Do you have a good handle on how customers perceive your store? You might want to find out, as recent studies have shown that just having satisfied or even loyal customers is not enough these days. As the marketplace becomes more competitive, shopper satisfaction does not necessarily mean an emotional relationship is being established. Retailers now have to develop customer advocates.
According to Christopher Hollins, vice president of the Traditional Retail Strategic Relations Group at American Express, advocates are those customers who champion your brand. They have more clout than the traditional forms of marketing and media. They build their own networks for communicating their preferences. Word of mouth, whether communicated verbally or via email, is considered even more valuable today than in the past. You already know that. But are you utilizing its potential?
Advocates do not simply like your store, they like the fact that your store provides memorable experiences. A paddling trip, a beautiful hike, a camping or climbing weekend are experiences they value, and your role in providing the right equipment, clothing and information creates advocates. In-store experiences are equally important. A friendly, knowledgeable salesperson can make all the difference. The right fit, correct layering, a comfortable shoe all contribute to successful experiences.
So how do you identify advocates? Instead of asking them to fill out mind-numbing questionnaires, ask them how likely it is that they would recommend your store to a friend on a scale of 0 to 10, with 10 being the highest. A rating of 9 or 10 will indicate your advocates. Below that you have maybes and some detractors. If your percentage of 9s and 10s is low, you've got work to do. Studies show that, on average, only one in seven shoppers are active advocates.
Find out what resonates with your customers by asking them outright. Train your staff to ask questions during the sale. Identify the opinion leaders among your customers and consider them potential advocates (they may already be, so much the better). Utilize your website to converse with your customers. Ask for comments; build your email list. Talk to your customers in different ways and by different means. Form a customer advocacy group to deal with issues beyond your store -- the environment, the neighborhood, the city and link to non-profit groups that share your values. By getting involved, you gain and keep customer advocates, and they, in turn, create that all important and very effective word-of-mouth buzz for your store.
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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