One key to creating an excellent retail experience for your customers is to know your customers well enough that you can anticipate their needs and the type of merchandise or services they will gladly purchase. Nothing is worse than bringing in merchandise that you like and watching it sit idly on a shelf. Your customer’s needs and wants may not mirror your own, so it is important to do some research to be sure you are solidly aware of who you are serving.

When you know your customers well, and you offer an exciting variety of merchandise, great customer service, and an inviting store layout and environment, they will enjoy shopping at your store and return again and again. You will become the “go to” place that always has the perfect item or gift they are looking for!

Know Your Audience

We hear a lot about identifying customer demographics, but what does that really mean? It means that you have to know your audience. Who are your customers? Are they mostly young, college-age millennials? Working parents with a minivan and 2.2 children living in the suburbs? Or are they retirees who are still active in their communities?

Sometimes store-owners get tripped up because they can honestly say that ALL of the above shop at their store. And while that may be true, there is a certain demographic or group of people who are your core customers. Instead of trying to identify all your customers, pick the group that is the largest.

If you are in a small college town, your main customer base may be 18-25 year olds, both male and female. Of course everyone from professors to the waitress at the diner may shop with you, but the bulk will probably be the younger crowd, so your merchandise, signage, displays, and technology systems need to be geared towards them.

And if you are in a city with a high retirement population, a helpful barometer is demographic information, usually available from the Chamber of Commerce or city website that identifies the average income per capita. This will tell you whether you need to offer merchandise that appeals to cost-conscious consumers, or if the majority of your customers will be more affluent and happy to find and purchase specialty, more upscale products.

Offer Variety

Providing the right mix of merchandise and services that satisfies the needs of your identified target market is fundamental to your success. Twenty four hours a day your customers can jump on the internet and the entire world of products is at my fingertips. And while no one brick and mortar store can offer that breadth of merchandise, you need to have enough variety to appeal to different personalities.

Some of this will simply come from trial and error, but it helps to focus on a buying strategy that you can then update over time. Will you carry a large number of different products, but have few choices of each? Or will you carry fewer types of products but have many flavors or colors of each one? Only large big-box stores can do both – offer a wide variety and many choices of each.

You can also adapt your buying strategy to different areas of your store. Perhaps on the scarf rack you will only have a few styles, but carry many different colors of each. But in the candle area, you will have a wider variety of styles and sizes, but limit it to a few colors or flavors of each one.

In short order, based on sales, you will find what your customers buy. Sometimes offering too many choices can be confusing and sales will improve when you reduce the number of choices and just concentrate on what you consider to be the best of the best.

Have a Great Retail Environment/Layout

When you shop, are there stores that you really love, that you feel good in? And others that you have a vague sense of being frustrated or confused? No matter how great the merchandise mix being offered, if the “feel” of the store is not intuitively easy to navigate, customers will feel a subtle sense of unrest. And that is not conducive to spending!

Part of the problem may be the layout of the store.  There is a real science behind how a store is designed. When the path or “flow” created by fixture placement is smooth, customers instinctively “know” which way to go. And as long as the store is clean and not overcrowded, they will feel comfortable to wander and take in all that you have to offer.

Be sure that the aisles are clear of clutter and that you straighten and dust regularly. Just the simple act of making sure everything is fresh and orderly a few times a day will increase your sales!

Extra Benefits

Building customer loyalty is a step by step process, but it begins with offering additional perks to your customers that they know they can count on. Especially for a younger crowd, but nowadays for just about everyone, free Wi-Fi is a big plus.

These days a customer loyalty program is almost expected. Hopefully your Point of Sale system comes with CRM features or integration that keeps track of customer purchases, as well as email and other personal data, and has a built in reward program. That way you can easily create a loyalty program that works for your store. And nothing pleases a customer more than hearing “You have just earned your next reward. Would you like to use it on this purchase?” If your POS system does not have this ability, go old-school and have a punch card that lets them earn a reward after spending whatever amount you set.

If you sell your merchandise online as well as in your store, you might consider an in-store kiosk with a laptop (at standing height is best) that only accesses your website. That way customers can log on, easily search your merchandise for in-store purchase, but it also gets them familiar with your site and will encourage them to logon when they are shopping at two am also.

You might consider offering a way for customers to purchase online and pick up their purchase the next day. You can even offer a free gift wrap and have greeting cards by the checkout counter to make their shopping experience a breeze.

Another consideration is a phone app that sends your customers text messages (that they request when they download the app) about sales and upcoming special events.

Keep Your Employees Happy

Everything we have talked about will be a lot of hard work and effort for naught if your employees are not happy.  You can offer the best merchandise mix to meet your customer’s needs, have a great store layout, and give any number of perks, and without employees that are present, attentive and helpful, customers will simply shop elsewhere.

Employees who are unhappy complain a lot, especially to each other, and inevitably customers overhear. And even if they don’t, the air or “feeling” in a store is very differentwhen employees are engaged and happy to be there, versus when they are not. When employees aren’t satisfied, they don’t pay as much attention to the store environment or the customer’s needs. They don’t smile as much and their attitude can be less than thoughtful and courteous. Unhappy employees create an atmosphere that will cause your customers to find somewhere else to spend their money.

It’s important to note that there are steps that can be taken before this becomes an issue. If you hire great employees from the start, they’re more likely to remain great employees throughout. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t be doing everything in your power to retain them. Show your employees you appreciate them by recognizing any of their achievements.  Whatever you need to do to make sure your employees are satisfied with their jobs and truly care about the customer they are serving, do it now.

The Perfect Experience

Creating the perfect retail experience should be top priority for your business. If you pay attention to these five areas, your customers are sure to have a successful retail experience that will reward you on your bottom line.

Kimberly Perkins:
Kim Perkins is a business consultant, author and national speaker specializing in retail, employee relations, and streamlining workplace systems. She owned and managed an award-winning retail store for 23 years, writes for Fit Small Business and retail trade publications, and offers consulting services to small businesses throughout the US.