The Process of Selling
The reason you've worked so hard establishing your retail store is to sell something to people who need or want it. You may be selling candles, jewelry, books, telephones, computers, office supplies, picture frames, sunglasses, car parts, or whatever you choose. The sales process is the same. If you are good at it—and your store layout facilitates it—you have a greater chance of retail success than if you just open the front doors every morning and hope that someone comes in to buy your stuff.
The process of selling at the retail level is really about helping customers buy. In fact, few independent retail stores use hard-core selling techniques to move products. Many instead use consultative selling methods. They help customers identify their needs so they can then make the best purchase decision. No pressure.
One of the best ways that an independent retail store can beat the big-box stores nearby is to help customers by using consultative selling. Consult with them to help satisfy their needs and make good buying decisions. This technique is rarely used by clerks in large stores and will be welcomed by many customers. Know your products thoroughly and help your customers choose the most appropriate ones.
What does your customer need? Because you will have many types of customers, each with a variety of needs, this question may seem difficult to answer. It is. In fact, it's not within your power to know what your customer needs until the customer expresses it by a purchase or a question. With experience you will be able to make a good guess at your customers’ current needs, but not until they act or ask will you know.
Of course, when a customer comes into your widget store, you know that he probably wants a widget. That's obvious. But which widget? For whom? What is his budget? Would he like suggestions? The overall question is: Why did he come into your store today?
The Decision Process
For some retail products, the decision process is simple: a red widget or a blue one. For others, making a purchasing decision can get more complicated: red, blue, yellow with orange stripes, large, small, portable, under $10, less than $50, and so on. Within your retail store, you probably will have merchandise that requires simple and complex decisions. In addition, you will have customers who are more comfortable with making these decisions on their own, while others prefer some help. So let's break down the decision process into three easy steps: need, choice, and commitment.
As an example, a new customer comes into your store and walks to your widget section indicating a perceived need for a widget. There are four types on the shelf, and the customer picks each up to examine it and the price tag. Based on the need for a medium-size widget costing about $5, the customer picks one up, walks over to the cashier, and makes a commitment by purchasing it. Simple enough.
Another customer soon walks in and looks around the store for ten minutes, then stops in front of the widget section and stares at them for a couple of minutes, obviously thinking. Surreptitiously, you walk by to make yourself available for questions. The customer asks you which widget would be best for a specific task and you offer your knowledge (without explaining the history and various uses of widgets). The customer then makes a decision and hands you the product to ring up the sale.
These are different customers with different needs and methods of making a decision, but the process they followed is the same: need, choice, and commitment.
Guiding the Decision Process
As you answer questions for a customer, you are assisting him in making a buying decision. However, it is not the only way you guide the decision process. In fact, as you laid out your retail store for customers, you were thinking about their needs, their choices, and their commitments. You placed the popular widget department in an easy-to-find location with lots of signage to help customers quickly fulfill their need. (Or you placed popular widgets in the rear of the store so that customers must walk past other merchandise to get to them.)
The bottom line is that you will design your retail store layout to meet customers’ needs and help them make and commit to buying choices. You won't design the store for yourself. You will design it for your customers. To do so, you must understand and guide their buying decisions.