tells you that they’re just browsing, respond positively to make sure they feel welcome and perhaps casually mention that you have some new arrivals or items on sale.

You can say something like “That’s great! Just so you know my name is Jane and if you need anything, I’m more than happy to help” or “I understand, and just a heads up everything on the shelf over this is on sale.”

Other than that though, it’s best to let them be, until they ask for help.

That said, there might be some changes within your store that you can implement to get wanderers to buy. First, you want to make sure that your shop is presentable and is laid out in such a way that it highlights your best and most profitable products.

Another idea? Encourage impulse buys. Let customers who just want to look around do just that, but consider having easy-to-grab items around that can make for good impulse purchases.

4. The customer on a mission

These are customers who already know what they want and intend to just get in and out of your store. They want to get their hands on their purchases ASAP so they can leave and get back to doing other things.

How to deal with shoppers on a mission

The best thing you can do is simply not get in their way. If they have questions, give them straight-up answers and don’t try to upsell.

Make the shopping process simple and convenient for them, so if you spot any barriers (like long checkout lines) eliminate them for the shopper. For instance, if checkout’s taking too long, open another counter or offer to ring them up on the spot with a handy mobile POS system.

5. The confused or indecisive shopper

These are customers who aren’t sure if they want to purchase or they’re unable to decide what exactly to buy. Often, customers who are having trouble deciding either don’t have enough information, or have too much that they’re overwhelmed.

How to deal with confused or indecisive customers

The best approach is to figure out their specific needs and educating them on what they need to know.

Ask questions. What are they looking for? Are they having any trouble understanding aspects or features of your products? What do they know – and don’t know – about your merchandise?

If they’re comparing products, give them the non-salesy lowdown on the items that they’re considering. Provide the pros and cons, and tailor your answers to their needs so they can make an informed decision.

Your main goal should be to help and educate. You don’t want to prod the customer to make a decision that isn’t right for them, so be upfront about what your products can and can’t do. Be honest. Your customer will appreciate it, and they’ll learn to trust you. (And as we all know, that’s so much better in the long run.)

6. The bargain-hunter

The main thing that the purchase decision of bargain shoppers is pricing. They’re after the lowest price, and they’re willing to shop around until they find it. Brand loyalty doesn’t really come into play here.

How to deal with bargain-hunters or frugal shoppers

One thing you can try is to make them *feel* that they’re getting a good deal. Sell them on value or point out why purchasing from you will actually save them money in the long run. Perhaps you have higher quality products, or as we’ve mentioned earlier, maybe you can offer a better guarantee.

If that doesn’t work, then at least see if you can capture the information of the customer so in the event that you do run a sale or promotion, you’ll be able to notify them.

7. The chatty customer

These are customers who love to talk and tell stories, and while you like their enthusiasm, they can sometimes keep you from doing your job or taking care of other shoppers.

How to deal with chatty or talkative customers

If you encounter such individuals, take some time to listen and express a genuine interest in what they’re saying, but know where to draw the line. Once someone becomes overly talkative to the point where they’re holding up the checkout line or they’ve gone way off topic, politely remind them that you need to get back to work.

RetailMinded.com’s Nicole Reyhle shares an excellent tip on how to deal with chatty shoppers. According to her, associates should look customers in the eye, smile, and say something like “I would so love to talk to you more about this – but I see someone else who needs my help too. I will check back in with you, ok? Thanks for being here.”

8. A difficult customer

“Difficult customer” is a broad phrase, but this typically includes shoppers who are rude, condescedning, or combative. Maybe they have a complaint about your products. Perhaps they’re someone who isn’t happy with the service they received. Or, they’re simply having a bad day and are taking it out on you.

Whatever the case, these shoppers can negatively impact the experience of your associates and customers.

How to deal with difficult customers

Handing difficult customers can be… well, difficult, but it’s doable. The first thing is to stay calm and do your best alleviate the situation.

The last thing you want is a public scene (especially in the age of social media), so we recommend that you handle the situation away from other shoppers. If possible, invite the difficult customer to discuss things in your office or at the back of the store.

Depending on the cirumstances, you may need to appease the customer by apologizing and by refunds or store credits. However, if they’re being unreasonable or downright obnoxious, it may make sense to escort them out of the store or call security.

9. Your regular customer

Regular customers are the best types of shoppers to have in your store. They already love you (otherwise they won’t be coming back) so you don’t have to go for the hard sell.

How to treat your regular customers

Make sure they feel valued and remind them why they love shopping in your store. Find out what they love most about your business and demonstrate those qualities time and time again. For example, if you know that a particular customer likes getting one-on-one treatment from your associates, then be sure to give them just that when they’re in your shop

10. The gift-giver

This type of customer is extremely common during the holiday season. Gift-givers are shoppers who are purchasing your products for someone else. The behavior of these customers depends on their relationship with the “giftee”. In some cases, they already have their sights on a specific item. Others may only have a vague idea of what to buy. 

How to deal with gift-givers

The best way to deal with gift-givers is to determine how knowledgeable they are with the gift they’d like to buy. If they already know what they want, then you can simply point them in the right direction. 

If they’re undecided or still shopping around, it may be helpful to dig a little deeper. Ask them about the person they’re shopping for. What’s their relationship with the recipient? What’s their personality? How old are they? Use the answers to these questions to guide the shopper through the store. 

Whatever the case, the key is to make the shopping experience as efficient as possible. This could mean showing them exactly where to find the item they need. Or perhaps you can make the process even easier by preparing gift sets of your most wished-for items. 

For bonus points, offer to gift wrap the item for them. Nordstrom, for example, sets up a gift wrapping station during the holiday season to cater to the many gift-givers who walk through its doors.

Your turn

Hopefully, this post gives you a better idea on how to roll with different types of customers. And if you encountered a shopper type that’s not mentioned above, we’d love to know! Tell us in the comments, and share your best tips on how to approach them.

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+.

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