Farla Efros HRC

For many brick-and-mortar retailers, foot traffic is a primary concern, considering its ongoing midsingle-digit decline. Once a customer crosses the lease line, the priority becomes how best to engage with them. For a retailer pursuing an omnichannel approach, engagement is equally, if not more, important. Ensuring that the needs of customers are met efficiently and seamlessly are paramount.

Fulfilling that objective looks a lot different than it used to. A growing number of Millennials, for example — 53 percent of whom without kids only go to a mall twice a year — choose to purchase online and have their purchases delivered to their home. A whopping 97 percent of Gen Z customers do all their research online but often prefer to come into the store to try on or view their chosen products (usually already reserved and/or purchased online) to avoid dealing with returns.

No matter the demographic, shopping is not the experience it once was. Selling today must adopt the four Fs — Fast, Fashionable, Feasible and Favored — to ensure conversion. Engaging customers requires different skills, assets and approach. And it’s more essential than it ever was.

In all likelihood, a customer has made their decisions prior to entering a physical store. Consumers spend an average of 90 minutes — and only cross three to five lease lines — when shopping at a mall today. They’re entering the store with a clear intention to pick up, try on or touch and feel a product; they’re not wasting time.

It now becomes a consultative selling opportunity; it’s about conversion into a sale. The question for retailers has evolved into: “How do I sell them as much as I can because once they leave, they may not come back?”

Those who engage most effectively typically follow these best practices:

1. Know your customer well. A successful retailer and their salespeople make sure they understand the demographic each consumer represents and their shopping preferences. They attempt to assess the customer once they enter the store, including what their search is about, what they’re trying to accomplish — and how they can help.

Are they looking to complete an outfit? Are they just picking something up? Answers to those questions can offer fruitful information for engagement. It’s also important to have someone dedicated to looking after the change room, helping each customer in any way they can so they don’t just walk out and leave in frustration.

2. Personalize the shopping experience. Before a customer leaves the store, retailers should engage them in dialogue to avoid missing an important opportunity to capture their information — e-mail, phone number, preferences, size etc. — in order to develop a unique customer book. You can then reach out to the customer when you find an item you’re sure will meet their needs.

Meeting — and reinforcing — consumers’ needs will help establish a more customized experience and relationship and will give them greater reason to return. It’s less about a transaction and more about a relationship, and it’s as important to know what your customers don’t like as it is to know what they do like. That’s what makes you a savvy salesperson.

3. Prioritize fulfillment. Whether buying in store or online, customers become increasingly frustrated when they can’t find the product or size they want. Keep in mind, loyalty is fleeting in today’s environment. An increasing number of customers become agnostic when searching for an item. So long as they find it, the particular store that carries it, is of lesser importance.

From a fulfillment standpoint, every retailer should ideally carry enough of the product in stock to meet anticipated customer demand. If that’s not realistic, however, it’s important to complete the sale and then ship the product to a place of convenience. That’s a critical piece to customer engagement. It’s also about making sure that if they cross the lease line, they leave with a product in their (physical or virtual) bag.

The reality is that the environment has shifted, and the situation doesn’t seem to be turning back anytime soon. Within this new paradigm, the role of the salesperson needs to evolve in a way consistent with that change. After all, much of what was relevant in the past is not relevant today, and how we interact with consumers needs to follow suit. For a retailer to succeed, it must embrace the new realities by adopting measures and tools to keep engagement high and frustration low.

Farla Efros is president of HRC Advisory LP, a leading retail consulting firm, specializing in assisting Retailers to improve financial performance in an increasingly complex retail environment.

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