That don’t impress me much!

Paul Laville, managing director, T21“I’m standing in your shop for the first time in a long time. If all you’re doing is regurgitating product techs and specs, that won’t entice me to spend,” says Paul Laville. “Make the most of (finally) seeing me in person by engaging in a truly customer-centric conversation.”

If you cast your mind back to the days before COVID, one of the hot topics buzzing around the industry was that of ‘experiential retail’, which is all about bringing products to life in ways that excite and engage customers far more deeply than just sticking them on a shelf with a price tag.

Experiential retail is a concept that tends to excite those who are interested in leveraging new technologies and who want to reinvent their retail space to be less passive, more active. Now that shops are reopening and customers are drifting back in, that conversation is back and retailers are looking once again at reinventing their shop floors to provide memorable shopping experiences.

However, experiential retail doesn’t have to be all tech-based creativity and interactive window dressing. One important interactive element is still firmly within the reach of every salesperson – after all, not everyone has the budget to transform their stores into glorious ultra-modern high-concept showrooms, but anyone who can pick up a remote control can create an experience for their customers by demonstrating the key features and benefits of a TV. Better yet, if they can let their customers pick up the remote – because touching, feeling and interacting with the product was critical pre-pandemic.

It still is, but the problem is how to do that safely, since right now we can’t have customers touching everything in the shop. Even with hand sanitisers, masks and regular testing the risk just now is still too great.

There is a simple solution, however, and the good news is that it’s always been one of the critical tenets of selling.

Far too often, when talking to customers, we’re focusing too much on the product, and the thing about these products is that if I want to know their features and specs, I can look it all up online. I can visit the manufacturer’s website, compare retailer sites, check out some reviews and see the thing unboxed on YouTube. And because I’ve been sitting at home for the last 12 months, my online browsing – or ‘pre-shopping’ as I’m now calling it – has become habitual.

Now when I visit a shop the chances are far greater that I’ll already know everything about the product before I see you. Even then, I’m telling myself I’m only here because I want to see the thing in action, so if all you’re doing is regurgitating stuff I already know, I won’t be impressed no matter how glitzy your shop is!

What sellers need to do, to impress and engage me, to create a lasting, memorable experience, and stand a greater chance of selling to me, is turn their conversations and demonstrations away from being ‘product-centric’ to ‘customer-centric’.

I can walk into a store right now looking for a TV and I guarantee the salesperson would ask me what size screen I want, what brand I prefer and how much I’m looking to spend. What they should be asking is ‘where is the TV going, how far away do you sit, who else watches it, what else do you have plugged into the TV?’

The seller should be trying to understand my environment, my family’s viewing habits and whether or not there’s an opportunity for an add-on like a sound bar or Blu-ray player. And then they can tell me what size screen and brand I need.

Talking about the customer and fully exploring their circumstances in order to truly personalise their shopping experience will give you a significant advantage over those repeating the same techs and specs customers can just pull out online. Focusing on the customer, rather than the product, will help when you can’t allow your customers to directly touch anything.

It might require a shift in your mindset, a sea-change in the way you currently think perhaps, but if you don’t turn your customer touchpoints and conversations towards their needs and expectations, then everything is stacked against you. Every retail experience starts and ends with your customer, not the product, and right now, more than ever, I would argue that we must put customers front and centre of every conversation and right at the heart of everything we want our shop floors to be.