Retail conversion is difficult — and in an age where the internet relentlessly beats retail stores into customer-less pulps (that’s over two THOUSAND retail stores closed this year — yikes!), the modern retailer cannot afford to take chances when it comes to optimizing that ever-so-important first-time sale.
The reason is simple: First impressions matter.
Just like on your website, if you’re not able to convert a customer the first time they walk into your store, you might never see them again.
The truth is, the modern customer has more options than ever before, most of which exist on the World Wide Web. Ironically, many modern retail stores have found that their biggest competitors are often themselves — the digital versions, that is.
Today’s retailer can no longer sit by smugly, knowing that the customer has no choice but to come back one day if they don’t find what they need. Neither can they count on the limited options in the area to drive someone back in — Amazon put an end to that long ago.
So, what’s a modern retailer to do?
Retail Conversion Isn’t What It Was 20 Years Ago, or Even Ten
First, you need to throw out some of your old notions of how retail works (but not all).
Second, you need to stop worrying so much about crazy tricks and secret hacks and focus instead on the two basics — your brand, and your customer.
Your first impression will inevitably fall on its face unless you’ve spent a great deal of time getting your branding right, learning your customer, and creating an experience that is uniquely you while still appealing to a certain type of consumer.
If all the pieces are in place, your first impression is bound to succeed.
The truth is, every business is different, every consumer is different, and what’s going to work on one audience isn’t going to work for snuff on another.
For instance, the soothing music that Victoria’s Secret plays in its stores to encourage conversation probably wouldn’t work so well in a Lowe’s…
The smell of baked goods in a Walmart makes sense, but it might confuse and disorient in a Gamestop customer…
You get the point. There are a lot of “secrets” out there for this kind of thing. When employed by retailers who don’t know what they’re doing, they end up with off-put customers.
And here’s the worst part — you’re probably never going to find out why those customers left and never came back.
But I can guarantee it has something to do with your branding or how you targeted your store toward your audience.
Your First Impression Might Be Your ONLY Impression
Those customers who disappeared into the mist? They’ll leave you with precisely zero insight into what actually happened to drive them away.
They’re not going to answer a survey.
They’re not going to pick up if you call.
You won’t even have their email.
They’ll enter and leave like ships in the night, and half the time, depending on how busy you are, you might not even see these people.
Your sales numbers will just look slumpish, and these ghosts will end up purchasing something else from someone else, probably online.
So you have to do the best you can to catch them the day they walk into the store — get a purchase, get an email, get a coupon in a hand, a promise to come back, an offer of a discount if they return, something that gets them to buy in, to feel like they need to become more than a one-time customer.
But beyond these efforts, you need to make sure they are wowed from the second they walk in. If you know your audience, if you’ve spent the necessary time making your brand something special and awesome, something that resonates deeply with the type of people you want to sell to, you won’t have to work very hard to get them to buy in.
This has long-term repercussions for your business. If you put in the time and effort to optimize the in-store experience for both existing and potential customers, your business can grow, your sales numbers can justify the existence of a brick-and-mortar location, and you can keep on keepin’ on.
But if not, you might be relegated to figuring out ecommerce in a big way and hoping to heckfire that someone visits.
Let’s jump into the secrets.
Secret #1 — Know Your Audience
Rather than give you a bunch of super-crazy psychological tricks to manipulate your customer’s minds (like filling your store with the smell of nursing mothers… seriously, WTF psychologists!), I’m going to give you some basic principles that are broadly applicable, that will work no matter what business you’re in or who your customer is.
The first one is something they teach every new marketer, every bright-eyed and rosy-cheeked copywriter who wafts into the mad world of marketing…
Know. Your. Audience.
Now, this is not even close to as simple as one might be inclined to think — in fact, your audience doesn’t even know themselves very well (let alone what they want).
But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.
As with most things in life, the things worth doing are going to be tough.
But think back to the Victoria’s Secret example, or the smell of baked bread in Walmart — where do you think those ideas came from?
It came from people getting to know their customers, thinking about what they needed and wanted, and using that information to better entice the customer into a sale.
Now I don’t want you to go flooding your store with the smooth, dulcet tones of Betty White’s voice, but keep this in mind — knowing your customer can help you decide on a number of changes that can increase your retail conversion numbers.
For instance, your customers might crave comfort and luxury in their in-store experience. They may want a place to relax, to browse, to feel safe and surrounded by beauty. If you know your customers, you can provide this.
On the other hand, they may be in a hurry, they may want to be in and out, they may want their shopping experience to be as short and as efficient as possible — if you know all this, you can provide it.
But this applies to far more than the layout, soundscape, and smellscape (is that a thing?) of your store — it applies to the products you do and do not stock, the uniforms of your employees, the types of employees you employ, the manner in which you push your brand, the promotions you offer.
All of it depends on who you’re selling to.
When I walk into Best Buy or Gamestop, I have an experience in mind. When I go to Lowe’s or Home Depot, I have a different experience in mind. When I walk into Apple, I have a third experience in mind.
They’re all different, they all appeal to me in a different way, and importantly, they all take into account that I shop differently in each store.
Even Apple’s retail experience is decidedly unique, which brings me to my next secret…
Secret #2 — Be Yourself
Big brands that make big bucks do so because they’re so heavily themselves. They target a specific customer (yes, even the big box brands), they’re smart about the store layout, setup, aesthetic, and what they stock to keep these people happy…
But they also stay true to themselves.
They do that unique thing that makes them who they are, makes their brand stand out, makes people flock to them.
Walmart wasn’t built in a day — they worked extremely hard to stay true to a single core value: Keeping prices low.
That meant something. It still means something. It drew in a particular type of customer and ingratiated Walmart to those customers for eternity.
By starting with that ever-important core of loyal customers, they were able to expand far beyond where they started, to begin to have a mainstream appeal.
But that’s only because they got big — they never would have gotten big with a brand that tried to be everything to everyone.
The same can be said for any awesome brand you can think of: Apple is another great example.
Their retail experience is unique, it’s geared towards a certain type of customer, but even within that type, it’s geared still more narrowly — and even with all that in mind, it’s still very much uniquely Apple.
There are tons of wannabe Apples, stores who want to be tech forward and high end, who want to appeal to the techno geek and the rich family and the bleeding edge entrepreneur all at once, but none of them quite pull it off the way Apple does.
Because, at the core of it, Apple is being itself. It’s staying so true to its brand, to what it likes, to the aesthetic that they’ve worked so hard to create, that customers are naturally drawn to them.
Steve Jobs famously said, “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” If he had asked people what their store should look like, what the retail experience should feel like, he’d get a hundred different responses, none of which would be what the Apple retail experience is today.
By staying true to the brand and doing something that they liked, they naturally drew in customers who vibe with them, who resonate with what Apple is doing — is it any surprise that Apple goes on to inspire undying loyalty in their customers, despite a lower quality sometimes of their products compared to many competitors?
That’s branding folks.
Stay true to yourself, to the brand you’ve built, and you’ll draw in the right people.
And the ones who aren’t attracted? Let them go — you’re probably not going to impress them anyway.
Do your best to snag whoever walks in the door, give it your all on that first impression, and then let nature take its course.
What’s the saying? If you love something, let it go, man!
Knowing Who You Are and Who You Sell to — EVERYTHING Else Flows From That
As I wrote in this article, it became increasingly clear that the above are all you need to know.
If you get to know your customers and are true to your brand, everything else follows naturally.
If you care about your customers, you’re going to provide excellent customer service.
If you’re true to your brand, you’re going to hire the best people, employees who will represent you the way you should be represented in the store.
Retail conversion isn’t a magic equation to be solved. It isn’t a process of tying customers to a chair and asking them which smell makes them most likely to purchase a Nissan.
It’s a simple process of being human, acting human, and putting in the time and effort necessary to do things the right way.
Anyone can do it — the courage to be yourself, the discipline to put in the time to learn your audience, the fortitude to see it through, these are the traits necessary to win at retail conversion.
It’s not magic — it’s you.
Good luck out there, marketer.