Not too long ago, The Mann Group was asked to analyze a retail store’s apparel sales method. In order to acquire objective, usable data, we needed to figure out a way to be a fly on the wall, so to speak. Since we are pretty clever people, we came up with an ingenious idea—we’d dress up as staffers and pretend to be cleaning floor racks, all while ear-hustling actual employees’interactions with potential customers. After donning a store shirt, pinning on an official name tag, and grabbing a bottle of Windex and some paper towels, we went to work. But our plan never amounted to anything. In fact, it was an utter failure.
Customers couldn’t stop barraging us with questions and requests for help. Saying things like, “I know you’re busy, but would you mind helping me with the socks?” Or, “I don’t mean to trouble you while you are cleaning and all, but I’d love your opinion on some mountain bikes when you have a second.” We found ourselves serving customers’ needs instead of helping our client sell apparel. It didn’t take long to ascertain why. Fact is, customers saw us working, which in their minds meant we were available. So they bypassed the employee behind the counter who was checking her cell phone, marched right past two staffer dudes who were chatting about the weekend schedule, and approached us because we were working. Their perception was their reality. And in their minds, we were ready for them.
Specialty retail is scientific. It often embodies Newton’s Third Law of Motion which states, “for every action there’s an equal reaction.”Movement within your store cannot help but create more movement. I encourage you to experiment with this on a slow day. Get everyone to buzz around the store for a while to stir up the energy a bit. Passers by will do a double-take and possibly come in just to see what all the action is about. Next thing you know, you’re register is singing your favorite song. It’s sort of like walking past a busy restaurant. You can’t help but wonder if you should go in because you don’t want to miss out on something good. And hey, even if that spray bottle or trash bag or armful of hangers is merely a prop to make it look like you’re bustling around, it tells the customer that you are an intentionally productive person. The sort of person who is probably more willing to help them find what they need, and not a staffer who’s far too comfortable doing a whole lot of nothing.
Now don’t misunderstand me here. This doesn’t mean you have the luxury of cleaning the store while waiting for customers to approach. No way. You need to stay busy while looking up. Keeping close tabs on customers as they meander about the store will give you the perfect opportunity to greet them, read their body language, and offer your assistance when they finally land somewhere. Plus, your presence will be far less threatening than that dreadful salesperson who follows customers around, constantly getting in their space and trying too eagerly, or too aggressively, to make a sale. If you and your staff stay busy while paying attention to all that’s happening in the store, you are more likely to harvest genuine relationships with your customers. And that’s what will keep them coming back to see you, eschewing the coldness of the internet for the good feeling they can’t help getting in your store.