Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Shopping Experience, Part 2

Continuing with our mind of the shopper shopping experience, the prospect now enters the store. What will they see when they first enter? How do you think they might feel when they first enter? What thoughts might you think could run through their mind? Will they like the atmosphere? Will they feel comfortable? Will the products be attractively displayed? Will they feel as if they could find things? Is there pleasant music playing? Do the employees have a smile?

I think most customers like to feel comfortable when they come in then they would like to browse a bit (as little as 30 seconds and maybe a few minutes). They are experiencing the store. Let them browse for a short time, but watch them gently and you will know when it is time to approach them and talk with them.

Many will say, "can I help you find something? or, Are you looking for something?" I recommend starting with a thank you instead. "Thank you for coming in to ________ today! Do you have any questions?" or, "We appreciate your visit today, are you looking for something in particular?" This would apply to first time customers and equally well to repeat customers.

The first few minutes will in large part set the stage for how the customer feels about your store. In the first few seconds they are making decisions and are much more observant than you might think.

Since I can't tell you what others feel, let me give you some examples of how I feel going into some common stores. I do a lot of grocery shopping and my favorite grocery store is Raley's. There are three of them, each about 2 miles from my house in different directions. I go to the one in Suisun City the most and I feel very comfortable there. I pretty much know where things are and that adds to the comfort. I've come to know many of the checkers for a number of years and that helps me feel comfortable. The music is pleasant and not too loud and overall it is a good experience. I rarely go to the Raley's on Travis Blvd., because I don't feel comfortable in there. It is the same store, but not the same store. It feels foreign. I go there once in a while because I am over there. The last one is the newest and is on North Texas Street. That one has been recently remodeled and I have to say that they did an awesome job. I do love going into this one, if for no other reason than to browse their fresh fruit and vegetable section. It is the best. They have new 24x24 ceramic tile floors and it is just a great store.

So, then I go into Safeway. They are okay. I have a Safeway Club Card, but I don't go there much. I don't feel comfortable there. The isles are stacked higher and it feels like the isles are narrower and the carts are larger and it is just not pleasant. The music is louder and not as pleasant. They have great deals sometimes, but I would rather pay more and feel comfortable. I have felt that way in every Safeway store I have been in. It is a good store, but not a good one for me.

I like office stores. There is an Office Max here in Fairfield that I have shopped at since it opened. They are the only game in town. It is an okay experience much of the time, and other times it is a horrible experience, but as I said, they are the only game in town. I could have gone 8 miles up the road and visited the Staples store, and I have been in there when I was in Vacaville, but the entrance to the store always looks filthy to me and I don't feel comfortable in the store. I have only been in there probably about 2 or 3 times and have no desire to go there ever again. But, here's how different the same brand stores can be: Staples just opened a store in Fairfield (you have to ask why? But we'll not right now) and they sent out a tube mailer with a gift card for free $25 purchase from their store. Well, that's just like someone handing you $25, so I always have need of office supplies, etc., so I go in there and I am pleasantly surprised. This store is nice and it feels comfortable. They even have carpet on the floor! I feel comfortable enough that I want to browse around and just look at things. What a different experience.

Now, if this Staples store maintains that image and good employees that have a good attitude, I have no doubt at all that the Office Max store will close. The Office Max store is hanging by a thread as far as I'm concerned. When they first opened, they were great, but they have steadily gone downhill in service and product since. The Copy Max section of the store is the worst experience I think I have ever had. There is no way that the Copy Max section could survive a week on their own. Very poorly run. Total mismanagement because the Office Max could be a better store than Staples in my opinion and the Copy Max could do huge volume. I anticipate them closing and that is a sad feeling. They have killed themselves.

Based on what I have said, how long do you think it will be before I do not ever go into the Office Max anymore and go to Staples instead? How are people feeling about walking into your store for the first time? Are they coming back? You have repeat customers, so how do you think they feel? Are they coming in because you're the only game in town?

After you think about all of this relative to your store, you might think of an informal survey with your customers. You could do that on paper, or online. Some stores do this regularly and offer a trinket free for doing the survey. It is important, so find out how people feel about your store. What is their shopping experience with you and your store?

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