Monday, January 17, 2011

Moving a customer's mind from buying to owning

Imagine you are a boutique fashion retailer. Time and again people come in to your store, start their walk (usually clockwise) around the perimeter, acknowledge your greeting with a strained smile and maybe a "just having a browse" mumble, and then exit without trying any of the clothes.  That's me - I'm your nightmare. Money to spend, interest in buying, but inert when it comes to engaging with the purchase process.

How is it then that I happily and impulsively spent a few hundred dollars on a dress that I hadn't imagined owning before I stepped into the store?

Great salespeople are a great experience. 

What got me into the store?
I'm pretty basic - it was a sale sign.  But I wouldn't have bothered chasing a sale unless the window display was evocative.  Subtle lighting, natural tones, textured faux-stone display materials - the store fit out made me feel like a was entering a place of nature.  And what's more pleasant than strolling around a place of natural beauty?  It felt special, the clothes were obviously cared for, and the warmth generated by the store rippled through me as I started my perimeter stroll. 

How did the sales assistant engage me? 
Catherine (yes I learnt her name through the exercise) greeted me from a non-encroaching distance. "Anything I was looking for?" "No just browsing."  But then her genius move - "Can I try this jacket on you?". And she did.  She effectively was asking a favour of me - and through so doing she won my trust because the jacket was great.  But then, "There's a dress that would really suit you" - and off she skipped to the other side of the store, presenting the dress for my reaction.  She'd already managed to engage me through the jacket and I knew through this exercise she had expertly appraised my figure and gained my trust.  Most of all, it felt like she was truly interested in me not in making a sale. She had invested herself in the experience.

How did she make the sale?
The dress went on and was great. But then the show began. The other sales assistant tagged teamed as they demonstrated all the features - yes features - of this wonder dress. Tie it this way, tie it that way - multiple looks as a result of this beautifully, cleverly and practically designed dress.  Add a cummerbund and add another layer of versatility. 

Was I thinking price at this point...kind of. But by that stage it was a question of how much I would pay, not whether I would.  By that point I could have justified almost any price because I had moved way beyond 'buying' and was already in 'owning' land. And did I feel I was being sold to? No. I felt like they were helping me.

So what are the lessons for we marketers?
Make the experience concrete not abstract - asking me if I was looking for something in particular would have been less effective than asking me to try on a jacket.  For online sites, telling me to click for the product catalogue is less effective than telling me to click to view details, availability and pricing for 23 skirts.

Create a consistent experience throughout the process - in this case, the store fit-out was consistent with both the clothes and the warm attitude of the staff.  Don't set up a consumer campaign that celebrates fun, connection and happiness if you grind your customers down with a bureaucratic, boring and cumbersome purchase experience - you'll confuse people about your Brand integrity and savage your conversion rate.

Consider reciprocation - asking me for a favour was a way of making the relationship two way.  I was then prone to ask the sales assistant a "favour" ie I was more prone to ask for what I wanted - the 'power balance' was equalised.  Seems strange given I was the buyer with the purchasing power, but when dealing with an inert shopper like me, it was a great strategy to get me to act.  How can you create a two way relationship with your customers with the aim of making them more comfortable to do business with you?

Have you had a great sales experience and if so, what were some of the lessons you took with you?

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