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Is it time to reinvigorate the retail experience? You bet.

Is it time to reinvigorate the retail experience? You bet.

by Lori Mitchell Dixon, Ph.D., Great Lakes Marketing Research

So, online shopping is undoubtedly having an impact on your retail operations. Whether your customers are buying online or just educating themselves, your customers have been “Amazoned.” In a recent survey of 1,000 adults, it was found that the vast majority researched online or read product reviews before they even went into the retail store to shop for a major appliance. As a result, the whole experience on the showroom floor is changing. Decisions used to be made inside the retail space. Influencers used to be the salespeople, or point-of-purchase displays, or other such marketing marvels that influenced the shopper. But now people walk in the store with their mind made up because they have had some one-on-one time with their computer. They've gotten hints from their Facebook BFFs, they have read reviews—and now they're ready to tell the salesperson what they want. Shoppers have taken control. If you are in retail, this is your nightmare come true. It is analogous to the doctor whose patient has self-diagnosed after a thorough 20 minutes on WebMD.

So, you can either give up and let people come in and use you like a grocery store in which the shoppers enter with their list and coupons, or you can take command back and give customers something inside the brick and mortar that they can't get from shopping online.

You can actually meet them face-to-face. You can add value to the experience by making eye contact. You can ask them questions. But most importantly, you can listen. You can listen. It's only fair to list this twice because we have two ears and one tongue.

Think about an interaction in which you truly believe the other person is listening to you. It is intoxicating to converse with somebody who has made you the focal point—somebody who is listening carefully to what you say or don’t say. It is actually relaxing to share a conversation with somebody who is not itching to look at their phone or forming their lips to interrupt you. You feel like that person cares about you. We are all more open to the ideas of somebody who makes us feel that important.

When you listen to a person’s story, you can empathize. You get words in context. You can relate. A connection is formed. We share a bit more of ourselves with people who “get us”—people with whom we feel we have a connection. When you feel the connection, you are more open and let your guard down. You begin to trust the person.

Good listeners respond with words that are relevant because they have heard the real story. A good listener hears the emotion and can home in on what the person is really trying to communicate. When a front-line person takes the time to really understand what is being said, he or she can offer meaningful solutions or product choices.

It is time to reinvigorate the retail experience and to give shoppers something they can’t get online—a human being, in the flesh, who listens and responds with words and actions that personalize the experience.

After the culture in the retail space is transformed into an environment that is committed to fully listening to customers, those interfacing with the customers will be enlightened. They will enjoy engaging with customers because they will be learning about people and feeling the high of positive face-to-face interactions. To keep the momentum, a system needs to be created to collect the highlights of these powerful human-to-human experiences and share them with co-workers. This could be done informally at staff meetings by allowing everyone to share a few anecdotes about the customers they have met. Or, it could be formalized by having listening workshops in which staff is trained in listening skills and required to write up the outcomes of using their new skills.

Regardless of how the concept of fully listening is embraced, it must permeate the culture. It must start at the top with leadership making a commitment to listening by investing in teaching associates how to listen and lead by example – or listening to be the example.

It is time to reinvigorate the retail space. Take advantage of the fact that your customer is physically in your space.

Great Lakes Marketing is a full-service marketing research and consulting company. Dixon and her staff of about 40 research professionals help their clients incorporate the voice of the customer into product development, package development, messaging and business planning.

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