Don’t be fazed by a negative economy. Take control.

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You must have heard the tale of the roadside hot dog seller?  Hot dog guy was illiterate, so he couldn’t read the newspaper. He was hard of hearing, so he didn’t listen to the radio. His eyesight was poor, so he wasn’t one for TV or internet. But while he was unaware (blissfully, it turns out) of current affairs and global news, he knew how to sell a hotdog.

He offered attractive specials. His sales and profits went up. He ordered more raw material and buns and sold more. He recruited staff to help serve customers. He branched out into home deliveries. Eventually he got himself a bigger hot dog stall.

His son, who had recently graduated from university, visited his father. And unwittingly changed the path of destiny. The son asked, ‘Dad, aren’t you aware of the terrible recession we are experiencing? There seems to be no end to it’ The father replied, ‘No, but tell me about it.’ The son said, ‘The international situation is terrible. The domestic situation is even worse. We should prepare for continuing bad times.’

The father paused.  Since his son was a graduate who read the papers, listened to radio and spent hours in front of a screen, he probably knew best. So the next day, the father cut down the raw material orders, took down the signboard, removed the specials and had a little less sales spark. He cut staff. Soon, fewer and fewer people stopped at his hotdog stand. Sales dropped rapidly.  The father acknowledged, ‘Son, you were right. We’re in the middle of a recession and we’ve hit crisis point.’

It’s a simple tale.  Too often we contribute to our difficulties through short-sightedness or negative beliefs.  This is all too evident in the retail sector where we create hurdles for the shopper.

So to ensure you are not putting obstacles in the way of shoppers on the path to purchase (or tripping yourself in the process); here are 4 tips for driving your retail destiny in the right direction.

Get back to basics. All the money you invest in marketing and advertising is wasted if your customer gets to the lease line and has a lacklustre experience.  Get the basics right. The right stock, in the right place at the right time. Even the big guys find this a challenge. How many times have you been to The Warehouse only to find an empty shelf, or not be able to find the right shelf?

Stand at the entrance to your store. Is it clean, tidy, uncluttered, and easy to navigate? Is the signage up to date and clear? Walk your store several times a day based on the rhythms of your shopper. At Woolworths we had a set routine of the 7/11/4 walk to ensure we were always on show and ready for business.  A simple exercise which meant gaps were identified (you can’t sell fresh air), selling opportunities optimised (you always need fresh bread rolls with a hot chook) and new sales uncovered (clip strips of tennis balls, because you always need tennis balls?).

Have a plan. It’s not rocket science. What is your plan to engage with your shopper? Are there seasonal opportunities you can leverage? What is your plan for new news to drive repeat visitation? You need momentum to create momentum. I recently spoke with a retailer who had decided not to spend any marketing dollars as they were not sure what was working. But doing nothing was more damaging to the business.

Know who your key customer segments are and talk to them. Don’t be all things to all people. Having a plan doesn’t stop you from taking advantage of tactical opportunities but it will help you be mindful about what you do, or don’t do.

Clear the barriers to buying. You know those stores, the ones with stands clustered at the front of the store, shielding the entrance from potential shoppers and camouflaging the counter?  Even if shoppers do come in they have no idea where to go or what to do. How about the stores which advertise a promotion but when you get there you can’t find it or it’s out of stock?

If you want to sell more allow your shoppers to touch, feel, taste, smell.  For the high ticket items, offer different payment options. Have you noticed lay-by is making a huge comeback since the GFC. Offer complementary products and co-locate solutions. Doubtless you will face some operational challenges but a lack of sales is a far greater challenge.

Always look through the lens of your shopper – WIIFM? Great retailing is about great storytelling. Create WOW moments, be they monumental or tiny, to connect with the shopper emotionally. Rather than selling a bed at 20% off, take the shopper on the journey of a great night’s sleep. Look through the lens of your shopper and ask ‘What problem will this purchase solve for me? What’s in it for me?’

Whether you are a big box retailer or a small specialty store you are the master of your own destiny. Learn from the tale of the hot dog seller and make sure you drive a positive self-fulfilling prophecy.

4 quick tips to supercharge your retail marketing efforts:

  1. Get back to basics
  2. Have a plan
  3. Clear the barriers to buying
  4. Constantly assess the shoppers WIIFM

Juanita Neville-Te Rito is a retail enthusiast, commentator, avid shopper and CEO of Hotfoot, one of NZ’s only specialist retail communications advertising agencies. www.hotfoot.co.nz

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