NOTE: I originally published this blog post back in November 2016, but it’s still relevant today (probably always will be). With the big shopping season just around the bend, retailers need to be nipping issues in the bud now.

As a retail educator, I spend most of my time reminding store employees how to create/deepen their authentic connections with customers. During my trainings I rarely cover anything revelatory. But I do encourage folks to customize the customer’s experience in a way that meets the needs of the customer, not the employee’s.

There’s an obvious difference between an agenda-based customer interaction and one that takes into account the fact that the customer has feelings, desires, and a personal narrative. When the employee’s greeting, approach, conversation, selling strategy, or whatever comes across as canned (or worse, disingenuous) it’s an immediate turn-off. If a specialty retailer is guilty of this, they’ve lost their edge—which is reason #1 why shoppers will consider the internet next time.

Keeping customers engaged is easy. Be normal. Be real. Be honest. Be upbeat and positive. Don’t sweat the sale—let it happen organically. Because if you force connection, you’ll become less and less compelling.

Today I went to one of my favorite specialty retailers. One with a pretty darn good reputation. Within five minutes they demonstrated what not to do with a customer.

Here’s the three ways they blew it:

First off, as I opened the front door for my girlfriend to enter, someone shouted out a greeting. Not even sure what he (?) said. Now don’t get me wrong, a greeting, in and of itself, is necessary. But since it came before we’d even breached the store’s threshold, it was untimely. Paco Underhill, in his book Why We Buy, advises employees to give customers a moment to acclimate. If they are hit up too soon (or too late), customers don’t stay as long as they would had they been given a chance to decompress. Not only was our greeting a perfect example of how not to do it, turns out it came from an employee with no name tag, no store shirt, and apparently no skills in the mindful art of a simple hello.

Secondly, after asking me a dreaded sale-driven question, “What can I help you find today,” he pointed to the product hanging from a hook. The item looked different than I remembered so I asked some questions. “Is the product the same? What’s changed?” Things like that. He kneeled down, grabbed the item, and proceeded to read info from the packaging. Total turn off. When I told him I’d take it from there, he quickly left as if he’d been looking for an out anyhow. Like I’d done him a favor.

I really needed the product today, so I chose one and carried it to the register where two staffers were chatting. At the register, one said to me, “Hi Bud, got what you need there?” I was taken aback. Bud? Who says Bud? He then made some comment about my hat. “Love your hat, Bud. Super cool.” This guy went on to call me “Bud” two more times within less than a minute. Definitely a record. But where he really blew it was by doing nothing that made me feel special. Something like a simple comment about the product, or a brief inquiry about what I planned use it for. Instead, he tried to relate to me like some kind of bro. That irked me. My name is not “Bud”, and my hat is just a hat. It’s sunny out, after all.

I came home from the store and immediately went online to the product’s website. I quickly realized that the store now only carries the high end of their line and not the basic one I’d been happily using for years. I’m going to keep what I bought, but I when I need a replacement, I’ll be hitting the interwebs rather than deal with the so-called “specialty shop”.

I believe there’s an amazing future for brick and mortar. I sincerely do. I wouldn’t be doing the work I do otherwise. But doing specialty right takes serious effort—and it starts with empathy.

Retail is a great metaphor for life. The future lies in creating an unforgettable (human) experience. It’s all about being willing to make a deeper, more authentic connection. Do this and watch everything get better.



Tom Griffen is a highly sought after trainer and presenter whose message transcends industries. He’ll help you raise the bar while you reinvent your business.

Contact him: make the change you’ve been talking about.

Also check out Tom’s January 2018 Walk Across America! YES…you can still hire him during this adventure! Book your dates today!

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