Profitable Times Newsletter

Selling What Your Customers Want To Buy

In order to use your customers as the source for finding out what other things you can sell, you need to believe in the infallibility of the customer. Individual customers are often wrong. The customers as a whole however, especially over a length of time, are NEVER wrong. They are constantly voting through their expenditures on what they like and that can usually be extended into what they would like to see more of.

The more you offer what they want to buy the more you'll benefit from incremental sales. Incremental sales are those additional dollars a customer spends in your store because they unexpectedly like what they see. These are often expenditures that may have gone to your competitors if you didn't get to them first and may not be made at all after the moment passes.

Some ways to find out what your customers want to buy include:

  1. Just being in the sales area, observing and listening to customers.

  2. Having your staff register (write down), in a specific place, comments and questions from customers so you can peruse them looking for trends or repeated comments that will help you tweak your buying plans.

  3. You can also ask your customers direct questions. One informal way is to ask all customers over a short period of time to react to the same question. For example, "How do you like our selection of vases?" Keep a sheet of paper at the cash-wrap, write the question across the top and count via hash marks how many customers responded with a positive comment, versus a negative or neutral comment. Positive comments may encourage you to increase the depth or breadth of the selection and move it towards being a killer category. Negative comments will suggest a closer review and perhaps the decision to improve or eliminate the department. Neutral responses such as, "I didn't see the vases," may lead you to evaluate the merchandising and could explain why a department has not done as well as expected.

  4. The most assertive, and in my opinion, the best way to get customer reactions that will lead to a stronger product selection is to do exit surveys. This survey should be conducted at a point where it is obvious the buying experience is over. The person asking the questions should be knowledgeable about your product selection, non-aggressive and look somewhat official by being dressed nicely, with a nametag and clipboard.

The survey should be directed primarily at customers who bought little or nothing. Without revealing why a customer was chosen, you may want to ask, "Did you find everything you were looking for?" A pattern in their responses often leads to the discovery of holes in your product selection and a customer wish list. Interestingly, very often they didn't buy because they didn't see or couldn't find what they wanted and this is a chance to lead them back to their product of interest.

In addition to reacting to the customer, you have the power to create the 'want' in what the customer wants to buy. Buy becoming known for, perhaps, one to three product categories, customers will react by driving longer distances, spending more money and telling others about your store and specifically these selections. To create this supercharged buying environment expand the product selection in the chosen categories so the depth (how many of each product you have in a category), breadth (how many different products in the category) or the unusualness of the selection makes you known for that category. When done well, a customer will stand in front of this selection and say, "wow, I've never seen such a selection before", and they don't know where else such a selection may be available so they react by buying and then bragging about their find. As an example, my wife and I enjoy hostas and grasses, and we will go almost anywhere where a nursery or garden center is known for these plants.

Since so many decisions by customers are based on price, another part of selling what your customers want to buy is making sure the price range of your products meet the financial ability of your customers. Two areas are most important. Are the bulk of your products in a price range that is appropriate for your customer? Each product category should be looked at separately to make sure the 'look and feel' of your retail presence and the retail pricing is appropriate for most of your customers.

The second pricing issue involves your highest priced products. Regardless of the product selection, there are two reasons you should carry some higher priced products. First, there are simply some customers who look for this type of product, can afford it and will buy. Second, although not every customer can afford these products, many will be pleased to buy lesser quality and lower priced products in a store that has higher priced products. To many of these customers the higher prices connote expertise and sophistication that rubs off on their lesser-priced purchase. To maximize the effectiveness of these products it is important they be merchandised in an ambiance that enhances their perceived value, not just thrown in among other products in the same category.

Finally, it is not unusual for 30% of the products in a category to be responsible for 70% of the sales. Just as I mentioned at the top of this article, this is an unequivocal vote by your customers on what they like best. Never be out of these products — or at least don't run out of them too early in the season. If you have a point-of-sale system (POS) make sure to regularly run the reports that give you best seller information. If you don't have a POS, hand-inventory your best-selling products regularly. Being out of one of these products is not just a single lost sale; it is a lost sale that has a disproportionate effect on revenue and a high disappointment factor for your customers.

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