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From Home Furnishing Business

Coach's Corner: Why Many Customers Leave Our Stores Without Buying

By Tom Zollar

In last month’s Coach’s Corner column, we discussed the fact that almost half of the home furnishing customers in 2016, did business with distribution channels that do not have sales people in the traditional sense. We touched on some of the possible reasons for this, including the consumers’ increased confidence level, the historic lack of trust many have for sales people and the perception that many of these newer retail options offer a simpler, quicker and cheaper purchasing experience.  All of these factors play a role I am sure, but my main point was that perhaps we are not doing as good a job of creating value in the customers mind for what our sales people do.

The following statement pretty much summed it up: “What I am saying is that if the customer felt they really needed a sales person, then that number would not be nearly as big.” That was followed by observation: “Of course, as we know, most customers actually DO need the assistance, either making the right product selection or putting the total room package together. The problem is they don’t believe that we can help them so they do not value the service we provide.”

My final recommendation was that we need to do a better job of communicating the benefits of visiting our stores and working with our sales staff, to make the customers dreams for their home come true. After all, the only reason we have sales people on our floors is so they can help our customers find what they are looking for and if the target consumers don’t know that or can’t buy into it, then a significant part of what we do has little or no value to them.  But what if we are wrong and our staff is not helping customers find what they want? Now that is a really scary thought.

It is very possible that many of our sales team members are not being as successful as they should be at their basic task of helping customers find what they are looking for. Why do I say that? Recent research indicates that as many as 50% and an average of 40%, of those consumers who shopped a store and left without buying, stated that it was because the store “did not have what I was looking for.” Wow, that is an awfully big number. Let’s take a look at what could cause this to happen.

Myth: Does the store really not have what they are looking for? While this is certainly a possibility, it is not that probable. Research done even before the Internet came on the scene indicated that in roughly 85% - 90% of the studied responses of customers who left a store for this reason, the store indeed had or could have obtained what they wanted. Now with the Internet providing so much information about what a store has, the probability that a consumer would visit a store that does not have what they are looking for is very small.

Reality: A huge percentage of customers are rejecting our sales person’s assistance. The truth is that due to all their pre-shopping research, plus the aforementioned lack of positive expectations for the experience, many of these more confident shoppers are just not letting our sales people help them. They come in with the “I’m just looking” attitude and reject any initial contact from our staff members. In many stores this is indeed the number one reason that potential customers leave without buying.

They enter the store, are greeted by a sales person and tell them they just want to look. Not wanting to be “pushy”, the sales person releases them to browse, without even trying to determine what they are looking for or give them further assistance. Many customers assume a furniture store is just like Target or the grocery store so they browse through the store, thinking they will see everything you can provide to them. When they don’t see what they want they leave, unless the sales person or someone else reconnects with them. Yes, this is the customers fault to begin with, but in the end, it is the sales person’s main responsibility to break through the initial resistance and find a way to help every customer find what they are looking for. This is one of the toughest training and coaching challenges that every retail sales manager has, but it is also one of the most important. 

Recommendation: Because of this situation, the most important element in the selling process today, has become the opening or greeting. The first words a sales person says and how they say them have the power to make or break their potential connection to each customer. Here is a brief glimpse into some of the points we make when training about the greeting.

First we need to understand that the greeting has four critical purposes:

 · To make the customer feel welcome and at ease

 · To get the salesperson and the customer connected and talking

 · To begin to establish a trusting relationship

 · To eliminate the “I’m just looking” response

We have found that the best greetings include the words “welcome” and “thank you”. Something like “Welcome to our store, thank you for coming in today”. These words are similar to how you would greet someone visiting your home and begin the process of helping the greeter become a person instead of a sales person in the customer’s eyes. The greeting needs to be rehearsed so that it becomes second nature so it is said sincerely and comfortably, to every store visitor, without hesitation.

If on the other hand your staff members adopt the role of salesperson with all the affectations attached to it -- such as lurking around the front door or by using phrases such as “How may I help you?” -- The customer will quickly take on her accustomed role.  She will issue the words that go along with that role, which are “I’m just looking.” The key to greeting is to have the customer see them as a person first and a sales person second. Train them to stay out of the classic role.  Say and do the things that customers will view as people things. In reality, the purpose of their opening greeting process should be to say things that most salespeople don’t say.

What you do and say after “welcome” and “thank you” is one of the most crucial aspects of establishing a trusting, person-to-person relationship with your customer. Now you must connect with the customer to learn what he/she is seeking as the result of this visit and how he/she wants to be assisted during the process. To do this while establishing trust, there are some basic points to remember:

· Stay away from the selling role

 · Ask NO qualifying questions

 · Make an acquaintance

 · Ask questions about the customer

This is traditionally referred to as “small talk”, but in reality, it is actually “BIG talk”.  The goal should be to have a casual conversation, just like at a party or gathering of friends.  It should not be formal or forced.  The more natural this is done, the better. It should relax the customer and allow them to get to know the sales person a bit and vice versa. 

This last point is the hardest thing to train because it is a “people skill” and is often what separates the truly gifted sales person from the ones that struggle. How we deal with strangers is for the most part ingrained in our personality long before we show up for sales training. It is based on our life experience and what we learned growing up. How we handle our fear of the unknown and our own confidence in dealing with new situations are key factors. The only way to improve here is through roll play and reinforcement of positive body language, a sincere smile and caring mannerisms. Practice does indeed make perfect, well at least almost perfect in this case.

The greeting is not completed until the customer is ready, willing and able to talk with the sales person about why they came into the store. The best transition questions we have found are something like: “So what brings you into our store on a beautiful day like today?” or “Which room can I help you make perfect today?” Of course, even with a great greeting that is properly delivered, many consumers still will not be won over and easily surrender that information.

There are many ways to deal with these untrusting customers and which direction to take the conversation depends a lot on what the sales person reads as the main reason for the rejection at that point. Based on what we have discussed here, many customers already think they know what they want and say this so they can just walk through on their own to see if you have it. As stated earlier, we know that usually does not work well for them or the store. Our recommendation for these “browsers” is to just be honest and tell them you are there to help make their search easier, quicker and more successful. Something like the following often works:

“That is wonderful, we have a huge selection for you to see. However, even as large as our showroom is, it is impossible for us to show everything we have available, particularly items we can have made specifically for you. If you can just tell me what you are looking for and perhaps a little about the room it is going into, I am sure I can save you some time and effort finding it.”

These are just some basic first steps of the greeting process. Using a solid training program including role play and mentoring, your sales team must be developed into exceptional greeters who can and will make every customer they meet feel welcome in your store and willing to talk about what they want for their home.  Not easy, but it is doable with enough effort, dedication and discipline.







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