I came up with the idea for this post on a rare outing during the lockdown. Before you rage at me, I was out grocery and meds shopping for my 74-year-old mother, I was wearing a mask and gloves, and keeping a good two meters away from anybody else.
Walking in the city center when shops are closed always ignites musings in me, even on a regular Sunday. I think it’s because I tend to notice shop windows more, and I also have time to explore my own sense of loss and to think of the reasons why I would go in a store rather than the other. At this pandemic time, the same musings took a different angle.
What could you change in your store to allow your customers to experience it differently?
As I was walking along deserted streets, shop windows seemed a bit banal and altogether I missed opportunity, I felt an urge to enter the smaller shops to rearrange them according to social distancing, and so on. Since we’re getting nearer to the time when shops will at least partially reopen, I thought those musings could come useful to some of you.
I only kept ideas that could be implemented without any investment, and by using what you already have, especially your time and the relationship you have built with your customers.
Style your windows so they can speak for you when the store is closed
Start thinking about your shop window as you would have programmed your answering machine a few years back, use your voice, provide useful information, with your usual tone (whether it’s formal or quirky).
Your store window, now on more than any other time, should not simply display your seasonal stock (that people could find elsewhere), but it should house:
- a carefully curated selection;
- items chosen from your customer’s go-to purchases, and items that are eponymous with your store;
- items that are bound to better satisfy the needs your customers feel now.
If you sell skincare, for example, display your best hand creams, and face masks and moisturizers. Dehydration is one of the worse ways lockdown affects our skin.
Don’t crowd your shop window with the products you want to sell but that customers are not currently interested in. If you really must, display those at check-out as a complement for your primary products. For example, if you sell jewelry (real or costume), people will be more inclined to buy items that can be seen during a video call, like earrings and necklaces. Display rings at check out, and offer them to customers who bought hand cream, as a finishing touch to their pampering but make sure they’re made of materials unaffected by cosmetics.
If you were used to writing price tags by hand, maybe with a personal, hardly readable handwriting, this is the time to go the print route or block writing, and to display them right next to the item they refer to. Avoid listing all the prices in a tiny sheet hidden in a corner of the window.
Finally, create a neat sign with graphics coordinated with your brand (Canva.com has great options), listing a few simple rules for accessing your store. Make sure to add a link that people queuing can view while waiting. It could lead them to your Instagram profile, or to Shopify e-commerce you’ve set up during lockdown, maybe one where they can shop and pick up in-store. This way, even those in a hurry will be able to buy from you, without entering the store and arranging for a later pick-up instead.
Arrange for customers to visit by appointment
Especially if your shop is small, customers will not be able to visit exactly as before. Depending on the size of your space you might need to allow one person in at a time, while the rest will need to queue outside.
How can you organize this in a way that doesn’t penalize your most faithful customers? First of all you could grant them priority access. If you have their contact information (even just their Instagram handle), reach out with a message including:
- a genuine request after their well-being; it’s a great way to re-establish a connection, plus it could lead to asking them “I know you’ve had other things on your mind, but is there anything you have missed from my store and that you would like me to set aside for you?”
- information about reopening, including times and days, and how to access your store;
- the possibility to book an appointment, at the time most convenient for them, if they were thinking of visiting, so they can skip the queue.
Once you have reached out to your best customers, you can announce the possibility to book an appointment on your website and all your other channels. Including your newsletter, but you might want to do it there first, while you’re still calling your customers, this way people who receive the newsletter will still feel its value as an access point to exclusive offers.
Your announcement should clarify whether you will be welcoming customers by appointment only (I wouldn’t do that), or if people will also be able to visit you directly, but in that case, they should be warned of potential waiting times. As you will start reopening and experiencing this new way of work, keep track of average visiting times so that you can better warn your customers of waiting times, on your website, your channels, and the sign in your store window.
If people (understandably) tend to linger just for a chat, set a gracious timer for their visit. Explain it to them and seek their collaboration, pick a fun song to mark the end of their allotted time, and if you can and are willing to, allow them to book another visit at a quieter time for more chats.
Finally, if you have pavement space or a parking lot under your control, arrange for a few seats to make the queue more pleasant.
Build on the one-on-one experience, as if you were a personal shopper
Making do with limitations is my favorite approach to hurdles and change- Much better than whining and despairing over things beyond our control don’t you think?
My making do of reduced store accessibility would be to turn any visit in an appointment with a personal shopper. At the end of the day you don’t need much:
- submit a shortlist of questions to anybody booking an appointment; ask them what they hope to purchase, what kind of need they’re trying to fulfill, how much they intend to spend, what are their likes and dislikes. Ask the same questions to any visiting customer, show them a genuine interest in helping them;
- arrange for an area of the store where customers will be able to sit and peruse a selection of items you’ve prepared for them according to their answers; take the time to illustrate how each item is the right fit for them, then leave them alone to evaluate their purchase;
- bring a thermal bag to your store with a bottle of bubbly and single-use cups, and offer your customer a glass of white to go with their experience.
This idea works best if you have a wide array of stock that could disorient your customer, but it will work if you’re willing to step in their shoes and arrange for a selection of items that they truly desire and need. And if you make them feel taken care of.
Never before, now and in the following months, customers will come to you looking for what they truly missed: human touch, attention, and service.