A lot has changed, but a lot has stayed the same. Today’s consumer may be more impatient and tech savvy, and technological disruption may have fundamentally changed the retail experience, but independent retailers can still thrive if they concentrate on doing what they do best: connecting one-on-one with their customers, building trust, and providing exceptional service and a personalized customer experience.
But to do this well, you need to know who your customers are and what they really want.
The Independent Advantage
Today’s shoppers are suffering from a dearth of time and too many choices. This can lead to confusion and selection anxiety, even decision paralysis. Customers want the shopping process to be as simple as possible – and that’s where independents come in. Because you deal face-to-face with your customers, you are in a better position to tailor the shopping experience to each individual customer than the e-commerce giants or the big chain stores.
Capitalize on your unique connection with your customers to localize, customize and personalize. Many independents are using the latest technologies to do just that, allowing them to compete successfully. But even if you don’t have the time or capital to invest in technology, do not give up: you’re not out of the race yet! Even a simple database of your regular customers and their purchase history, preferences, habits, weekend plans and family members that you share (preferably in real time, on a cell phone or tablet) with your sales staff can help you provide the kind of curated, high-level, personalized service that today’s consumer is seeking.
This kind of intimate data lets you pull in your customers and promote offers that exactly match their needs and satisfy their desire for a personalized experience. A note of caution, however. According to a recent study by KPMG of consumers in the digital era, Canadian consumers are the least trusting in the world when it comes to their personal data (only 6% trust retailers with their data) and are very aware of how their data can be misused. This calls for transparency and better communication to reassure customers that their data is safe and being used to their benefit.
Setting Yourself Apart
Digital technology, social media and demographics have profoundly changed consumer expectations. Generation Y, better known as Millennials, will soon be the largest single demographic grouping and is already the largest generation in the Canadian workforce. Millennials, who tend to be very tech savvy, have encouraged their Boomer parents to embrace technology, too, resulting in an accelerating shift to online and experience-based shopping. And coming up behind Millennials is the next consumer powerhouse, Generation Z (those born between 1995 and 2012). These new consumers have created a need for trustworthy sources – and that does not include traditional advertising! So, who do these generations trust? Turns out they trust people close to their own age, the so-called “social influencers,” and people who post product reviews. Nevertheless, the plethora of options make decision-making difficult and these consumers value services and people that help them find what they are looking for.
That’s where your well-trained, empowered staff can make all the difference. Your retail associates need to be more than mere salespeople. They need to be consultants and experts who deliver a meaningful human interaction that gives consumers confidence in what they buy. And you can only do that by building and keeping trust with your customers. Despite the Big Data, AI and other high-tech applications deployed by giant e-commerce merchants, consumers don’t trust what they are pushing. Since they trust people and comments and reviews posted by other consumers, you have an opportunity to become a trusted and reliable source by listening to your customers, sharing online consumer reviews and being honest.
Practice trust with your customers and staff and encourage your staff do likewise with customers. Take very good care of your staff. They are the ones connecting daily with customers and presenting your vision. It’s difficult to find good employees these days, so do what it takes to keep your best people. Keep them engaged and incentivized, with commission scales, share options, training and other techniques. Help them succeed by ensuring they have access to the product information and customer data they need to deliver a fully personalized customer experience. According to Gallup in 2018, companies with highly engaged employees outperform their competitors by 147%.
Trust is the most powerful weapon you have. Build on it. Develop it. We at Cantrex Nationwide regard trust as a critical step in achieving long-lasting success. All our staff have taken the Speed of Trust® workshop and are incorporating its precepts into our everyday dealings. Trust increases the speed at which business is conducted. It can help you close faster and give you a long-term competitive edge. Trust is not an innate quality that you either have or not; it’s a learnable skill. Teams and organizations with high-trust cultures are more energized and engaged, significantly outperforming those who aren’t. They innovate and collaborate more effectively, operate faster, and achieve sustainable results that dramatically affect business outcomes.
The recent trend toward a hyper-personalized shopping experience can be seen as an opportunity for independents to do an even better job of building trust, being transparent and authentic, and delivering the kind of customized experience that people crave in our complex multi-channel retail universe. As always, Cantrex is there to offer you guidance and solutions to improve your game.
Jeannine Ghaleb is President and COO of Cantrex Nationwide, which represents Canadian Members of Nationwide Marketing Group