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Small Customer Courtesies Can Have a Big Impact

by Carolyn Evans, Staples® Contributing Writer

It’s the little things that count. This is especially true for an independent shop, where small courtesies, from free, fancy gift-wrapping to a caring sales force, go a long way in shaping the customer experience. I spoke with retail experts and successful shopkeepers about their secrets to building a loyal customer base by focusing on a few not-so-common courtesies.

Create a Pleasant Environment

“Look at your target customer and choose those things that work best for them,” advises Alyson Anderson, savvy shopper at Retail Concepts in Norwell, MA.

  • A busy mom with young children in tow would certainly appreciate wide aisles for strollers, a restroom with a changing area and a small play area for toddlers
  • A cool bottle of seltzer water, a freshly brewed cup of espresso, or even a small glass of wine during evening hours would appeal to a more mature and sophisticated shopper
  • A comfy seating area with sofas and more for shopping spree tagalongs — especially husbands and boyfriends who find themselves in a ladies’ boutique — makes shopping more tolerable

The longer shoppers stay in the store, the more they’re likely to buy, so addressing basic needs and keeping impatient companions occupied is good for business. Providing great customer service, like a warm and inviting environment, encourages customers to return again and again.

And don’t forget niceties that are free for your business. “The biggest courtesy we focus on is personal engagement,” says John Jordan, owner of Protocol in Wilmington, NC. “It begins as soon as customers walk in the door.” Jordan is known as a very sociable store-owner. “Many of our customers simply drop in for social connectivity.”

Make Customers’ Lives Easier

The entire goal is to put your store at the top of customers’ go-to lists. Nancy Greer, director of retail stores for Gazelle Sports in Kalamazoo, MI, recommends simple items to improve the customer experience, such as receipt envelopes to help customers stay organized, and shipping and delivery options that add convenience.

According to Accenture, 19 percent of shoppers surveyed said they are using “click and collect” services (reserving or buying an item online and then traveling to a store to collect it) more often than in the previous year. If possible, upgrade your Web site to offer this option, or create a “call and collect” service. Additionally, research shows more shoppers (14 percent compared to 7 percent) are buying in store and having products shipped home. This is an especially good option if you sell large items, like furnishings, or gifts that customers would like to keep secret until the last minute. The cost to implement these options can be offset by increased sales.

Don’t Overlook the Intangibles

Small gestures can have a big impact. “On many occasions, I’ve offered to phone local competitors with the customer present when we couldn’t provide what they were looking for,” Jordan says. He’s found that, in the end, it usually brings the customer back. Strengthen the connection with customers and cut down on the “hey you’s” and “excuse me’s” by having the sales staff wear name tags. It helps build customer relationships and make shoppers feel more connected to your smaller business.

And it’s hard to beat a sincere “thank you.” Acknowledging customers who help your shop succeed is always good customer service. Send customers a postcard after a significant purchase or volume of purchases, or tuck it in with any orders being picked up or delivered. Jordan writes a personal thank-you note to customers after larger buying events, such as bridal registrations or long-term projects like custom bedding. It’s also nice to include a preprinted thank-you card with the receipt.

Why bother with all these tiny niceties? According to a 2014 survey by Accenture, 40 percent of respondents ranked improving the in-store shopping experience as the number one thing retailers need to improve the most. So anything you can do, from better use of fixtures to a free cup of coffee, creates a competitive advantage.

For that reason, Jordan concludes, “stores can’t go wrong in going the extra mile.”

Carolyn Evans has a long-running passion for innovative products, great design and interior decorating, and is a believer in retail therapy. After a session of reading insightful cocktail napkins, she decided to leverage her experience with start-up companies and financial institutions to build a career as a retail consultant for independent stores and young gift and apparel manufacturers across the Southeast. Evans resides in Chapin, SC.

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