By: Tom Griffen
Show me your most expensive bikes!
I only want to see the longest and most durable shorts you sell.
Where are the shoes with a ton of forefoot cushioning?
We field requests like these all the time. They make our lives easy because all we have to do is lead the customer to what they’re asking for. Afterwards, they’ll sing our praises from the highest mountaintop, and isn’t that enough? I propose that if we are truly specialty retailers, we need to function as retail archaeologists and dig a bit deeper for otherwise hidden information. We need to mindfully decipher the provenance of the customer’s perceived needs.
Perceived needs are what the customer thinks they need. Unperceived needs are what the customer actually needs (or, additionally needs). Of course the perceived and unperceived need may in fact be the same thing, but we can’t just assume this is true. Otherwise…well, you know that old adage about assumingthings, so I’ll leave it alone. Best to don a pith helmet and drop a torch into the snake pit, sometimes even lower down for a closer look at what’s really going on beneath the surface.
The customer who demands, “Show me your expensive bikes!” may very well have no idea what she’s asking. Her request may have something to do with an association between quality and value. Or maybe price and status. Additionally, her definition of expensivemight not correlate with the industry trend. An expensive bike, to her, might be in the $500 range.
And who knows, maybe the guy who wants only to see “the longest and most durable shorts”has a neighbor who swears basketball shorts are the best for backpacking because they last forever. Or maybe he’s been suffering from chafing for years and read an article online that recommends longer shorts to help alleviate such issues. There was also that rock climbing documentary he just watched in which all the climbers wore 3/4 length pants. He thought they looked stylish, so now he wants some too.
As for that runner asking for shoes with extra forefoot cushioning, well, he may have just come from the podiatrist and is simply following his doc’s directions. Or maybe he learned something in his college biomechanics class about proper running form. Who knows? The possibilities are absolutely endless.
There are too many realistic unknowns and one–off scenarios to play out here. It’s better for us to dig into how to approach a customer who seems to know exactly what she or he wants. We need to seek more artifacts in our effort to learn the whole story. We can start by telling the customer we want to help them make the best decision. Then we bust out the shovel and start excavating with the following four steps:
1. Restate their perceived need:
“It sounds like you are looking for an expensive bike?”
2. Ask questions to determine what’s drawing them to this need:
“What is it about an expensive bike that’s most appealing to you?”
3. Validate their need or make recommendations to satisfy an unperceived need:
“It sounds like what you really want is a bike that is as light and fast as your riding partner’s.”
4. Showcase solutions and additional options:
“Let’s take a look at some bikes that will suit you, starting from high to low.”
This sort of inquiry takes time and intentionality. There’s no formula for our approach nor a blueprint for what we’ll find once we start digging. We have to be patient, empathetic and diligent. We need to connect with an open mind and have no set expectations.
Most archaeologists spend their careers sitting in a lab counting seeds under a microscope. The job is routine, mundane, and definitely not romantic. But like specialty retailers, archaeologists must be passionate about what they do. They can bust out their best Indiana Jones at the drop of a hat.
Dig all day, people. And dig deep. Let discovery be your guiding light.