Shopping Can Be Fun

August 22, 2013 1:22 am Last Updated: April 24, 2016 6:41 am

Shopping for groceries is a drag for most people, especially those with young children. But it’s not that way everywhere. 

When my wife and I were shopping for eggs, I noticed her checking each one for cracks. I told her about a retailer I met who observed his customers doing this and realized he could buy eggs cheaper in larger lots if customers packed their own cartons. 

He created a new display and erected a Disney-like animatronic chicken that laid plastic eggs in a continuous stream down a wire track. The children loved it, and their parents gladly packed their own eggs, a huge saving that he passed on with lower prices. 

I have never seen another retailer copy this brilliant move, yet it would make their customers’ shopping experience so much more fun. He got the idea from simply observing his customers’ behaviour.

Simple Question, Simple Fix

I conduct a type of focus meeting for many of our clients where we ask a small group of customers questions such as “Why do you choose to shop here?” and “What do you like, dislike, or find irritating about shopping in general?” 

We tell them that the staff in the room will not comment on their feedback but will just listen. This is especially tough for managers and owners. We threaten to put duct tape over their mouths if listeners say anything during the meeting. Of course we are only kidding, but it makes the point and customers love it. 

We also promise to send feedback to the customers and give them a fruit basket for their trouble. 

After the customers leave, we debrief with the executives and staff. Some of their best ideas occur to them after they have listened to their customers’ likes and dislikes. No one-way glass or anonymity—just listening and taking notes. 

In one focus meeting, to the horror of one owner, one of his customers said, “I don’t buy my meat here.” I asked her why not and she said, “There is so much here, it can’t possibly be fresh.” 

Actually, all the meat on display was sold in less than two days, often sooner, but she didn’t know that. Rather than denying what she said or justifying anything, we simply thanked her for her candour. 

Communicating the reality of the meat counter sales with effective signage was a simple fix, but without us asking that question, the store owner may never have known the truth—and it took less than an hour.

An Excellent Shopping Experience

My wife and I strolled into our local La-Z-Boy store one weekend. A salesperson walked over to my wife as she was sitting in a chair fumbling with its controls. 

The salesperson introduced himself and asked, “You must have a good reason for choosing that particular chair?” “Yes,” she answered. “It’s soft and cushy. I like that, but is there a reason the controls are so hard to use?” 

“Yes,” he said. “That’s called a big man’s chair for men over 200 pounds and you don’t look anywhere near that weight.” 

He took her over to another chair, showed her how to work the controls, and proceeded to sell her on the fabric. We bought the chair for over $60 less than the first one she sat in, and it became her favourite chair. 

Would another salesperson have sold her the first chair? We’ll never know, but that salesperson was one of the best I have ever met.

This is not rocket science, but unfortunately for customers, effective retail selling is still uncommon. Let’s challenge our retailers to bring relevant, innovative ideas back to our stores. They can do it, and when they do, shopping will be fun again.

Dave Mather is a Performance Improvement Specialist at Dale Carnegie Business Group in Toronto. 

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