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Stores Advised How to Make the Ultimate Sale

Consumers: Today's shoppers take business elsewhere unless retailers pay attention to details.

May 16, 1997|From Reuters

Build a better mousetrap and the world will indeed beat a path to your door. But in the extraordinarily competitive world of retailing, you also better have quick checkout lines, pleasant salespeople and clean restrooms.

A consumer behavior expert believes that shoppers will become repeat customers only at those stores that listen to not only what shoppers want, but listen even harder to what they don't want as well.

Those stores that listen to what consumers dislike the most--namely long lines at the checkout, rude salespeople and dirty restrooms--are the ones that will most likely get your repeat business.

This is the secret to luring and ultimately keeping loyal shoppers, said C. Britt Beemer, founder and chairman of Charleston, S.C.-based America's Research Group, a consumer behavior research firm.

In a survey about shopping likes and dislikes, Beemer found that women most dislike long lines at the cash register, dirty restrooms, rude or pushy salespeople and advertised items that aren't in stock.

Men also complained about prices that scan differently from those marked on the items.

In his book "Predatory Marketing: What Everyone in Business Needs to Know to Win Today's Consumer" (William Morrow, 1997), Beemer aims to make retailers aware of consumers' dislikes in order to remedy the situations and gain their business.

To him, the shopper is the most important part of the retail equation.

"Although some retailers may not view cleanliness as a store service," he writes, "we have repeatedly seen that customers do--especially women, the primary shoppers in America. Knowing this, every company should make a special effort to cater to those specific needs."

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Specifically, when it comes to food shopping, Beemer said, "more Americans change where they shop for groceries due to cleanliness of the store than for any other reason."

By listening to customers, stores are bound to become more competitive, Beemer said from his home in Orlando, Fla., and this can only help consumers.

In another study, Beemer found that consumers visit on average 2.1 stores to make a major purchase. In 1980, consumers visited 3.5 stores, but by 2000, they will shop at only 1.3 stores on average when buying a big-ticket item, he said.

These numbers mean that the competitive retail environment is getting even worse, and chances are increasing that if "your business is not the first shopped, it's in serious trouble."

He suggests that retailers aim to compete with one another on the grounds of strengths, not weaknesses.

For example, take Wal-Mart and Target Stores. Wal-Mart, known for hard goods, has been trying to upgrade its apparel lines to battle Target, which is known for its clothes.

"If two retailers are going at it, the consumer wins during the war. Both [retailers] are striving to raise the standards," Beemer said.

Personal interaction is very important, Beemer said, because the sale is never over just because the sales transaction has been completed.

He points a finger at electronic answering services, where a machine has taken the place of a human. Coincidentally, electronic answering services top the list by consumers of "wish-it-was-never-invented" products.

If a shopper never gets someone to help them with a past purchase, will she go back to that store? It's becoming less and less likely.

"Pulling a fast one" on consumers is another way to make sure they will never again beat a path to your door, he said.

He cites phony private sales, where customers think they're getting a special deal, and in fact it's no sale at all and is open to all. Beemer said that 20% of customers are lost per year if they find out the "special sale" is nothing but an advertising ploy.

The bottom line, he said, is "listen to the customer."

"Great retailers need to spend more time in the stores, not be absentee landlords. They have to observe what is happening and take a customer's view of things."

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