We continue to be told that brick and mortar stores are going the way of the dinosaur, that they will all be gone before long and that Amazon will be the one-stop shop for all purchases that we make. And to look at the number of retail store closings for 2017, there is certainly strong evidence to support that conclusion.

Source: "There's one major thing everyone gets wrong about Amazon and the retail apocalypse," Hayley Peterson, Business Insider, July 22, 2017.

And while it is true that certain retail store formats are struggling, the truth is others are thriving. One example is Ace Hardware. Ace Hardware just came in first place for customer satisfaction and loyalty in Market Force Information’s annual Home Improvement Study. They placed well in the study largely because of their focus on in-store selling. As they say, “Ace is the place with the helpful hardware folks.” It is true that sales floor associates at Ace Hardware are just better at greeting customers, engaging them as to why they came in, assessing that need, making the appropriate recommendation and then asking for the sale. Simple, right?

Well, unfortunately a good number of retail brands don’t execute on this simple set of behaviors as effectively as they could. Some companies feel like asking customers for the sale feels like pestering and they worry about coming across as high pressure so they counsel their retail teams to avoid it. And even those brands that do share a sales process with their store personnel have difficulty sometimes ensuring that the process is followed consistently. As a result, retailers are leaving sales on the floor. Sales that could drive revenue. Sales that could help turn comps positive for a change.

Another large retail brand that works with Market Force absolutely gets it. In our research of their customer experience survey data, we found that those customers who received a product recommendation during their visit were more satisfied with their experience and showed a higher likelihood to recommend the brand after the visit. So we learned that upselling in this retail store drives customer experience and loyalty to the brand. This is counterintuitive to some people, but true nonetheless. This same brand was able to capitalize on this insight by measuring and improving in-store behaviors. After implementing a store-based training initiative, they were able to increase the percentage of times store staff engaged customers on the sales floor by 6% (from 71% to 77%) over the course of one quarter. During those 77% of customer visits where the customers were engaged, they reported 96% of the time a specific recommendation was made. And of those recommendations, the customer reported making that purchase 50% of the time, which translated to $32M in sales for the quarter.

Most retailers absolutely have the opportunity to capitalize on this aspect of in-store selling, including home improvement, home furnishings, wireless retail, fashion apparel and many others.  Collaborating with brands in these segments and recognizing the importance of upsell to customer perception and financial success, Market Force has developed the Suggestive Sell Index - a way of reporting on in-store effectiveness and the corresponding lift to retail sales that it produces. A white paper on the topic can be downloaded here. Brands can optimize their Suggestive Sell Index by following three simple steps:

  • Assess customer’s needs  Each team member that interacts with customers need to ask thoughtful questions about the customer and what they are seeking. Even a simple greeting followed by “what brought you in today?” can uncover critical insight into how best to serve that customer.
  • Make a recommendation  If the team member has been able to strike an authentic, not forced or robotic, conversation with the customer, they should have a general understanding of their need and be in a position to make a recommendation that most closely aligns with their need and helps them make a decision.
  • Ask for the sale  It is important that once the team member has made the recommendation that they follow through. ABC – always be closing. Simply asking, “Can I ring this up for you?” or “Can I put this in your cart for you?” helps move the conversation from an interaction to a transaction.

Brands that can effectively train their staff on these behaviors and then put measurement processes in place to ensure that they are being followed show higher customer satisfaction scores, better brand loyalty and increased financial performance. If you have retail stores or you are thinking about opening them, you would be wise to invest in the team members that you staff them with and ensure that they are following a best practices sales process. It is a truly strategic way to protect your brand, delight customers and drive powerful financial results. I can think of no better focus to have. 

  Download White Paper

Brad Christian is a Managing Director at Market Force and has been with the company for 11 years consulting retail brands on how best to implement customer experience programs that provide insight into strategic investment decision-making that helps them protect their brands, delight their customers and make more money.