In retail, customers are number one. You need to draw them in and keep them coming back. But with tough competition from big box stores and online retailers offering seemingly-instant delivery, how can an independent gift shop owner make this happen? Reasonable prices and well-curated selections are just starting points, say, experienced retailers.
“The only way as a small business boutique that I can compete with larger businesses or corporations is to always provide a small business customer culture inside of my boutique,” says Maysaa Abouhamze, who co-owns Trieva’s Spa and Boutique in Seattle with her business partner Trieva Katsandres (the store’s namesake). “I can’t afford a million-dollar marketing (campaign), I can’t afford the big billboard, I can’t afford big social media marketing, it is just so expensive. But what I can do is I can make sure that once they come in they feel something that they can’t feel in a corporate situation.”
In other words, to really grow your business and increase profits you need to make yourself stand out in the crowd. If you’re on board with that idea, consider upping your game by instituting these six tried-and-true practices for attracting more customers to your store — practices that work well for your industry peers.
1 Don’t just sell—educate
Sure, you can stock your store shelves with beautiful crystals, malas, essential oils, and handmade gift items and call it good. But what about the customer who doesn’t know how to use oils or is unfamiliar with the spiritual meanings behind various crystals?
Don’t leave them to figure it out for themselves, says Alyssa Snow, owner of Mind Body Soul Yoga + Wellness Metaphysical Boutique in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City. Instead, offer education, she advises. Post descriptions and explanations near products. Direct shoppers to relevant resources. Be available to answer questions, and be willing to find the answer if you don’t automatically know it. According to Snow, this will help cultivate trust and encourage people to spend more time in your store—which will likely lead to increased sales.
“We developed a trust and a sense of expertise in our product, so people [are now] hanging out and reading and learning,” says Snow.
2 Use good signage
Effective signage—on the building, the door or a nearby sandwich board—is absolutely essential. A 2012 survey by FedEx Office found that 76% of customers enter a store they have never entered before based on signage alone.
Kara Avery, co-owner of Mind Body Soul in the Nye Beach district of Newport, a popular tourist destination on the Oregon Coast, experiences this regularly. Tourists are an integral part of her business. Without signs many of them wouldn’t even know the store exists, she says.
“[Nye Beach] is one long street that people park and walk up and down, so we get tons of foot traffic that way,” says Kara. “We always have a sandwich board out.”
Quality in-store signage that showcases products, services, and special events is equally fundamental. According to the FedEx Office survey, 68% of shoppers purchase a product because a sign caught their eye. At Soul Shine in Sedona, Arizona, owners Martina, and Todd Schmidt make this type of signage a huge priority.
“[We have] signs all around the store,” Martina says, explaining that many of her signs incorporate elements of humor. “It doesn’t matter what you are looking at; you are going to be looking at a sign that will make you laugh.”
Just be sure to pay attention to sign quality, because customers will judge your store based on it. The FedEx Office survey found that 68% of shoppers believe sign quality is reflective of the overall quality of the store. What’s more, if your signs are poorly-made or contain misspellings and/or grammatical errors, more than half of shoppers are less likely to even enter a store at all, the survey found.
3 Open the channels of communication
E-mail, Facebook, Yelp, Instagram. These are just a few of the numerous ways to communicate with and get feedback from your customers.
Putting those channels to use is invaluable, says Maysaa. Her boutique, Trieva’s (which carries everything from jewelry and candles to skincare and make-up), sends a survey to customers via e-mail after every purchase so they can find out what their experience was like. They also read and respond to all email, and closely monitor social media accounts.
“We have a lot of channels open so we hope that one of those channels … will be comfortable for them to communicate with us,” she says.
Doing this, she says, allows the store to really tune in customer preferences. Shoppers give feedback, and the store listens and acts accordingly. For example, Maysaa recalls hearing a lot of feedback regarding a particular candle that they no longer carried.
“[We were] hearing from people that the lavender candles were a hit, so it is like ‘let’s make sure that we bring the lavender candle back because they loved it.’”
Likewise, Kara from Mind Body Soul says social media is key to the success of her store. She posts to Facebook three to four times each day, and the posts are strategic and planned. One promotes a product and another promotes her in-store Reiki, energy healing or aura cleansing sessions. The third is usually a funny meme, which she says “seem to get a lot of engagement.” She’ll add a fourth post when they are hosting a special event.
“We get a lot of success with our Facebook page especially,” she says. “We definitely see an influx of our shop website selling more and more people coming into the shop because [of it].”
Not a surprise, considering Facebook currently has 1.56 billion daily active users (according to the company). And, AMEX’s 2017 Customer Service Barometer found that 54% of millennial consumers use social media to get a customer service response.
4 Find the price range that works for your customers
Alyssa Snow says revenue at her wellness boutique has tripled since January. She credits much of this to the fact that she has zeroed in on who her customer is and what they are willing and/or able to spend. Customers in her neighborhood love metaphysical and spiritual tools (crystals and incense are some of her most popular products) but they aren’t necessarily in the market for high-end, luxury goods.
“The question [to customers] becomes ‘what kind of products do you want to buy and at what price point will you buy it?’” says Alyssa. “I know that yoga mats will go, but $120 yoga mats won’t sell—$50 yoga mats will sell. I know that jewelry will sell, but a $100 mala won’t sell. A $50 mala will sell.”
It took trial and error, she explains. But once she realized that products needed to be $50 or less to move, she really hit her groove. As a result, her customer base is growing. Sometimes she can use trade credit to accelerate her store’s growth as well.
“The more love we put into it, the more people come in,” she says. “We are becoming known as the place to [go] for crystals and sage and all sorts of other things.”
5 Keep things clean
You might think this goes without saying, but it’s important: shoppers prefer clean stores. A 2011 study by M/A/R/C Research found that 14% of consumers will stop visiting a store that doesn’t meet their expectations of cleanliness. And 29% will only visit said store if it is the only place to find what they are looking for.
In other words, if you don’t keep your store clean you risk driving people away. On the positive side, keeping things spotless helps create an inviting atmosphere. Cleanliness is so important to Joanne Atwood, owner of Inner Oasis, a metaphysical gift shop in McMinnville, Oregon, that cleaning is one of the first things she does when she arrives at her store each day.
“Every morning when I get in, I clean, physically and spiritually,” she says, explaining that this daily practice includes burning sage, which some say can purify the air and relieve stress.
6 Offer a compelling experience
In this guide to designing a plan for retail growth, Bob Phibbs, CEO of the Retail Doctor, says, “The reason people walk into a brick-and-mortar store is to discover something different and to make an emotional connection.”
Do you need to host a big special event or grandiose gesture with an enormous budget in order to create a positive experience for your customers? Not necessarily. Simple things like providing a thoughtful customer service experience or offering free gift wrapping, for example, can delight your visitors and keep them coming back.
Or, you can come up with something else altogether. Just ask Martina of Soul Shine, who found a simple, affordable and meaningful way to create a compelling experience for her customers by designing and distributing what she calls ‘blessing cards.’
A blessing card is a postcard that contains an uplifting message meant to reach each shopper on an individual level, she says. Everyone who makes a purchase gets to select one. The cards contain messages about transformation, peace, joy, you name it. Frequently, she’ll receive feedback that the message on a card was exactly what someone needed to hear at that moment, and it isn’t uncommon for a customer to burst into tears up reading their message, she says. They’ll even email her, months or years later, to tell her they still have the card.
“Our customers have commented on [the blessing cards] more times than I can count,” she says. “I get emails from people, years later, that says, ‘I still have my blessing card from a year ago when I visited your store.’ It is one of the key things that people love so much about us.”