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5 Ways to Dig Deeper in to your Customer's Pockets
By Darryl Rosen

Do you view your customers as "wallets with legs?"

I know we're not supposed to see customers that way, but we've got a real problem here. According to the Deloitte Consumer Spending Index that tracks consumer cash flow as an indicator of future spending, "consumer spending will face additional economic headwinds in 2012."

I've heard better news and if I were still a retailer, this fact would bother me a bit. No, it would bother me a lot! See, costs continue to rise and if you throw higher costs and lower spending in the same pot, the results aren't so tasty.

So retailers have no choice but to try to dig their hands further into their customer's pockets. By that, I'm suggesting that retailers must find additional ways to entice their customers to spend more money. Retailers must be proactive in their efforts to gain a bigger slice of their customer's shopping budgets.

That's the economic reality as we near the midpoint of the first quarter. To help you navigate these waters, here are 5 tips for digging deeper into your customer's pockets.

Be genuinely happy to customers.

This might seem like common sense, but if you've walked into a retail store lately, you know that it's not always the most welcoming feeling. I remember shopping with my wife recently. We were at a boot store in Nashville. As she shopped, I observed the girl behind the counter. Customers walked in - she said nothing. Customers walked out - she said nothing. She stood there staring at her mobile device. She barely looked up.

I was mesmerized by this display of indifference.

According to the International Council of Shopping Centers, the rate of store closings is decreasing (as the fallout from the great recession lessens) but stores are still closing. Retailers must recognize the choices that their customers make. They must see (and teach their employees) that customers, when they walk through your doors, have chosen your store over others. They've chosen your place of business to spend their hard earned cash.

Which leads us to the next point.

Train your people on what's important.

When hiring store associates, in a clothing store as an example, instead of spending training day showing associates how to fold garments and/or ring the register, try the following instead. Share that when a customer walks through the door, he or she has chosen your place of business. Share the reality that your products are no different from what you can find at mass merchandisers. Sure, there are little nuances here and there that serve to separate, but at the end of the day, everything is pretty much the same. Share that a customer walking through the door is a good thing! A positive occurrence! Not someone who prevents you from putting away stock, taking a break to text your boyfriend or girlfriend, or enjoying a little peace and quiet. And when customers come in...

Have some element of the training process revolve around the customer.

Don't act like your prices are too high.

If you're not the low cost provider, make sure your associates are keeping their personal opinions about price to themselves. Here's an example. Deep in the recesses of Terminal 3 at O'Hare International Airport, there's a little newsstand where I occasionally pick up an energy bar or newspaper before my flight. One day, I stopped by to make a purchase before leaving for Seattle. I put two energy bars on the counter, and the cashier held one up and said, "This is $3.50..."

This wasn't the first time this individual had held up my purchase to let me know the price was high.

That's when you know you're spending too much time at the airport.

Make sure your people don't send signals, both verbal and nonverbal, to customers about the price of your products. Especially if your prices are higher than they should be! Don't use language that suggests bad news is coming by saying, "You're not going to like this," "You may want to sit down for this," or similar sentiments. Don't mention the price when your customer doesn't ask the price.

Other bad practices: Looking down while saying the price. Saying the price unclearly - hoping the customer doesn't hear you or judging what might or might not make sense for the customer.

Determine your customer's needs.

There is an illusion that in tight times, customers only buy what they need. That's a dangerous mindset for a retailer because many purchase decisions are made at the point of purchase. Over 50%, according to most research. Determine your customer's needs by asking open-ended questions that can't be answered with a simple yes or no. "How do you intend to use this product?" is a much better question than "Is this for a special occasion?"

Although a customer may come in with a specific need, there might be other hidden needs that they might not be aware of but that we, the experts, might be able to identify during the needs determination step. Our goal is to remember these needs and bring them to the customer's attention once we have satisfied their primary need. For example, if the butcher in a grocery store learns that her customer is having a barbeque, then she can mention the special price the store is having on charcoal that week.

Look for opportunities to recommend a slightly higher priced product.

One of my favorite pastimes is teaching retail wine associates the intricacies of suggestion selling. I always start with the following premise: if a customer wants to spend $10, with the right amount of knowledge and training, any wine associate should be able to sell a $12 bottle. With this thought I usually hear protestations from an ideologue who fears that his or her credibility will go out the window.

But given the prolonged economic slump, ideology like this has been replaced by other words that end in "y," like solvency and liquidity. Managers must communicate this reality so that sales associates can balance their desire to choose the perfect product (and build their credibility) with the company's need for profitability.

Sometimes customers don't know what they don't know, you know? A slightly higher-priced bottle may complete their meal better, or make their occasion just a bit more special. So we teach them, and in the process we earn a few extra dollars.

About the Author:
Darryl Rosen is a leading performance coach for managers and sales professionals, and author of Table for Three? Bringing Your Smart Phone to Lunch and 50 Dumb Mistakes Smart Managers Don't Make! Learn more at

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