The following excerpt, from the article How one three-letter word can create a personal buying experience, was written by Chris H. Petersen, PhD, CEO of Integrated Marketing Solutions, and published on RetailCustomerExperience.com. Petersen offers insight into how your staff can not only greet but interact with customers by offering a value-added service that online shopping can't recreate. Take a look at his advice below, then view the full article for more information on how he arrived at this idea.
Much has been written and continues to be written about the battle between online e-commerce and retail stores. If it is only about lowest price, game over. Online wins IF you, the consumer, already know what you want. Online retailers are really efficient at helping you find the "what" at best price. The real potential of bricks and mortar stores is being able to address "how" to help you buy a better solution. "How can I help you" is the foundation for stores to offer personalized service required for the consumer centric world of today.
Online retailers are the epitome of product-centric retailing. Pick Amazon or your favorite online retailer and go to their site. How do you shop it? Where do you start? You essentially have two choices: 1) type something in the search bar, or 2) use some of the categories of online retailer's major categories displayed on the site.
Either way, the online retailer is totally dependent upon you having some idea of what you are searching for. The better online retailers, like Amazon, sometimes do a reasonable job of suggesting related accessories. But, you must first narrow down your choice to a product you want. Even the much touted consumer reviews on Amazon are all product, "what"-centric.
The potential power of "how" in retail stores
The addition of one simple three-letter word, "how" in a consumer greeting can change everything! How creates an "open question" that can't be answered with a simple yes or no. Opening with "how" puts you, the consumer, in the driver seat. "How can I help" doesn't make the assumption that you are looking for a product, or even a service in the retail store. "How" opens up the opportunities for you, the consumer, to present the case or problem that you are trying to solve for even if you don't know what to look for.
The tremendous power of "how can I help" results in two distinct possibilities
- If the associate asks "how" — you, the consumer, become more open to talking about what you are trying to do or solve for. This creates a tremendous store opportunity to truly help you and personalize the service, creating a dialog and a relationship.
- If you elect to politely decline the offer of help for now, the "how" greeting still has a powerful impact. If "how" is delivered sincerely, you will more likely feel that the retailer cares about you, opening the potential for dialog and a future relationship.
Regardless of the consumer answer to "how can I help you," the power of adding "how" is the potential to create interaction, and the potential of a relationship based on personalizing solutions and services. "How" focuses on engagement and building trust in relationships.
Retail paradox: Are retailers selling you or helping find what's best?
I'm a big proponent of focusing on results that count. But when you focus only on retail metrics like increasing retail sales, margin or profitability, it can quickly become a slippery slope of "selling more things to our consumers." In traditional product-centric retailing, "can we help you" too often gets translated to "can we sell you."
I don't know about you, but I have never gone into a retail store looking to "be sold." Consumers want help with problems. They are looking for assistance on how they can buy the right things that fit their lifestyle. Adding the three simple letters of "how" changes the balance to be consumer focused. It literally changes the relationship to: "how can I help you buy what you need today … and how can I earn your business relationship long-term."
The power of HOW can't be faked — It also requires execution
As difficult as it is to get store associates to ask the "how can I help you" question, retail stores cannot afford to not deliver on the "how." Simply pointing you to the right aisle or even escorting you to products is no better than product search on Amazon.
If retailers truly want to compete with online and differentiate their value, they need to have the staffing, who have the skills and training to help us "average" consumers find answers, and personalize the way WE want to do it. It is no longer enough to sell us a device; we want to be able to personalize it within our lifestyle and circle of other devices.
The future success of retail stores will be not be dependent upon their ability to sell products at a low price, but rather their ability to help consumers buy a personal solution today, and then upgrade it again and again to fit their lifestyle