Winning trust from potential customers isn’t always easy. As an independent retailer, you don’t have the ready-made reputation (good OR bad) that comes with a chain store.
Many people view independent retailers fondly and are keen to support their local independent specialist stores, but some feel reassured by the predictable consistency of chain stores. Potential customers might be aware of your business, but hold back on crossing the threshold of your front door. There’s a mindset (which is probably more common than you’d think) that identifies chain stores and supermarkets as familiar and safe environments, and this same mindset may put independent retailers at a disadvantage.
That’s why it’s important to build confidence and a strong reputation in your local area. This can take time, but here are some pointers to help you towards winning trust from potential customers…
Be honest, and be specific
Consumers do not like surprises. If you have a deal, be sure to present it in an open way and with no caveats or exemptions hidden in the fine print. These little surprises will sour your relationship with the customer and even if they don’t raise it as an issue with you, at very best they’ll feel cheated and will struggle on winning trust from potential customers for your business.
Chain stores and supermarkets have spoiled consumers who now expect your returns policy to extend far beyond their statutory rights. Many now believe that retailers are legally obliged to accept goods for return regardless of whether they were faulty or they just changed their mind about the colour. Do your best to offer a returns policy that competes with the larger organisations. Speak with your suppliers to get their support. Be clear about your policy and have it displayed regardless of your particular stance – if you have a generous policy it’s worth pointing it out to build confidence, and if you only offer the statutory minimum it’s still a good idea to have this outlined at the till point to avoid complications later on.
Under promise and over deliver
Be mindful of what is actually possible, and build in margins for error. Especially if there are other factors which are out of your control. Ultimately any issues caused by your supplier or courier will still be seen as a failure on your part.
Work to be known as the experts in your field
Take advantage of any opportunities for training that are available and encourage your team to follow suit. Display your team’s achievements where the customer can see them.
You could start a blog and write informative articles that allow your customers to make better decisions. Keep them factual and use references wherever possible, and avoid the hard sell in this type of communication. You could also use this content in printed newsletters for your customers to pick up and read – depending on the price point many shoppers like to go away and think about things before committing. If you’ve got something to give them to take away with them, this will help your chances of closing the sale.
Make sure that all of your team understand the product offering, and whenever you get new staff, invite your suppliers back to do training on their products, and try to get as many staff as possible to join in for a refresher, no matter how many times they’ve heard the training. Encourage the supplier to interact with a couple of customers and watch how they sell their own products. If you’re dealing directly with the manufacturer then they should be keen to help train your staff, it’s in their interest as well as yours. Wherever possible, try to invite questions from your customers and encourage discussions around product choices.
Your most valuable asset is your reputation
As an independent retailer, some of the most powerful marketing available is word of mouth referral from your existing customers. And the best news is, it’s totally free. If you keep exceeding your customers’ expectations, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect this news to spread and convert into more business. Unfortunately, the opposite is true also, and sadly the power of disappointed customers exceeds that of even your strongest testimonial.
Get personal and be open for feedback
Use customer names wherever possible and if possible make recommendations based on the previous purchases made by your customers. This personal touch sets you aside from the chain store competitors. Make sure there are plenty of ways for your customers to let you know about their experience in your store. Use social media channels as well as more traditional approaches which could even include asking them face to face.
Winning trust from potential customers : Make them feel valued
Recognise that your customers have a choice. It is likely that you have USPs and offer something that isn’t necessarily available two doors down, but it is unlikely you are the only option available to the customer. Be grateful for your customers and use every opportunity to show them you appreciate them coming to you.
Encourage staff to take initiative
Are there opportunities in your customers’ journey where your staff could use initiative to close the deal? On higher ticket items could they offer a small add-on that would seem like a completely bespoke offering tailored just to that customer, when in fact it is something available (but not publicized) to everyone? Within reason, empowering your team by trusting them to make decisions will be rewarded with a happier workforce and this will be recognised by your customers.
Get your branding sorted
A clean, consistent branding to your store will add to your credibility and encourage confidence in your service and product offering. Ask someone with no bias or agenda to offer an honest opinion on your logo and signage. If you have a logo you’re happy with, use it on everything from till receipts to carrier bags. If you don’t have a logo or your logo doesn’t do what you want from it, sorting this should be at the top of your list.
Steve Hasler, Independent Retailer Marketing. Marketing consultant to independent retailers. He’s been working with working with independent retailers and small business owners in the UK for over 15 years.