Connecting with Customers in 2017

Lisbeth CalandrinoBy Lisbeth Calandrino

If you’ve been in the retail business for a while, some days you’re not sure where to start. It wasn’t long ago that it was easy to keep up with your customers; they were either reading the newspaper or watching television. You and I both know it’s a lot more complicated than that now. Keeping up with the customer isn’t easy. Thomas Friedman, Author of The World Is Flat, tells us this is the time for optimists and fast movers. Those who aren’t will be overwhelmed with the world changes. In his new book, Thank you for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations, Friedman gives us an update on these world changes. What do they mean to retail? In short, they mean everything. The next five years will bring changes like we’ve never seen. Where will you and your business be?

One thing that’s clear, forget the age of the Internet—it’s the age of the consumer. Individual shoppers are calling the shots. They know what they want, how they want it, and won’t accept anything less. People are also in a hurry and are smarter than ever. Remember when information came from encyclopedias? Now the news changes every minute. Consumers are keeping up with the changes in the world around them. As retailers, we need to stay on the same pace. Here are some tips for keeping up:

Know where your customers are and go with them. They are all over the Internet, leaving digital footprints, sharing likes, dislikes, and leaving subtle clues. Marketers are following their every footstep. They know what consumers read, buy and think about buying. Where is your business in this process?

We’re all looking for connections. That’s why we talk to our new ‘friends’ on Facebook and look for people on LinkedIn who can help us meet the ‘right people.’ Who is in a better position than the independent store owner to mold that close relationship? Train your salespeople to build connections with your shoppers. Figure out their likes and interests outside of your store. Remember 85 percent of business comes from referrals. But, in order to get referrals and not lose out to the big-box stores, you have to build a connection with your customers.  When I first went into business my mom told me to keep the customers out of my personal business and politics. In 2017: forget it. Consumers are looking for companies that share their values and with whom they can openly communicate. It’s all out there.

Bring them in for an event. If the Mall of America is building a campground and Ikea is having shoppers sleep-over in their stores, this should tell you that keeping the customer close is not only possible — it’s happening. The independent retailer is in a unique position to capture and hold on to the customer. Treat customers like good friends; bring them in for a Yoga class or for a card game. Hosting events, classes, celebrations, etc. will help cement your store as a gathering place for the community. 

Overall, keep your customers close; treat them as important, even as business partners. Ask their opinions and advice on how you might grow your business. On those days where you don’t know where to start, starting with you customer is always a safe bet.