Try This!

Whether at a market, trade show, or conference these days, the best advice from successful brick-and-mortar retailers on how to win over customers in the age of online price shopping comes down to one thing: customer service.

Before you roll your eyes and yawn because you’ve heard this before, we’ve provided some concrete examples in this issue on specific actions that have worked for several award-winning design businesses (see Retail Superstars on page 55). Some of those suggestions are methods that are currently influencing me personally as a consumer.

As many of you know, I am an avid pet lover. I live in an area surrounded by national pet store chains that offer competitive prices and customer reward programs. They also have what I’ll call interchangeable employees: those who are neutral in attitude – not enthusiastic, but not unpleasant – and would have the same demeanor whether they are at the registers of a grocery, apparel, or any other store.

There is also a family-owned pet supply business within 5 miles of my home that has a much smaller footprint in a stand-alone building at an awkward location. They have consistently sullen employees (and those are the family members!) but a good selection of higher-end quality pet food.

Then there is a privately owned pet supply store (not necessarily by family) that is not as large as the national chains. “The Hungry Puppy” also offers higher-end food and is located 25 miles away in a stand-alone building that is not convenient. It has long-time employees who enthusiastically stop you in the aisles to have your pets pose for the store’s Instagram and Facebook pages plus they happily hand out treats. I often hear these employees give opinions on dog food brands and advice on holistic remedies to customers who ask. The Hungry Puppy also hosts weekly events such as “Friday Night Bites” (happy hour for you and your dogs with free appetizers and soft drinks), regular dog-centric contests with cash prizes, and small gestures like discounts for dogs in holiday dress for key days (Halloween, St. Patrick’s Day, etc.), and free photo selfie backgrounds (Easter bunny, Santa, Mother’s Day). Do I really have to tell you which store I visit the most often? Hungry Puppy created a small outdoor dog park next to the building that the community is invited to use, even if the store is closed. They now have opened a Wellness Clinic (repurposing a storage room) by partnering with a mobile veterinarian who wanted to expand her practice.

These are the types of customer experiences that create lasting relationships. They are all tangible things that an internet retailer cannot provide and that add value. Stop talking about internet pricing killing your business and try offering customer-centric events and activities that will establish loyalty. Take it from me, it works!