Did you hear about the department store that imposed silence on its customers?
That was the UK store Selfridges in the run-up to Christmas 2012. A busy high street store in the heart of London, it knew just how manic things could get, and it knew that not everyone appreciates getting stressed out in the rush. So it introduced quiet zones: customers who entered designated silent areas had to remove their shoes and hand over their phones.
But even if you’re in a store where you can hear yourself think, your time is still limited and you still have to pick something out of the hundreds of items available. How do you choose? What guides your thinking?
Well, fashion retailer C&A embedded small screens on its clothes hangers that display the number of Facebook likes each item has received – in real time.
Just two ideas for cutting through the noise to deliver sales. Retail advertising is a noisy place the temptation is always to up your own volume to be heard. Run more ads, place more calls. But when the pressure is on to deliver sales, the first thing to go can be your regard for your customers, treating them as prospects rather than people – and people notice when you do that. You turn up the volume, they turn down their hearing. How can you engage your customers in ways they will notice and remember? And bearing in mind that not everyone has the reserves of Selfridges or C&A to throw at a problem, how can you earn trust and still deliver on your goals with more limited resources?
Your minimum asset is your location: your store in the real world, your website online. The bricks-and-mortar side of your business is in a place – it’s part of a community. If you want your community to come to you, give back to them first. Organize events, on or off your premises. Do you have space where you could organize small exhibitions of local talent? You certainly have walls, inside and out, so start there – have your décor and layout designed by a talented artist (subject to local ordinances, of course, and not getting in anyone’s way!). Update it regularly so that people keep coming back.
(And if your support turns out to be the big breakthrough someone was waiting for – well, it can’t hurt to have famous friends. The UN Refugee agency, UNHCR, experienced a sudden surge in interest when best-selling author Neil Gaiman – who has a considerably larger following – retweeted their appeals about Syrian refugees. Gaiman was promptly recruited as a goodwill ambassador, promoting their work in refugee camps in Jordan.)
If you don’t have the space, or the smell of fresh paint gives you hives, you can redesign your store – or even make it different for different customers on each visit – without laying a finger on the paintwork. Aurasma uses what is called augmented reality, adding a layer of interactive content to static objects. Point your phone at a poster or a display stand, and watch it come alive, sending images and information to customers as though they were in the same room but which no one else can see. Maybe customers in your loyalty program get an enhanced experience – more wares, better discounts – than the ones who’ve just come in for the first time …
And that brings us to the line that works for both physical and virtual stores: gamification – turning the shopping experience into a game. A scavenger hunt around your site, real or virtual. A hidden prize in your packaging that gets the winner a discount or a year’s supply. (Willy Wonka had it right!) Team up with other businesses in your area and run the hunt over several sites, each one with a token somewhere in it. Reward customers who spot your product in another store or on the street. Organize a secret trail around locations of common interest: eating experiences for the hospitality trade; cultural experiences for the bookstores.
Whether you’re real world or purely virtual, we’ll assume that by this stage you know all the basic rules for managing the internet side of your business – use social media to market to your customers; make your content interesting; encourage readers to share it; don’t just copy and paste boilerplate into each platform but adapt it for each audience type. But maybe in the past you were pretty old school, and you have a trail of legacy blogs and other internet content that nowadays makes you cringe. Well, if it’s still there, go back and change it. Freshen it up. Get it re-noticed; you never know who will stumble over it anew.
And since you’ve got people coming to your site, expand it: don’t just sell your products but answer questions on related subjects, or link to the kind of pages your customers are interested in. Or just include a Google box. While we’re about it, have you ever tried to buy something off your own website? Give it a go, and be guided by what happens, not what you want to happen.
In short, raise the stakes and read the signals. Do something new, and see what people respond to. Your customers have lives outside your business – try and find the overlap. You’re a human and you’re marketing to other humans, not just figures in the sales ledger. Don’t just inform your audience – attract them. Factor that into your thinking and enjoy what happens.