Retail is therapy.
People shop for the stress release, for the emotional boost, for the connection with and validation of salespeople.
So why do we spend so much time training staff on product, when our focus should be on people?
Every form of shopping is an emotional act. In some ways it’s a necessity—you have to buy food to survive—but every shopper makes an intentional decision, largely based on their emotions, of which store to shop at. The same concept applies to every form of retail: They choose the store that will meet their literal needs, but also the store that meets their experiential and emotional wants.
Take that prioritization of emotion and multiply it, and you have a shopper’s experience in specialty retail. Specialty retail is often tied into a sport or hobby that’s a passion for the buyer or is connected to a larger vision or goal. Not to mention, many of the products are pricey, meaning the decision to purchase isn’t a hasty one.
Perhaps the shopper wants to hike the AT or run their first 5K—they have a bigger goal in mind. Maybe they want to spend more time with their family outside and foster connection without their devices—they want to build relationships. It’s possible they want to commute to work to reduce carbon emissions, or they want to increase their steps for a healthy heart and mind—these are all emotional purchases. They’re made not out of necessity, but in mind of sympathetic goals and ideas. Even the professional climber or racer got into their sport because of passion, not to pay the bills.
You are in an emotional career field, and it’s time you started acting like it.
People don’t buy a $200 kid’s bike or a $350 rain jacket because it’s logical—they make that purchase because it’s emotional. Because it’s cute, or it makes them happy. Because it’s a status statement, or because they want to feel accepted. Because it’s soft or cozy and makes them feel relaxed. And likely not because of the facts and figures you robotically rattled off when they asked you your opinion.
When people buy something, the majority of the time it’s not a result of logical validations, but a moment of want. There’s no explaining it—there’s just the moment we fall in love and just have to have it. Talk to any woman who is about to have a child. Why does she have a closet full of 0-3 month outfits, rather than a closet full of 0-3 month boxes of diapers? “It was just so cute!” The sight of that dress or onesie evoked all those emotions and visions of her imminent future in a way the necessities (diapers) can’t. The purchase was therapeutic, not logical.
As shoppers, we recognize this. But as retailers and trainers we completely miss the point. How often are we talking with and training our staff about connecting with customers on this topic? From my recent conversations with retail owners and my personal experiences shopping, I would say about 2-5% of our overall training is spent on evaluating how to instill trust and create a relationship with your customers based on emotion rather than data. The other 95% is all technical.
Over the next few months in our newsletter, we will be exploring all the emotions that go into retail on both sides of the cash wrap. We’ll look at the lost art of curiosity and connection, and unveil the steps you can begin to practice with your staff to bring that art back into focus. We’ll supply you with the tools to turn other’s therapy into your profit.
Let’s start with curiosity. Curiosity’s reason for existing is not simply to be a tool used in acquiring knowledge; it reminds us that we are alive. It’s what makes us human and sets us apart from the other species: not only do we know, we want to know more. Not just about our tools, but about each other.
Why wouldn’t we want to teach our staff how to bring that sense of humanity and alertness back into our stores? It is that energy that brings customers into your store—because they are curious. Answering that curiosity with an equitable sense of eagerness is validating for the shopper, making them feel valued and indulged. It’s an important part of retail therapy: your shopper wants to feel like they are an interesting person and an integral piece of your store’s success. By responding to them with curiosity, you achieve both.
When a customer walks into you store, they’re already curious about you, about the brands you carry, and your “why.” Whether it’s your storefront or your reputation, something has already triggered the shopper’s emotional brain to walk through the door. Now it’s up to you and your staff to return that sense of curiosity and meet the customer—just as they were curious enough to want to meet you. Sustaining that curiosity is what gets people back through your doors.
The first step in fostering a sense of curiosity in your store is to observe how it’s already at work on your sales floor. What is the interaction between your staff and your customers? Are they already returning that sense of curiosity? Are they engaging with your customers with intentionality and genuineness? Are they prioritizing certain customers over others? Are they as deft at handling emotional questions as they are at handling the technical ones? Are their responses rehearsed or unique? Evaluate what’s already happening, so you can identify areas for growth and help your staff accomplish new goals.
Remember that every shopper who walks through your doors is there for a particular reason. They could much more easily complete their purchase online, but they chose to come into your store because of their curiosity. Answer them in kind.
Teach curiosity. Train curiosity. Create a culture of curiosity. Get curious about why people are making a special trip to your store, and make it worth their while.