Monthly Archives: November 2011

Deck the Malls

I saw the first signs on November 1st.  I was at the grocery store, hunting for discounted Halloween candy when I saw the glitter.  And then sparkles.  And a tube of shiny coloured paper.  Disbelief took hold.  There was no way….was it possible…..were the Christmas products on the shelves already?!  I still had a jack o’lantern on my front porch.  I hadn’t even bought my Remembrance Day poppy yet. How was I supposed to get into the holiday spirit?

There used to be a very clear start to the holiday shopping rush.  The day after American Thanksgiving meant the unofficial countdown to Christmas was on.  When the stores opened on Black Friday there would be fancy decorations everywhere the eye could see, and the holiday muzak would start playing through the mall on a 24/7 loop.  Parking lots and stores would get crowded and chaotic, and the line-up to visit Santa would wind around fake reindeer and big red SALE signs.  But the last few years have seen a definite shift in the retail market in regards to when the season starts.  More and more, store owners are trying to speed up the clock and get their customers looking to the end of the year.  Forget Black Friday – several big-name American retailers started their seasonal sales in July!

There is sound logic behind the push towards a longer shopping season.  Consumers have less money to spend, and retailers are fighting each other for every last penny.  Impulse shopping is at an all-time low, and more consumers are focused on budgeting and necessity spending than ever before.  Retailers need to work hard to make shoppers open their wallets.  Malls and big-box retailers are being hit especially hard in recent years, with increases in local and online shopping affecting the amount of people who walk through the mall to work through their Christmas list.  Spreading the Christmas shopping season over several months will allow shoppers to spread their spending out, thus spending more cash in the process.  Stores are then able to spread their costs out over a greater period of time, which allows for more steady revenue over an extended period. It’s just good business sense.

As a retailer, when do you start planning for the Christmas shopping season? Is it possible to push holiday sales too early, or do you need every day possible to get the most bang for your marketing buck?

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I’m there for the service

This may sound funny coming from me, a tech geek that suffers from serious ringxiety and is connected to the Internet 24×7, but I like physical stores better than I like virtual ones.  Of course, I’m not talking about convenience.  Or price.  Buying stuff in my pajamas during a snow day for a few bucks less than I would pay around town is always great.  Obviously.

Savings aside, something gets lost in that transaction.  It is the difference between shopping and purchasing.  I still have an affinity to be treated as a person and not account #189320. When I visit a store, or a restaurant or a veterinarian (ok, not me, my dog) I am actually looking for something beyond the goods or services that I’ve decided to purchase. I want the service.  As in… from a human being; a living, breathing, real, live human being.  Who wants me to be satisfied.

Now competing with online shopping, it shocks me that some retail companies still don’t get that.  How they can’t recognize that I can make my purchase online but that I have decided instead travel to and visit a real place with real human beings in order to receive “service” is baffling.  I recently had a couple of experiences that caught my attention.

One was at a restaurant where I was utterly ignored by the servers. My presence was not acknowledged for almost 20 minutes until someone finally asked if I was ordering from the menu or going for the buffet.  In their defense, I’ve not had much luck finding online buffets.  But I’m sure they’re coming.

Not too long after, I went to a huge book store where the salespeople just didn’t care about the people coming and going.  In and out.  In and out.  In and out.  Not so much as a simple “Can I help you”?

It shouldn’t get to a point, I don’t believe, where the “in-person” retail experience feels like you’re asking for a favour instead of paying for a service.  It was shocking. How do those people stay in business? I, for one, will never go back to those places.

We can now buy pretty much everything over the Internet. From groceries to ATV’s to cell phones. Restaurants are everywhere and “food” is not what I’m looking for when I go to one of them.

When I go anywhere I’m there for the service. If I go to a book store or to a restaurant it’s not because I can’t buy online or can’t cook my own food. It’s because I want to enjoy some good service provided by knowledgeable and friendly people. I want to feel special.

It was Dale Carnegie who said: “Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely.” and boy, the world was not that competitive during his time.

What do you think about internet vs in-store shopping?  How do you entice customers to come to your store?

Separation Ringxiety

I recently had a friend reach out to me through a social media app that I have on my phone.  What gave me a laugh is the manner in which he reached out, along with a recollection of the last time I had seen him; sharing an impromptu golf weekend some two decades ago.

What made this trip in the early 90’s so memorable were the circumstances that lead up to it.  We had both endured a hellish week at the office, and felt absolutely justified in leaving at noon; fully deserving a couple of days of nothing.  And by nothing I mean golf.

Of course, not five minutes after merging onto one of the 70 lanes on the 401 in Toronto (it has since expanded to 300 lanes), my cell phone rang.  It was the office.  I took the call (it was legal back then.).  While I was on my call, my friend’s phone rang.  It didn’t matter.  We were on our way to an incredible golf course just a couple hours away in eastern Ontario.  What’s a phone call?  After only a few minutes, we both laid down the electro-cinder blocks.  Done.  Onward.  To the golf cou…  BRRRINGGGGG….

Phone call.  It was his.  It was a client.  Not a problem.  We’re on our way to play gol…  BRRRRINGGGG….  Okay.  This time it’s mine.  He’s on the phone anyway, so I might as well get it.  Bzzzzzzzz…   Bzzzzzzzz…. As I’m on the phone, my pager goes off.  Not a problem.  I’ll return the call after I finish the one I’m on.  I end my call and start dialing the number that paged me (work) because I want them to know I’m going to go golfi… BRRRRRINGGGG…   It’s John’s phone again.  It’s the office.  They’re asking John if he has seen me.  They just sent a page, hoping to catch me before I was out of town.  It had been well over three minutes since the page came through, and I haven’t returned it yet.  John passes me his phone.  BRRRRRINGGGG…  my phone rings while I have John’s to my ear.

And then it happened.  After my call, John put down the passenger seat window, and out it went.  The most advanced technology (to ever fit in what was then the size of a toaster oven) was now out the window.  My turn.  And I did it.  I disposed of it.  I was free.

It was, without question, the most liberating feeling I had had in years.  Euphoria.  Primal screams followed. We had just killed the beast!  By slaying this dragon, we were disconnected from the outside wor…  Oh… my…  GOD!  I’m disconnected from the world!  What if my wife goes into labour?  No… she wasn’t pregnant, but what if she was?  What if my parents were trying to call?  Sure, they call me at the home number every Sunday at precisely the same time, but what if this one time they were trying to get a hold of me?  What the hell have I done?  And my clients!!!  What if, on this Friday afternoon, I had a client who was desperate to reach me?!!!  Sure, we had a support team that was second to none.  I had an assistant that was more capable than I.  I haven’t had a client call me in a panic in two years… but what if THIS ONE TIME they really needed me?  Oh God!  What have I done?

I was miserable for the remaining two hours of the drive.  I knew I was disappointing the world with my selfish act.  I remember imagining the forty voicemails that I’d have.  I knew at least one person would call the police, and possibly every hospital in the Toronto area, desperate to learn that I was okay.  John’s anxiety wasn’t different from mine.  We had disappointed the world.

We got to our destination.  I checked in as quickly as possible, grabbed my room key, waited in an elevator that moved at a painfully slow speed – evidently aware that I was either without a cell phone or desperately needing to pee.  I lunged myself to the hotel room and dialled in to my voicemail.  I was fully prepared for the turmoil.  I readied myself for the impending doom.  I had done something extraordinarily stupid, and I was about to get called on it.  I should have been available and I wasn’t.

And so, rocking back and forth, taking deep breaths to avoid asphyxiation, phone slipping because of the sweat, I was sent to a state of reality.

“You have…  no new messages”.

The moral of the story?  Nothing changes.  I still check that I have my phone before I dare leave my desk or my house or the office.  I still experience separation ringxiety .  And you still don’t stand a chance of reaching me this Friday afternoon.

Not that you were going to try anyway.

How do YOU deal with separation ringxiety?

“Can I help you?” Language that slams the door on sales

Most of us, at one time or another, have worked in retail.  For me, it was a 7 month stint selling hiking boots and clothing at an outdoors store.

My sales usually started the same way.  A new customer would walk into the store, eyes darting between the overfilled racks of winter coats, to the wall of footwear, and beyond.  I would adorn my most helpful smile and approach them.

“Can I help you find something?”

They would shake their head and reply; “Just looking”…the politer cousin of “Leave me alone”.

I would gracefully back away as they wandered through the merchandise maze, thumbing through accessories and picking shoes off the display wall.  It was then my job to a) look for my opportunity to jump into the sale and b) make sure they didn’t steal anything (my manager was an especially suspicious type).

And on it went; the typical retail experience.  It’s something that I didn’t think about again, until recently when I read the book ‘New Profits in Wireless Retailing’ by consumer electronics guru Edmond Legum.  And Ed really threw me for a loop.  He asserts:

 “Can I help you?” is one of the quickest ways to build a barrier between you and your customer.

He explains,

“Customers have been customers much longer than your typical retail salespeople have been salespeople.  They have rehearsed their lines for years.  They know what to say when a typical salesperson greets them with ‘May I help you?’  The answer is, ‘No, I’m just looking’.”

     – Ed Legum, New Profits in Wireless Retailing (2008)

Shut down.  Game over.  That sale is over before it even begins.

I’m not going to lie, I was taken aback.

And it’s so true.  I dutifully follow this script almost every time I enter a retail store, even when I actually am looking for something specific, or really could use some help.

If we don’t know what our customer is looking for, we can’t sell it to them, and they risk walking out empty handed.  So we cope by stalking their every move, barraging them with information every time they touch something they pass by.  And, the last time I checked, harassment is not a viable sales tactic.

If “Can I help you?” is out, what SHOULD we say?

Legum suggests a personal introduction, followed by a pointed “What brought you into our store today?”

Break the script, and stalk no more.

How do you start sales with your customers?  What techniques have worked well for your business?

Get it in their hands: the power of demonstration

Earlier this year, I took the photography plunge and bought my first DSLR camera.  My experience at my local camera shop got me thinking about the power of demonstration.

Within 2 minutes of entering the store, I found myself back outside in the crisp March air, camera in hand, and sales guy in tow.   Viewfinder to my eye, I tracked a passing car and squeezed the shutter button.  Pulitzer Prize, here I come.

*Click*

A glance at the display window revealed a blurry Ford Taurus.

…is there such a thing as impressionist photography?

“Now,” my sales guy continued, “this wheel adjusts your shutter speed.  The higher the number, the faster it closes.  This will let you capture fast moving targets.  Let’s put it up to 1/2000 and give it a go”.

I, somewhat clumsily, rolled the wheel, and zeroed in on my next victim.

*Click*

I looked at the display and was amazed.  If I didn’t know better, the car could have been stopped at the light, not cruising by us at 60 clicks.  Then I smiled.

Looking back on the experience, I know that the sale was made in that moment, shivering on the front step, and not when I finally plopped down my soon-to-be-weary credit card an hour later.

I learned a valuable sales lesson from that exchange.   “Get it in their hands.”

It could have gone so differently.  I could have walked into the store, been shown an endless variety of models, and been barraged with a list of technical mumbo jumbo that you’d need an advanced engineering degree to understand.  Instead, within minutes, I was taking pictures with MY new camera.

I left the store a satisfied customer, with accessories and extended warranty to boot; it was a good day for my sales guy as well.   Will I be back?  Absolutely.

Do you “get it in their hands” in your store?  What techniques have worked best for your business?  Share your stories!

We have lift off!

Welcome to the official launch of the ‘raise the bars’ blog!

“Who are you, and why should I care?”

We are Master Merchant Systems (MMS).  We are a Retail Management Solutions company headquartered in Nova Scotia, Canada.  With over 20 years of experience, we are regarded as one of the premier RMS/POS providers for the telecommunications industry.

Our core mission is to “Innovate Retail”, and we are constantly developing new products, services and partnerships to further that goal.

 

“Is this blog some kind of elaborate sales pitch?”

Nope.  Our goal is to start a conversation about retail; how to improve your business, motivate staff, address industry specific challenges…it’s all game.  If it affects you and your business, we want to talk about it.

 

“Huh.”

Yup.  There is a lot to look forward to.  We will release a post every Tuesday, so be sure to sign up for new posting notifications.  (Just click the follow button in the “Follow Blog via Email” widget).  We’re also posting daily industry updates on Twitter and Facebook, so be sure to catch us there as well.

 

BONUS:  To kick things off right, a special bonus blog post will be released this Thursday.  Don’t miss it!

 

What topics matter to you? What does your business struggle with?  Leave us a comment!

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