Attention, Shoppers!

Maximizing Each Customer's Time in Your Store

What about selling to ethnic groups?
Underhill: They often aren't well-served. Look around your neighborhood and see what products might sell to ethnic customers. Also, most retailers are completely missing the huge number of offshore visitors who would love to buy things here they can't get in their own countries at the prices we can offer.

Any other thoughts on maximizing the time customers are in the store?
Underhill: Think about adjacency sales. For every primary purchase made, there should be one secondary purchase added to it. If someone buys a dress, you want to sell [pantyhose] to go with it. It always blows my mind [when the] obvious isn't apparent to [merchants]: They put the wrong things together or miss obvious opportunities.

This is particularly true at the register. Amateur retailers don't put any design into the register area. They should work merchandising into the original plan for the cash-wrap area rather than slapping something on afterward. Also, if the owner is usually the only one there, he or she should always be able to keep eyes on the floor, not have to turn around to work the credit card machine or take a phone call.

Everything should be for sale in the store. When you go into Restoration Hardware, they're selling you not only the item on the table, but also the table. If you sell books, sell bookcases, too; if you offer jewels, then price the boxes holding them.

If someone doesn't make a purchase, are they lost to you?
Underhill: Even if they don't buy, you want them to walk out with a better sense of what your store offers and where things are-reference points for the future when they need something. Look at your store's design through the eyes of the first-time visitor who is breezing through for an introductory tour.


To illustrate our current state of affairs, Paco Underhill points to the written Chinese word for "chaos," which is composed of two characters-danger and uncertainty. For entrepreneurs, however, all is not lost. Despite widespread fears, Underhill insists that consumer confidence is not at an all-time low, nor will it be. Underhill offers his view of our current situation as well as advice on how entrepreneurs should deal with troubled times and business slowdowns.

Consumers may be holding onto their dollars tighter, but people still need to shop. Meeting the five basic needs will continue. Nor will leisure and entertainment spending come to an end. Underhill notes that during past war times, people still went to the movies. He also doesn't see an abrupt halt in vacationing, although a shift in consumer interest from air travel to cruise lines will be evident.

In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks, consumers' attentions have been greatly distracted, which is to be expected. One stark result is that some businesses, large and small, will disappear. Businesses heavily dependent on advertising will be most affected, as their revenue streams mirror the declining incomes of the businesses advertising with them.

How can you persuade customers to buy when money is tight and the future is uncertain? You may need to reposition your approach. "Position your product or service as cost-effective or smart," says Underhill, who adds that convincing customers that your product is a good investment or that now is the best time to buy may also lure them.

Underhill cautions entrepreneurs to be a little more fiscally conservative and adds, "Companies that had trouble before September 11 are the ones having more trouble now. I think this is the issue of everyone being a gunslinger, in the sense that they've leveraged [in the past], always assuming markets are going to go up. They haven't gotten a war chest or have neglected it."

While dealing with the sting of slow sales, Underhill stresses the importance of using this time wisely. "Meet with your employees, undertake small projects, polish areas [that need it] and realize things aren't always up," Underhill says. "Use your downtime to your best advantage."

-April Pennington

Scott S. Smith writes about business issues for a variety of publications, including Investor's Business Daily.

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Envirosell Inc.

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This article was originally published in the December 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Attention, Shoppers!.

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