Business is about perception – isn’t it?
Hi – My name is Bhavi Desai and I have spent the last 17 years in retail sales. The journey has seen me work in different departments from front line sales running stores, space planning, category development, supply chain, network development, senior area manager and most recently as a state manager.
As you know retail is about the customer – it is the experience and all of the above functions, including marketing that need to work in sync to deliver the promised customer value proposition.
The calibre, experience and passion of retailers that I have seen, is second to none, so I won’t go out claiming to know all, however over the next few weeks, I will put out some notes about what has worked for me – what has helped me execute to take my department or team to the next level. If you find a leaf in the note which helps you, feel free to take advantage of it or drop me a line with specific questions. I won’t claim to have the answer, but I am happy to work with you to find a solution.
As you know the customer purchase decision is a 5 step process,
1. Problem recognition
2. Information search
3. Alternative evaluation
4. Purchase decision
5. Post purchase behaviour
Retail outlets are energy booster, as I like to term them. Customers come into our stores to re energise. This may be in the form of fuel for their car, a drink, confectionery, pie or even that wonderful latte that we serve to our customers. The purchase may be pre planned or impulse, it stems from the need. With the advent of technology and smart phone a basic necessity, information of competitive offers is at a customer’s finger tips. With a routine purchase alternative options comes down to offer, range and customer experience, which filters into the purchase decision. If you are like me, who reflects a lot, the post purchase behaviour is a key driver, which can help drive a re- purchase decision.
You can play a key role in all these 5 steps. Let me show you how –
1. Problem recognitions – let’s look at fuel – the bone in the meat is the price. Every motorist has the question around how does the price fluctuate so much? If you have to explain TGP pricing, logistic cost, opportunity cost of investment (working capital) in play with an exhaustive list, you can kiss good bye to sales. That is however not the expectation of all customers, however having a fuel price that is definitely competitive or under does help drive customers to your stores. The challenge here is offsetting this margin loss, with products in stores, either driven by promotional offers or a lower negotiated cost to drive in store purchase. This is where the good separate themselves from the great, by offering fantastic customer service, identifying the needs of the customers, acknowledging their presence with a smile as they enter the store and promoting them of a potential need if they are rushing to the counter. You need to focus on the price of fuel, however driving high margin products in your store should be a key area of focus.
2. Information search – make yourself known out there in the community. Utilise your entrepreneurship flair to drive local area marketing (LAM as you would know). Support local communities on their causes, but make sure you don’t clutter the front counter with social leadership – remember it is your hub – key high margin products located strategically to drive an impulsive purchase.
3. Alternative evaluation – this is the awareness of your competition. It is just not about the price of fuel, which is a key component, but it is about the range, offer which includes food but also has aspects about presentation and customer service. Your offer and your service will drive the differentiation and will persuade the customer to make the shift.
4. Purchase decision – is an area which you can influence by providing your point of differentiation (POD). This may be in the form of pricing, offer or for that matter customer service. You need to be in the mind of the customer the next time the need arises for the customer. It is your time to shine!
5. Post purchase evaluation – is the combination of all of the above. The experience in your store is what the customer will reflect on and there are a lot of touch points. This includes the cleanliness of the pump, store, forecourt, toilets or the food offer. Whatever the customer touches, this will form part of their post purchase evaluation. Your customer service at the counter is what can help drive a poor or average experience to a repeat or a good experience to I am 100% coming back here! You have a key role here to play to be part of the customer journey during this quick reflection phase – so don’t underestimate the lines – “Thank you and see you next time”. Implement that thought in the customer mind, that they will be visiting this store again – you are helping set this expectation by saying it to your customer. Another way to make them feel part of the offer is to – ask your customer about feedback – what could I do to make the store better? Look for the constructive feedback and try to embed processes to make the experience more pleasant.
To answer the questions – is business a perception? Yes, it is – it is about managing the expectations of the customer, throughout the day, ensuring that the site is in an immaculate state. It has to be either on par or better than when they last visited or for a first time customer “a wow effect”. It is that atmosphere you create, when things are not going your way, which happens quiet often. It is your resilience to bounce back in a fluid environment, where things don’t go to plan and with a constant flow of customers, it is in your hands to plan activity and tasks, to ensure your site is best in class in the area of competition. It is that perception, which you control. You are the best in class retail site in your area and let the customer feel that through the experience you provide.
You are in the driving seat to influence a customer decision. Make good use of that time. This is a 24/7/365 business. Consistency is the name of the game and one key driver that will differentiate you from the competition is your exceptional standards mingled with your outstanding customer service. No compromise!
If you have any questions/feedback please feel free to leave a comment. It is a journey and there are no right or wrong answers – just experiences to share for all of us to grow.
By Bhavi Desai