Thursday, January 25, 2007

Retail Sales Training - What Does Your Store Appearance Say?

I came across an interesting article written by Britt Beemer, founder of America's Research Group, about the impact your store's appearance.

I am consistently finding that consumers are paying less attention to advertising and more attention to store appearance. Our numbers say that the exterior of a store generates 45% of an entire marketing image. This includes the building's appearance, the signage, the landscaping, and the parking area. Consumers form impressions about the quality and selection of merchandise inside the store based on what they see the outside of the store. Some retailers are aware of this, and the outside appearance of their store is carefully thought out. Circuit City the electronics retailer, for example, put a two-story facade on a one story building, making a 26,000 sq ft. building look like 60,000 sq. ft. They found it very effective, and other retailers have followed suit.

Selection is also critical. Consumers have been shopping less since 9/11.They prefer to go to fewer stores and to go to stores where they know they're going to get a great selection. They don't want to have to look further.

One quarter of a consumer's decision to enter a store comes from the four-color circulars in the news paper. Advertisements like these can help or harm your selection image. You need to show a big assortment of merchandise in your advertisements and displays. Showing the same old stock can turn off customers. They’ll think, “Well, that’s all they’ve got.”

Seventy-three percent of the consumers we’ve surveyed believe that all stores within a particular category look alike. This is caused by the demise of good merchandising. By using computers to track stock and sales, retailers are merchandising their stores into sameness. Consumers want a unique shopping experience, and retailers need to under stand the importance of differentiation. One way to do this is to have “showstoppers" that bring customers into the store. These are items that may not sell well but bring in business. An example is a furniture store that sells leather sofas. These are typically a pretty boring product. The storeowner could advertise or display a yellow, lavender, or red sofa and sell twice as many leather sofas. The dramatic colors catch attention, and shoppers will stop in and check them out. Chances are they’ll still leave the store with a beige, green, or brown sofa, but it was the “showstoppers" that got them in. That's where the return on investment comes in.
In my 25 years of market research, I have learned that you don’t market to sell merchandise, you market to sell the store. I advise my clients to go after the “Wow Factor" to differentiate their store from everyone else's. Chico's apparel specialty store has done the best job of this in the last two years. Their stores stand out from the competition in and out of the malls. Their unique product lines, color choices, and displays have made Chico's the hottest retailer for sales growth.

When customers look around your store, do they get the impression that someone takes pride in the store? Is it clean? Is the merchandise well organized and displayed thoughtfully? Are the clothes on the racks in the correct size category? Not only does this show that staff and owners care, but it makes it easier for customers to find what they need. Shopping should not be work. An orderly store helps customers make buying decisions quickly and easily.

One of the first things customers look at is gaps in merchandise displayed. Retailers don't always appreciate consumer's awareness of this. Regular customers will notice gaps the most, and, ironically, this can cause struggling stores to lose their best customers just when they need them most. If you've got ten some negative press about financial troubles, make sure your shelves are stocked to the hilt. Try to take the customer's perspective. Being privy to some one's financial struggles is a bummer.

This is the single biggest weakness of retailers. When retailers think about adding a category of merchandise, they usually look at what the other stores are doing, and they devote the same amount of store space to a product category. To be successful, a retailer should make an effort to be known for some thing. Nordstroms is a good example. They are committed to their shoe department and they are known for that. Nordstroms' shoe department is two or three times bigger than the other stores' that shows their depth of commitment. Customers know they can find a shoe they like there. I advise my clients to continually strive to be a leader in a particular category, especially one that no one else is doing a good job with. Before you add an additional product category, you better make sure you have a big enough selection to make a commitment to it. The display has to convince consumers that this isn’t just a fringe category for you.

Consumers also make judgments about a store based on signage, display racks, and even light fixtures. These tell your customers whether you're a store of today, yesterday, or tomorrow. Has your building looked the same for 30 years, or does your building's d├ęcor tell your customers that you're moving ahead? Are you using the old style fluorescent light fixtures rather than the newer ones that high light the merchandise? Do your displays and signage fit your customers' sense of style??

A consumer is always trying to decide whether you want them to come back or not, and they'll make that decision based on their entire shopping experience. Was it easy to get in and out of the store? Were they able to find items quickly and easily? Were the sale items that were advertised or displayed actually available? This can go a lot further than just being the cheapest guy in town.


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