Organised retailers have been spending humongous amounts of money advertising special offers in most newspapers. They also do newspaper inserts, direct mailing and so on. But their most important sales pitch hasn’t even taken place yet!
How do you convert footfalls to revenue? Visual merchandising and customer service work in tandem with advertising and marketing efforts to influence customer before a purchase decision is made.
Visual merchandising is a primary retailing tool in guiding the customers throughout the purchase process.
Customers who are new to a store or considering buying a product for the first time are much more likely to use visual merchandising cues – posters, displays, LED screens, banners and directional signage – while customers who frequent a retail establishment are more likely to make purchase decisions based on previous experience or consult sales personnel. Evidence exists that products and services requiring higher levels of customer involvement increase the role of visual merchandising in the decision-making process.
Visual merchandising updates can be subtle and still significantly affect customer experience and perception of that experience. According to customer surveys, perceived waiting times at cash counters fell 50 per cent after a leading retail chain installed televisions showing some programmes near the cash counters.
This is also a good opportunity to earn revenues for the retailer by showing advertisements. The bottomline is, people hate waiting in lines and people hate wasting time. If you help them make that time more fun or productive, overall customer service will get a thumb up. Here is a seven-step process to improve visual merchandising:
1. Research. Knowing how your customers shop is vital to retail success. Research, though often expensive, is the only way to base your strategy on actual consumer trends and apply it to the marketing environment of individual stores. Don’t neglect to get input from the retail level; the best sources of information come from store employees. Understand how people are spending their time in-store. How much time are they waiting in line? How much time do they have to absorb your messages? The faster your consumer shops, the less effective signage is going to be, and the more conservative you should be in the number and complexity of messaging. If customer interaction time is limited, you may want to consider replacing text messages with visuals. Photographs are almost always more convincing than words, and people are likely to react more strongly to images. Dynamic images, of course, increase retention at an even higher rate.
2. Integrate marketing efforts. From websites to shopping bags, make sure all of your marketing efforts are sending coordinated cohesive messages about your products and services. It is also important to drive the branding and colour combinations well. Considering that most retailers charge for carry bags, make it more attractive to make them want to use it over and over.
3. Think flexibility. Consider in-store interactive technology as a tool to make your customer’s shopping experience more convenient. Keep in mind that the use of high-tech displays or kiosks must be product-driven, informational and easy to manage. Touch-screen kiosks are being seen more often to help customers complete simple tasks or get answers to product questions. Much of the new sign and graphics technology being developed will allow stores to quickly create images and change messages to meet corporate-and store-level needs.
4. Find ways to accommodate time-strapped shoppers: Use merchandising and store design to create convenience in-store. Customers need quick answers to product features or performance questions and appreciate a wide variety of choices. Anything that helps them accomplish these goals while making that shopping experience as pleasant as possible makes their decision to buy from you an easy one.
5. Design stores for shoppers: Stores must recognise customers’ longings for friendly, inviting and comfortable places to shop. The interpretation and application of what comfort means, however, has never varied so greatly. For instance, in the traditional, conservative financial services sector, the role and means of visual merchandising in customer service is becoming a hot topic. After careful review of customer interaction in-store, a number of industry leaders are changing the traditional look and feel of banking services by testing complete branch overhauls.
6. Use the latest technology and big data analytics. Make the analytics and predictability to change messaging for individual customers on their mobile devises and even on the shopping cart. Make sure that you recommend missed items she may have purchased before or products that go well with an item she has picked up right then. Possibilities are endless with technology.
7. Partner at the local level. Critical to the success of any visual merchandising strategy is the degree to which store-level employees embrace your programme and participate in it. Make sure managers know what’s in it for them and what they are expected to do. Even if you’ve sold corporate on the concept of the promotion, it may not trickle down to the people who have to make it deliver. Consider using incentive programmes to inspire greater involvement.
(The author spearheads execution and innovation for clients @CustomerLab)