The SNEWS View: Is your store one of the best stores to shop for practically anything?

How does your store stack up against the stores 30,000 Consumer Reports readers deemed to be “the best places to shop for practically anything?” SNEWS presents ideas that you can use to ensure your store stands out for the right reasons by looking at what customers did not like during their shopping experiences for the Consumer Reports story.

On June 1, Consumer Reports released the results of a consumer survey on retailers that is published in its July 2010 magazine in an article titled, “America’s top stores: 30,000 readers reveal the best places to shop for practically anything.” 

While it would be a foolish game to think any specialty retailer can or should compete with the winners on this list in terms of price or even selection (Costco, Dillards, Kohl’s, JCPenny, Target, Sam’s Club, Sears, Macy’s, Meijer, Walmart and Kmart -- listed in order of ranking in the survey), there is much to learn from the survey in relation to what consumers said they did NOT like. In summary:

>> Slow checkouts. Twenty-nine percent of shoppers complained about a lack of open checkouts or about lines creating bottlenecks.

>> Shoddy service. Relatively few shoppers sought help, but 24 percent of those who did speak with a clerk said they had a tough time finding one, and 15 percent of those who spoke with a clerk said that the employee wasn’t well informed.

>> Empty shelves, difficult layout (13 percent of shoppers complained about cluttered displays or narrow aisles), hidden price tags and lengthy returns were other complaints that rounded out the list.

Each one of the complaints above is an opportunity for a specialty store to outshine big-box competitors, and, quite likely, earn lasting loyalty and attention from customers who value their time and the way they are treated more than discounts and deep selection. Let’s take just two examples: checkout lines and service.

Lines at a checkout counter happen. But they do not have to be a bottleneck or a source of customer frustration.

1.Customers are a cashier’s most important job. Customers deserve undivided attention. Chatting with co-workers, folding clothes, putting away hangers or filling out forms can wait. Nothing is more important than the customer right in front of you with an item to purchase or a question. And, if you are a manager reading this, do you ever interrupt a cashier to tell them something while they are ringing up a sale or with a customer? Don’t! Unless it is an emergency that just can’t wait another second, ensure your customers feel they are the most important people in the store by not interrupting the employee helping them.

2. Always greet customers at the register with a smile and looking them in the eye. Be sure to greet customers coming in the door (and yes, you can do this while also ringing up a customer in front of you). 

3. If you have a line in front of you, engage everyone in the line if you can by acknowledging them and letting them know you will be with each of them as quickly as possible. If humor is your thing, get them laughing. If not, just be pleasant, efficient and keep them smiling.

4.As a cashier, realize that you are going to be the customer’s last experience in the store. Be sure you thank him or her for shopping at your store. Do all you can to ensure the store experience is memorable for the right reasons -- and not because it took forever for that customer to check out.

Service is where a specialty store should excel. How special is your store in your customers’ eyes? Do you think new customers will find you special? There are ways to ensure your customers -- both the ones you have now and the ones you will earn -- understand you really are the best store to buy practically anything.

1.Look for opportunities to do something personal for each customer. Recently, at dinner in a crowded restaurant with a friend’s two sons (ages 8 and 10), the youngest tried to order an orange soda. It wasn’t on the menu, so he opted for Sprite. When the drinks were delivered, a can of orange soda appeared…despite being busy, the restaurant had sent one of its staff across the street to a mini market to buy the soda because as the waiter said to us, “You three got the drinks you wanted, and he deserved the drink he wanted, too.” There are many ways to do something personal: help a parent (I once entertained a youngster by reading to him while his mum went into a dressing room too small to accommodate them both), repair a broken item, call a competitor to find an item you don’t have, or offer a cold drink on a hot day. The bottom line is ensuring your store does something for your customers that no other store on that day, or in that week, will do for them. Be special.

2. Be sure your staff knows to view every single customer as an opportunity to deliver an extraordinary, special experience in your store. Be it a return, an exchange, a sale or even if they are just looking, every opportunity is an opportunity to make the customer feel special.

--Michael Hodgson



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