Thursday, December 28, 2006

Retail Sales Training - Women, the Softer Side of Retail

It's a well-known fact that women make up to 85% of the buying decisions in most households. However, most retailers have been slow to catch on to this.

An article in USa Today examines the approach Best Buy is starting to incorporate into to their stores to capitalize on sales opportunities. If your store is staffed primarily by men or you sell items typically purchased by men you should read this. Check it out here.

If you want to learn how to improve your results when selling to the opposite sex check out my first book.


Retail Sales Training - Dealing with Refunds

It's the post-Christmas season and more likely than not, your store is dealing with it's share of refunds. Although this is an undesirable aspect of retailing, it comes with the territory. Here are few tips that can make this less stressful and challenging.

1. Be proactive. Instead of ignoring people who are returning an item, take the the initiative and approach your customers with the intent of helping them. This will help you stand out and differentiate yourself from your competition .

2. Listen to them. Many refunds are caused because the customer has no need for the product or item that was given to them. Or, in some cases, it's because they can't figure out how to use it. Listen carefully to your customer's reason because it leads us to the next point.

3. Try for a different sale. Many people are looking for a solution to their probelm, not getting their money back. When you listen to the primary reason behind the refund you can often identify other items that may be of use or value to that customer. Don't be afraid to suggest an alternative solution.

These points are particularly important if your store has a designated area for refunds such as a customer service desk or counter. Far too often, the individual's working this area act like robots instead of human beings, and as a result, lose the personal touch and the opportunity to make an additional sales.


Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Small Mistakes Cost You Big Money

My wife and I are currently looking for a new lighting fixture to hang above our dining room table. We want something relatively contemporary, and so far, have visited approximately 10-15 stores in search of the perfect light.

This quest has uncovered some incredible mistakes that are costing store owners big money in the form of lost sales. Here's an example of some of the situations we have encountered.

1. We walked into one store early in the evening and were greeted with a heavy rock station blasting over the speakers. Although I like rock music, it is definitely NOT appropriate for a retail environment unless you are selling music, extreme sporting goods, or cater directly to a demographic that appreciates this type of music. Based on the selection of product on display, I suspect this lighting store's target market is people between the ages of 35-70 which means their music choice was a significant mistake. I certainly can't picture my mother feeling comfortable making a purchase in this store. In fact, when I mentioned this scenario to her, she immediately said, "I wouldn't shop there!"

2. Another store promised the region's largest selection of lighting fixtures which definitely intriqued us. We dropped by the store, and indeed, they did have a fantastic selection of lights, including several that appealed to our individual tastes. However, very few of the lights were operable which meant we couldn't see what they looked like when lit. Call me silly but when I buy a light I expect to be able to see exactly how it will look when it's turned on.

3. We ventured into another store that had a very good selection of lighting fixtures. We were looking at one in particular and there was a salesperson nearby. She mumbled something to us about the light--I guess to help us--but what she said was incomprehensible and immediately left us to retreat behind the sales counter.

4. Store #4 had a website that appealed to my wife for a variety of reasons and it sounded like this might be the place we find our ideal dining room light. However, the first thing that struck us as we entered the store was the smell of stale cigarette smoke, and as non-smokers, this definitely turned us off. This store had given us the impression on their website that they had an extremely large selection of contemporary fixtures but we didn't see anything that caught out eye. Although there were a few wall hangings and paintings that were attractive we did not want to bring home the smell of stale smoke, so we left. Oh, did I mention that we were greeted by a small dog who barking at us until we left. What a great way to make your customers feel comfortable!

5. We went into another store and noticed several employees standing behind the sales counter, chatting with each other. We looked at lighting fixtures for several minutes (approximately 7-10) but at no time, did any of them make an attempt to assist us. I guess they figured if we needed help that we would ask. Too bad for them.

I could keep going but I think you get the picture. Each of these retailers made some serious blunders that cost them potential sales and profits. What is very unfortunate, is the fact that they probably don't even know it.

Take a good hard look at your business from a customer's perspective and start looking at the mistakes you might be making that are costing you money.


Friday, December 15, 2006

Retail Sales Training - Be Kind to Your Team

I came across this article in the Globe and Mail (A national newspaper in Canada).

Retailers better watch out, because they could find themselves crying if they alienate their staff this holiday season, a survey warns. Santa could find even his most loyal elves walking out of the workroom when he needs them most unless he cuts them some slack in this high-stress time of year, according to the poll of 1,000 hourly retail employees conducted by Harris Interactive for employee management software developer Kronos Systems Inc.

It found that 46 per cent of retail employees said the way they are treated could cause them to quit over the holidays. But the findings speak to the stresses facing employees in the holiday season in all industries, from factories to offices, says Toronto-based Spiros Paleologos, vice-president of operations for Kronos in Canada.

This trend has become more pronounced in the past few years, he says. "Companies need to understand that the drive to create more efficiency, lower expenses and raise shareholder value has not been accompanied by taking the needs of employees into account."

That is especially true for younger workers, who have different priorities than their parents, Mr. Paleologos says. "They rate their personal lives and preferences as at least as important if not more so than their professional priorities." In previous generations, there were always more young people looking for work around the holidays than there were jobs. "An employer could just post a schedule and people were expected to accept what you got. If you turned it down, the employer had no problem filling the slot with someone else."

But there are fewer young people in the work force today and that means companies are competing for workers more than in the past, he says. When retail employees were asked what would cause them to quit their job over the holidays, 32 per cent said they'd bail out if the boss wasn't treating them with respect, 19 per cent said it would be the result of being overworked because there are not enough employees to do the job, and 14 per cent said they'd leave if their request for time off was rejected.

The survey also found that 43 per cent of retail employees said that, if they ask for a day off but are scheduled anyway, it has a negative effect on their job performance. Nearly all of them selected three ways an employer's lack of empathy with their needs would affect them: They are likely to be less motivated at work; they may call in sick; and they may arrive late or leave early.

Employers who ignore these findings could see customer service suffer, Mr. Paleologos says.
The survey also found a troubling number of employees willing to take revenge for alleged slights: 29 per cent said they have witnessed a disgruntled fellow employee stealing from their current or past employer. So what can managers do about it?

Mr. Paleologos says the following tips for keeping employees happy during the holiday crunch will go a long way toward keep them loyal year-round:

- Maintain appropriate staffing levels and mix of skills to reduce the stress that comes with being overworked.
- Identify training needs and provide the right opportunities for staff to develop effectiveness. The investment will benefit employees' careers and improve the operation in the process.
- Ensure you have the right employee at the right place at the right time to supply staff with the resources they need.
- Measure performance and productivity and identify areas that need improvement as well as acknowledging strengths.
- Allow employees to provide input on work preferences and availability, as well as vacation and leave time. This encourages them to plan for time off rather than having to fake an illness to get a needed day away.
- Set up an online system to make it easy for tech-savvy young employees to review their scheduling.
- Provide rewards -- a little thanks goes a long way for employee morale.

"Managers who don't understand their employees' preferences and work with their abilities will end up finding the workshop is empty when the elves are needed the most," Mr. Paleologos suggests. But keeping those employees happy throughout the year, he says, means they will be more prone to go that extra mile when required.

The lesson here is obvious. Take care of your staff and they will take care your business.


Retail Sales Training - Service is Slipping

An article in the Edmonton Journal recently stated that customer service has slipped during this Christmas season. While some customers accept this, I beleive it gives specialty retailers a HUGE opportunity.

Adding one or two people to the sales floor and making sure that you process a customer's sale quickly can help you demonstrate the value of buying from you versus from a department store or big box retailer. This may cost you a few extra dollars but this investment can pay huge dividends later in the year.

Remember, with increased traffic counts, you have the opportunity to impress many more people than normal. And, if you market this properly, it can help you increase your competitive advantage against the retail giants.


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Retail Training Tip - Watch the Heat

I was shopping in a few retail stores this past weekend, and noticed that in most cases, they had the temperature cranked up high.

I realize that your staff need to feel comfortable while they're working but it's important to realize that your revenue comes from your customers. And, if they are uncomfortable in your store, which I was by the way, they will leave and give their money to one of your competitors.

I'm not suggesting that you drop the temperature by 10 degrees but it is critical to recognize that most customers (at least in the northern hemisphere) wear coats because it is cold outside. That extra layer of heavy clothing adds heat to their body and if the temperature in the store is set at high, it becomes unbearable for most people.

Seperate yourself from you competition by making it comfortable for your customer to shop in your store.



Saturday, December 09, 2006

Retail Sales Training - Retail Horror Stories

I was reading an article in the local newspaper today about extremely difficult customers that some home builders have faced and some of the stories blew me away.

For example, one new homeowner complained that her floors were discoloring and after some research, the builder discovered that the owner's cat had been urinating on the floor and the lady had been so slow to clean afterwards that the urine was staining the floor.

In another situation, a man complained about leaks from his kitchen counter, which was being flooded with water. Later, he admitted that he cleaned his countertop by tossing bucket of water on it.

These stories got me thinking. I have heard some pretty wild retail-related stories over the years including one about an ex-military person who complained that the corners on the box that contained his VCR weren't sharp and crisp enough so he demanded a replacement. (The company refunded his money and told him buy another brand.)

I have decided to compile some of the wildest retail stories and I need your help.

If you have a story about a nightmare customer, the person from hell, or horrifying experience, I'd love to hear from you. If I use your story in this compilation, I will state your name, store (or company) as well as your URL. Plus, I will send you a free copy of the book when it is completed--I'm not sure if this will be an e-book or paperback yet. Don't worry about spelling, grammar, or punctuation--that's what editors are for. Send your story to me via email to and please put Horror Story in the subject line. I will also post some of the more entertaining stories on this blog from time-to-time.

I look forward to hearing from you.


Thursday, December 07, 2006

Retail Sales Training - Competing Against the Giants

Specialty retailers are facing more competition from the giants than ever before. I get calls and emails on a regular basis asking for advice on competing against these big-box stores. Unfortunately, there is no easy, one-size-fits-all solution. However, that does not mean that it isn't possible. Here's an example of what one health food retailer did when a giant moved into town.

Living Seed Health Foods, based in Toronto, had been in operation for over 20 years when a major health food chain announced they were opening just one block away. The two owners of Living Seed (a husband and wife team) decided to wait before making any major changes. However, shortly after the giant retailer opened, they found their sales dropping so they knew they had to take action.

At the time most of their business came from food sales and they knew they couldn't compete with their new competition so they gradually changed their product selection. Eventually, their product mix became 80 percent supplements and 10 percent food compared to 60 percent food and 30 percent supplement before the change. They were patient--helping customers learn more about the products they bought even when the products were purchased from the giant down the street. However, they didn't stop there. They gave their store a makeover that included designing a new logo, painting the interior, and introducing new shelving. Over time, customer counts started to climb and business began to return.

The entire process took about four years and there were times the owners felt they weren't going to make it. But persistence paid off and they are happily co-existing with the giant retailer.

It's not easy to compete against the big-box stores and giant retailers but it is possible.

I came across this story in the Sept/Oct issue of Canadian Health Food Retailer. I hope it has been helpful. As always, I welcome your comments.



Retail Sales Training - Are You Unique?

An article in the Nov/Dec issue of Sales & Marketing Management highlighted a small bank who completely changed the appearance of their branches in order to compete with their large competitors. As we all know, most banks have pretty much the samem utilitarian look.

This company (Umqua Bank) has comfortable lounging chairs, Internet access, and areas where people can listen to music. They have also started referring to their branches as stores. And they tend to hire people with a retail background instead of financial expertise. Plus, they sell CD's of local musicans and hold concerts from time-to-time to attract younger clientele.

Their strategy seems to be working. Wwhen they embarked on this strategy, they had 6 locations and $150 million in deposits. Twelve years later they boast 130 stores and over $7 billion in deposits. This is remarkable!

They have managed to accomplish what most retailers dream of. Become completely unique in their niche.

What can you do to create your own uniqueness in your niche?