Don’t Touch the Balls

Customer Freedom is Customer Loyalty

A sign in a sporting good store asking folks, “Please don’t play with the balls,” is like having one at Costco telling people not to touch the food samples. It doesn’t make any sense to try and keep shoppers from handling a product they might end up buying.

Same goes with any products you keep under lock and key. Usually your expensive electronics, sunglasses, or similar items that fit just nicely in a purse or pocket. Sure, you do this to decrease inventory shrinkage—but I’m here to say that everything you carry ought to be fully accessible. And I mean everything.

Because if you are truly a specialty environment, you don’t need to lock stuff down. And believe it or not, customers will appreciate the opportunity to touch and feel the expensive stuff even if they have no intention of buying it (think: The Apple Store).

Let’s take a look at how the current model looks in so-called “specialty” athletics: A customer walks in who is curious about GPS technology. They wander a bit then find it placed near the cash wrap where it’s all locked up in a fancy, vendor-sponsored display. There are some info cards scattered about, so they spend some time reading them while secretly hoping a staffer approaches. When nobody does, the customer gets a little irritated, yet still sets out to round up some help. But all the employees are busy with other customers which means more wait time. Eventually a staffer is free to assist and runs over to help them. The employee knows a lot about GPS units and starts spewing info and tech, maybe even suggesting a specific one based on the customer’s needs. The customer, however, is still unsure. They want to think about it a bit. When another shopper comes in and needs help, the eager employee lets the GPS customer ponder the options under the glass, then leaves to help the other customer.

Sound familiar?

Yes, this kind of service may still lead to a sale, but I challenge how “specialty” the exchange is. To me, this sort of hands-off service phenomena ought to be limited to big box where customers don’t expect much from employees in the first place. But in a true specialty retail shop, this sort of limited connection can never happen. Industry competition is too fierce to go limp on service.

I know, I get it—you are still worried about folks ripping you off. Bottom line is that people will always steal from you (including staff, sorry to say). You’ll never have zero loss on the sales floor. But, if your staffers are constantly challenging themselves to facilitate an amazing customer experience, they are doing specific things that keep theft to a minimum. Things like: greeting customers properly, following up consistently, striking up conversation, keeping tabs on what staffer’s working with what customer. Ultimately they are getting high-end products into customers’ hands so the customer can literally feel the item while being educated about it. Side note: when you get customers physically involved with a product, the chance of them buying it increases exponentially.

If your people are intentionally engaged to create and maintain a specialty vibe, you won’t need to put items behind glass. Of course, it’s fine if you do, but it won’t be as necessary as you think it is. Why? Because every customer who enters has staff’s attention for the duration of their visit. This doesn’t mean employees creepily linger over the shoulder of browsing customes, or monitor them like some lame security guard at the mall. But they certainly take mental note of shoppers who claim they are “just looking.” Your savviest staffers know that if the customer is “just looking” right now, they may actually need help in a few minutes. So they check back. It ain’t brain surgery, folks. And if you have staffers who can’t nail this on the regular, they’re a bad fit.

Signs or locks or cases or rules or any policies that limit a customer’s ability to get their bodies engaged with a product will actually harm sales. And not on just of the bin of off-limits balls, but of everything else, too.

Take away the customer’s freedom and you take away their loyalty.



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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