How to Stand Out During the 2012 Holiday Season

Our friends at Retail Minded had some great tips from back in 2009 that apply in 2012 on how to compete against the big box retailers during the 2012 holiday season.
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Giving More to Get More

While big box retailers may be taking more off their prices at retail, they are also taking more away from the customer service they once offered. Stores are cutting dollars in payroll, therefore customer service is few and far between on retail floors these days. In a recent visit to Macy’s on State Street in Chicago, it took me nearly five minutes to find a sales associate available to answer a question about a product for me. And forget getting an answer with a smile – I was delivered a quick response that left no opportunity for further inquiry. I ended up leaving Macy’s with no shopping bags despite some pretty amazing sales.

Had I visited a boutique that sold the same or similiar product, I am confident I would have received as much time and as much support as I needed while making my shopping decisions. I’m certainly not the type of shopper who likes my hand held the whole time by a store associate, however I do appreciate feedback and support when I request it. I even appreciate it without having to ask as long as it’s not overbearing. This said, I truly believe that customer service is the #1 thing boutiques and all other independent, small based retailers can offer customers right now – and always.

There will always be the type of customer who shops to save every penny no matter how little customer service she receives, however there will also always be the type of customer who wants support no matter where, why, or when she spends her money. As a retailer, you should strive to satisfy both customers by constantly evaluating how you offer customer service and why you should be flexible when delivering your customer service. Remember that what one customer wants is not always want another wants from you as a sales associate. For example, when shopping at an apparel retailer, I do not like to be told that something will look good on me when in fact I know it won’t because I know my body and my style. That said, another woman may want this type of service and without it may not buy anything. As a retailer, you need to learn how to listen and react to your customers so that you can offer them individually the best service they each will need. Often, listening will come without words, though. Learn body language and shopping habits through experience and over time, you will be able to support your customers with the unique customer service that each potential customer walking through your door needs. But remember – some people really do walk in just to browse, so never be the “pushy” type that doesn’t let this happen, either. It’s all part of the pleasant customer service game.

A Step Further

Beyond providing unique customer service based on each individual shopper, you should also consider your store’s general customer service policies. Consider the following:

1. Return and Exchange Options

2. “On Hold” Options

3. Special Treatments

a. Beverages

b. Accessories to try on, such as footwear and hosiery

c. Digital camera for quick photo snaps of customers in a potential outfits so they can see for themselves – you can even email this to them if they want to show friends

d. Other one of a kind services catered to your store / product

By offering more than what your general big box retailer does, you are providing an experience to your customer that is often worth paying a bit more for. Consider all of these points and evaluate how you stand out among your local big box competition and then ask not only yourself, but your customers, what more can help you in your customer service strategy. Remember – every store is different and every customer is as well. Let each detail that shapes your store, your competition, and your customer also shape your customer service approach.

We would also advise you to take control of your retail shop by improving your point of sale system, decreasing cost of credit card transactions, and improve your web and social media strategy.

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