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12 tips to make the sale

Five retail experts offer tactics for dealing more productively with customers and making cash registers ring a merry tune

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By Phillip M Perry
Published: August 14, 2016
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YOU’VE STOCKED YOUR SHELVES. Hired your staff. Placed your ads. Now how can you get the most return from your retail investment?

Improve your selling techniques. Dealing more profitably with customers, attracting more of them and boosting your average ticket have become more important than ever with the growing competition from the Internet and rival stores.

“The ‘80s are over,” says Bob Phibbs, a retail consultant in Coxsackie, N.Y. “No longer can retailers count on customers crowding into retail showrooms. Today there are just too many places to buy too much of the same thing. Fewer bodies are walking in the door, so you have to do better with those that do.”

Ready to start? Here are 12 top sales tactics from five veteran retail experts.

1 Go onto the sales floor.

“Get out from behind the sales counter and engage with customers,” says Phibbs. Meeting and greeting people is the foremost way to illustrate a customer-first philosophy.

Bonus tip: Engage more closely with customers by reducing the size of your sales counters. “The more space between customers and employees,” says Phibbs, “the less likely people will forge strong relationships.”

2 Start a dialog with the customer.
Ditch the standard sales pitch in favor of a productive conversation. “Instead of trying to sell people something you have too much of, express genuine curiosity about why they came into your store,” says Shep Hyken, a St. Louis customer-service consultant. He suggests an opener like this: “Welcome to the ABC Store. Thanks for coming in. What can I help you find today?”

Bonus tip: Introduce yourself by name and ask the customer’s. “There is nothing more valuable to the customer than their name,” says John Tschohl, president of the Service Quality Institute in Minneapolis. “So remember it and greet the customer personally on their next visit.”

3 Stay with the customer.

When customers tell you what item they want, don’t just point the way. Walk them to the location while engaging in conversation.
Tschohl suggests sparking a dialog with a question such as “What will you be us-ing this item for?” or “Is there a special reason you are purchasing this item?” The answer may well lead to a conversation that uncovers additional customer needs. “A great sales person asks questions that uncover problems customers want to solve,” says Tschohl. “Solving those problems will often require additional merchandise and services.”

Bonus tip: Encourage customers to handle the merchandise. “Studies have shown that when a person owns something, it has a higher perceived value,” says Doug Fleener, president of Dynamic Experiences Group, a consultancy in Lexington, Mass. “And if a person physically holds or tries a product, it increases the perception of ownership.”

4 Let employees say ‘yes.’
When customers ask a favor—say, to take advantage of a sale that ended yesterday—too many stores make them cool their heels while the staff seeks management permission. You can do better. “Give your employees the power to say ‘yes,’ ” says Hyken.
Certainly, you need to educate employees about where the line in the sand is so they don’t give away the store. But the requisite time and effort pays dividends, says Hyken. “When customers experience less friction in the shopping process, they return to the store because they know your employees are empowered to make great decisions.”

Bonus tip: Educate your employees on everything about your merchandise. “When a customer asks ‘What’s the difference between x and y?’ your employee should have an answer,” says Tschohl. “A customer can tell within a few seconds whether or not an employee knows the store’s merchandise.”

5 Offer a choice.
“When possible, show the customer two or three products at various price points,” says Fleener. “Not one after another, but side by side.” Reason? “Studies have shown that the typical shopper makes two decisions. The first is ‘Am I going to buy something?’ and the second is ‘What will I buy?’ ”
When you show multiple items, says Fleener, a percentage of customers automatically give themselves permission to make a decision between products rather than whether to buy at all. Also, a customer presented with choices gains confidence that a retailer has the right solution for them.
Bonus tip:
“Don’t offer more than three choices,” cautions Fleener. “That can be overwhelming.”

6 Discuss the best merchandise first.
“When presenting choices, always talk about the best item first,” says Fleener. “This allows you to ‘sell down’ rather than up. And when you are selling down, you almost always get the higher sale.” Why? “Starting with the top of the line communicates respect for the customer,” says Fleener. “It’s the ‘butcher rule’: If you go to a butcher and ask what’s good, he will always start with prime rib, not chicken. And studies show it tends to motivate the customer to purchase that item.”

Bonus tip: “Cross selling,” or suggesting merchandise related to requested items, can boost your average ticket while helping customers save time and avoid return trips. “When you ask the right questions, you are doing customers a service rather than just trying to sell them more stuff,” says Hyken.

7 Arrange your store correctly.
“Make sure there is always something exciting displayed in the area just inside the front door,” says Tom Shay, a St. Petersburg, Fla., consultant. The reason: Your showroom entrance gets more customer traffic than any other location. “Try changing what’s displayed there every two or three days.”

Because most browsers tend to turn right after entering a store, Shay also recommends displaying high-margin items, changed every few days, in that particular part of the showroom.

Are there items which your customers come to your store specifically to buy? Position those in the back of the store, says Shay. “You want people to walk through your store past your other displays to stimulate more sales.”

Bonus tip:
Another smart move is to display popular demand items midway down each aisle. Again, the idea is to pull the public through your entire array of displayed merchandise.

8 Display impulse items at checkout.
Your checkout counter gets lots of customer traffic, and when people pull out their wallets it’s a great time to promote additional impulse sales. Display small-ticket, high-margin items next to your cash register to tempt them.

Bonus tip:
And right beside those impulse items, have a box for business cards and a sign-up sheet to collect names for your store newsletter. It may not take up much space, but quite a lot can happen around your sales counter.

9 Change displays often.
Reposition your departments every few months. “Moving around your store fixtures makes old stuff look new again,” says Phibbs. “That creates energy and stimulates customer interest.”

Bonus tip: Retool your fixtures by altering shelf patterns and breaking up long rows into shorter sections with highlighted displays. “You can’t design a small store like a supermarket with long rows of shelves,” says Shay. “People will say ‘this is starting to look old.’”

10 Improve your adjacencies.
“Display related merchandise in adjacent positions to encourage tie-in sales,” says Hyken. Over time, as new departments and items are added, it’s easy to let this principle slide. But when related merchandise is displayed at distant showroom locations, customers can easily get confused, frustrated and angry. Repeated questions from customers about the location of a certain item can indicate the need for repositioning.

Bonus tip: Mount overhead signs in aisles that help direct your customers to the most popular departments.

11 Help the customer visualize.
Communicate value without talking by posting interpretive signs that explain how merchandise can solve customer problems, suggests Phibbs. This is particularly effective for high-ticket items. “Stimulate more sales by emphasizing the ‘bang’ [the benefit to the customer] rather than the ‘buck’ [the discount],” he says.

Bonus tip:
Mount a TV screen on your wall and show videos and pictures of customers actually using your merchandise, suggests Phibbs.

12 Make your store light and bright.
“Customers respond favorably to freshly painted walls,” says Shay, who suggests trying new, bright colors. “Even if people don’t know exactly what has changed, they will take a new interest in your store.” Shay also suggests adding graphics to your walls. Geometric patterns of circles, triangles and squares can create an attractive backdrop.
Now you should add some highlights! “Mount spotlights to draw customers to your most important displays,” says Phibbs. “Try positioning small desk lights to create tiny areas of discovery.” Strategically placed lights can make your whole store “pop” with excitement. “Visit some specialty lighting stores for ideas on how to use fixtures for the best results,” says Phibbs.

Bonus tip
: You can approach a local artist or art gallery with an offer to display some of their work for a few days, says Shay. “Sending postcards inviting the public to your temporary art show will attract people you never saw before.”

Inspire loyalty
Each of the 12 tips above reflects a common principle: a customer-centric attitude to selling. Initiating great conversations, creating thoughtful displays and brightening the showroom all work together to solve the problems and improve the lives of customers.
“Great sales techniques are not about manipulation but about being helpful and building a relationship that is so good that price becomes less relevant,” says Hyken. “Customers will buy more frequently and spend more money when they trust a re-tailer. It’s not just about the sale; it’s about building long-term relationships that bring more revenues and profits.”

Phillip M. Perry is an award-winning business writer based in New York City. He has written on employment law, finance and marketing for more than 20 years. Email:
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