The best way to greet customers in your retail store | local business tips | independent shops | customer care | how to build a happy team | creative tips for small business | The Spring Collective

In this post I'm excited to share one simple strategy for how to greet customers in a retail shop. Owners and your teams - you can implement this method today and improve your daily takings. Plus... it won't cost you a dime!


I came up with this idea as a kind of psychological experiment when I was a few months into running my first market stall, and as my business grew into a large independent design store, I came to understand the benefits of employing this strategy go beyond just making customers comfortable (although it does do that). Now I don't have statistics on exactly how well it works compared with other methods of engaging - or not engaging - customers. What I can tell you anecdotally is that by following the method I'm about to explain, my staff and I turned more browsers into buyers, became more effective sales people, and felt happier through those long hours on the retail floor. 


WHY you should never ask browsing customers "can I help you?"

Our goal as shopkeepers is to prime browsers to become customers from the moment they walk into the store. And the research on how buyers brains work tells us a couple of things that can help us do this more effectively:

1. The more positive, safe, and comfortable a person feels in your shop, the more likely they are to buy. 

2. When someone walks into a shop for the first time, it takes them a moment to adjust and get comfortable with their surroundings. If you don't give them that breathing space, you risk triggering a flight or fight response. 

3. If potential customers aren't greeted within the first 15 seconds, or are greeted in a pushy way that puts their back up, their perception of the store and your customer service will likely be negative.

So unless you sell something super specific that requires your staff's assistance, when most people enter a shop (even if they're repeat visitors or followers) they initially just want to take the physical space in. That's why if they're asked "can I help you?" at this point in their acclimitisation process, the automatic reaction most people will have - even those who've come into your shop wanting to buy - is going to be "no."

And that is a word we want to avoid putting on our customers lips at all costs. Once they've said "no" they're primed to feel negatively... And that puts up a barrier between them and you and a potential sale.



How should you greet customers instead?

Within the first 15 seconds, I recommend looking up casually at each customer who enters your shop and asking ,"Are you happy just having a browse?" This puts the potential customer immediately at ease by giving them permission to look around without feeling any pressure to buy. Or, if they really do want something specific, it gives them the opportunity to ask you for that help. 




HOW TO engage customers as they move around A shop

STEP 1: RE-ENGAGE | Now here's the next part: You want to engage the customer again, in an informative, non sales-y way, a little later on (1 - 3 minutes later, depending on your shop's size and how busy it is) as they make their way around the shop. When they pause to examine a particular item more closely, you can (again, casually) pretend to tidy or adjust something near by and just mention conversationally some story about the piece they're looking at.

STEP 2: TELL A STORY | Don't move in too close initially, but don't shout at them from across the store either. Who made it? Where? What's the inspiration behind the design? Why do you love it? What makes it special? Those stories pique a customer's interest by drawing them into a chat. It also allows you to communicate the value of the item by imbuing it with extra meaning, before you've discussed prices, or sales, or anything at all to do with money. 

STEP 3: LAUGH, SHARE, TELL... DON'T SELL | Again, this strategy is about leading interactions with customers in a way that elicits purely positive responses, and precludes their ability, as much as possible, to react to anything negatively. It's about making room through conversation for customers to open up, so you can discover what they really want and help them find it. That's how you'll ultimately sell more to the people your business is made for. Moreover, customers who've been engaged in this way will leave your shop feeling uplifted and energised. Believe me, they'll tell their friends!

STEP 4: ASK TO KEEP IN TOUCH | Before that customer leaves the store, regardless of whether they've bought or not, put that goodwill to work by asking each person to keep in touch. Offer them more information about something they've expressed interest in. Let them know about new products coming soon that you think they'd love, or offer to notify them about an event you're hosting next month that they might like to attend. If you're unable to capture that email address, then let them know they can follow you on social media to stay up to date with all the great things the business has going on. You want to be able to keep your business front of mind for that customer, and market directly to them so they'll come back looking for more. 


The best way to greet customers in your retail store | local business tips | independent shops | customer care | how to build a happy team | creative tips for small business | The Spring Collective

The brilliant side effect of this customer engagement strategy is increased job satisfaction for your team

Here's the wonderful added bonus ... When you and your staff hear "yes", and interest, and laughter more than you hear "no" and feel resistance or revulsion to your approaches, it makes you and your team feel that much more motivated and high spirited through long days, weeks, and months on the shop floor. Believe me when I say that I know retail is a real slog! But creating this kind of positive atmosphere makes the days go by faster. It helps you learn more about your customers, and it really helps with your team's job satisfaction. 

The truth is, retail assistants don't take home a big paycheque, and business owners can't afford to constantly motivate their staff with more money. Research tells us that more money (that is, more money in the absence of other more intangible rewards) isn't a good motivator anyway. So as business owners we must work on creating environments that smart, dependable, innovative workers don't want to quit. To do this we have to provide opportunities for our team members to grow as individuals, to utilise their creative talents, and to feel they're contributing to a greater purpose. Providing this kind of leadership is the only way I ever been able to build a team that cares about the business and their part-time job there, even when tackling the least fun tasks. We want our staff to spend more time laughing, smiling, and engaging, just as we want that for our customers.   




I hope you'll try my method with your customers this week! Think about how you can tweak my script to best suit your business... Then observe the impact of creating more positive client interactions on your team's moral and your shop's bottom line. Let me know how you go!

Just to re-cap... Here's my customer engagement strategy:

  1. Never let your staff ask "can I help you" again.

  2. Within the first 15 seconds of a customer entering your shop, attempt to make eye contact and ask "are you happy just having a browse?"
  3. After a minute or two, casually approach the potential customer with an interesting fact or story about a product you notice them admiring. 
  4. Be conversational, not salesy, and remember that a positive experience is the goal... smiles are the key metric.
  5. Ask the customer when they're primed and in a positive frame of mind and interested to join your email newsletter so they can be the first to hear about new products and events you know they'll be interested. If that's a no, ask them to follow your business on social media so they can stay in touch. 

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