It's always helpful to keep an eye on the big boys to find out what they're doing right or wrong. Spending millions on advertising does not necessarily guarantee success.
I recently came across an article about Staples, the office supply company. In 2001, Staples was hurting and its customers were complaining about the difficulty of finding what they wanted. The company realized that all the advertising in the world was useless unless it paid off in the real world, inside its stores.
Research concluded that the main thing Staples' customers expected was a simple, straightforward and easy shopping experience. They wanted knowledgeable and helpful salespeople and hassle-free shopping. Prices were secondary.
So what did Staples do with this information? The company added larger directional signage and retrained salespeople to walk customers to the products they were seeking. It also removed some 800 superfluous items.
The availability of ink was a major customer concern, so Staples introduced an in-stock guarantee on printer cartridges.
A year after getting the stores up to snuff, the company introduced its "Easy Button" campaign. The ad campaign along with the in-store changes resulted in an 18-percent increase in profits in 2005.
In that same year, the Gap saw same-store sales consistently falling. It appears that Target and Costco were eating into Gap sales, so the company turned its attention to how its stores looked.
New prototype Gap stores have darker wood floors to make the space look warmer and friendlier. Solid wood fixtures have replaced laminate display tables, and fluorescent bulbs have been softened with spotlights. Leather couches and coffee tables strewn with magazines and local papers have been added. Salespeople write the name of the customers they are serving on chalkboards hanging on the outside of dressing room doors. Little touches, big returns.
What can we learn from these stores? The answer is: a lot. Do what Staples did and find out what your customers like and don't like about shopping in your store. Make changes in the areas that garner the most customer complaints.
Find ways to make shopping in your store easier and more inviting. The trend in store design is away from the sterile all-white look to darker and warmer woods and walls for a "Starbucks" feel. It may be time for a store remodel or, at least, a new paint job.
Evaluate your signage. You may think that your store is too small to use directional signage, but think again. Signage will help customers find what they're after more easily.
Train your staff to identify customer needs, to know the store's inventory backward and forward, and to communicate product features and benefits effectively.
Get rid of products that don't make sense and take up valuable space. Do you really need those glow-in-the-dark miniature radios? Instead, keep your core products in an in-stock position.
It's obvious that even the most successful retailers need to periodically re-evaluate their business strategies. Don't wait until your sales decline; take action now to ensure that your profits increase.
Sharon Leicham is the creator of The MerchandisingHUB, the author of "Merchandising Your Way to Success" and "How to Sell to Women" and is a regular columnist for SNEWS® writing on merchandising and marketing topics. You can access all of her columns by going to www.snewsnet.com/merchandising, where you will find tons of information targeted at the needs of the independent specialty retailer. You can email us with questions and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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