The internet is fast pushing business away from small sellers. People seem to be more content to purchase online from the comfort of their own homes than to head to the shops. On the one hand, the internet is great for businesses. It means that your customers can easily find out your shop’s location, opening hours and phone number. They can make inquiries which can be answered quickly and customers can leave reviews of your products. However, the internet also poses a massive threat to businesses. The problem is that huge chains can offer lower prices. That’s how business works. They can buy in mass bulk amounts and consequently receive considerable discounts. They can then offer their goods at lower prices.
The huge chains compete against one another. Lowering prices again and again. The prices that they offer on mass produced items can’t be challenged by small businesses. After all, a local corner shop isn’t going to sell ten thousand packets of Walkers crisps and half a million bars of chocolate on a daily basis. It’s unfeasible, bulk buying isn’t possible on the same scale and thus prices have to remain higher than those offered by monopoly giants. They also don’t have to fork out for store rent, bills, visual merchandising or any of the other things that come hand in hand with a physical store. Often, customers will browse physical stores, see something that they like and then check up for a cheaper deal online. All within a few seconds. Chances are they were able to order the product that you’re offering from Amazon and it will be delivered to their door within a few hours.
So how do you compete?
One thing that online shopping can’t offer is face-to-face service. So this is where your business really needs to excel. Good customer service is down to good staff. So what should you look for in a staff member?
Confidence. Confidence is important in sales and customer service. Your staff need to be confident in approaching customers, answering queries and suggesting alternatives.
Friendliness. People can tell if someone is innately friendly or putting on an act. You need people who are naturally friendly, as they will create a positive atmosphere in the workplace and positive feelings among their coworkers.
Flexibility. Everyone has a life, so don’t push too hard with this one. But you should prioritise staff who have more free time on their hands to pick up extra shifts during busy seasons and cover shifts if a colleague calls in sick.
Patience. Anyone who has worked in a physical store will know that you need the patience of a saint to deal with some customers’ requests and complaints. It’s paramount that your staff never lose their temper with a customer or show hostile feelings.
Proactive. You need proactive staff who show initiative. They can’t be following you around like a lost puppy constantly. Find someone who is comfortable finding tasks for themselves and staying occupied without having to be asked.
Empathy. Seeing through the eyes of the customer is invaluable. You need individuals who can detect how others are feeling and what they might be thinking. Whether that be cheering up customers who have had a tough day or talking with customers who are notably lonely.
How To Find Them
First of all, send out a job advertisement. Advertise in your store window or post a call for staff online through job sites and social media. Have individuals bring their CV's into store. It’s much easier to judge character in person than through reading a cleverly worded CV. Whittle the selection down to 20 potential employees at the most.
Hold a group interview. Some people may prosper in solo interviews but be utterly socially inept when it comes to dealing with others. A group interview will see how these individuals interact with strangers. At the end of the day, this is what you’ll be employing them to do. Set up tasks and activities. Your focus shouldn’t be on the result of the activities themselves. What you should look out for is the individual’s communication and articulation skills. Also watch their demeanour around others.
After this, choose your favourites and have solo interviews. This will be the potential staff member’s opportunity to really sell themselves. Ask them about their previous experience, how they’d cope in certain situations and why they’d like to work for you.
You can have great staff, but without sufficient training, they won’t be much use on your shop floor. It’s absolutely necessary that you train your staff in all areas. Whatever a customer might need, your staff should be able to produce it. Train all staff in first aid. This could prove vital in emergency situations. Health and safety should also be taught. For example, courses on how to properly lift heavy objects, hazard awareness in the workplace and the importance of being clean on the job. Make sure that there is a strict fire protocol. Carry out routine drills to keep your staff at the top of their game.
Beyond basic health, safety and first aid, there are other things that your staff should be trained in before starting on the shop floor. This should include knowing how to deal with more difficult customers. All staff should know how to maintain their temper, when to pass a customer on to the store owner or manager and how to deal with complaints.
The Physical Store Space
If you have a beautiful, well presented store, people are likely to enjoy spending more time browsing and purchasing from you. They’re also likely to return. Customer loyalty is important. So how do you keep them coming back besides good service? Well, when you shop online, you click here and there, hope that what you see is what you’re going to get and check out. That’s that. When you shop in a physical store, you receive an experience. You interact with staff. You get to touch, feel and try out the merchandise. You can request different colours and sizes of products. You know exactly what you’re getting. This is where you’re going to win loyal customers.
Your store sign and window display are the things that get customers from the street and into your store looking at your goods. So how do you make your store more appealing than all of the others in the road? First, focus on your sign. Huge chains have simple signs, as they need to be fairly cheap and easy to reproduce hundreds or thousands of times. Take advantage of the fact that you only need to decorate the front of one store. Invest in it. You will want a sign that stands out from the rest. How do you do this? Look into professional sign writing. Laser light detailed designs can be intricate and complex. They’ll look much more impressive than standard signs that you see plastered all over the place. Also consider lighting. Pretty back-lighting will make your shop stand out at night. Even if it’s closed, an effective sign will make people look twice and they’re more likely to check in the next day or later down the line.
Your window display is equally important. Let’s start with the windows themselves. You can have designs etched into the windows themselves with lasers. This is particularly impressive and unique. If you want a cheaper alternative, you could have an arts student or a professional paint your windows with intricate, pretty designs. Make sure to change your window display regularly to keep it interesting. Showcase your best new products to keep customers streaming in.
Most stores look the same when you enter them. A few mannequins scattered about. A few items hung around. Maybe a few pieces of merchandise displayed on shelves or stands. This is expected because chain stores need to be consistent and uniform and the easiest way to do this is with minimal designs. Make yours complex, extravagant and excessive. Have highly decorated displays. Alternative lighting won’t go amiss. Vintage cashiers and check outs will draw attention and create conversation. Have your staff in a uniform that fits the look and aesthetic of your store.
Offer customers refreshments as they enter the store. Many will decline, but the offer will be appreciated. Also have functioning toilets for customers. This will keep people in store for longer, rather than rushing off because they need to use the toilets or they are hungry and thirsty.
Alternatively, if you have a larger store space, have a small, independent barista hire a corner. They can set up a little work station and a few tables and chairs. Guests can stop by for tea or coffee and cake. Some people will enter your store solely for the purpose of picking up a coffee and might spot something that takes their fancy on their way out. This will build a broader customer base and make your store a hot spot for people who want a nice afternoon out.