Two simple ingredients of personalization that almost all retailers miss

Nov. 29, 2012 | by Chris Petersen

Having lived in Canada, it is true that Thanksgiving is also celebrated there, albeit a month earlier than the US. The US Thanksgiving celebration has become a special time to gather family and friends … and hit the retail stores in search of Black Friday deals. What is so ironic about the holiday is the name, a compound word: thanks giving. Yet, thanking and recognizing customers are the most fundamental basics missing in retail. In a rush to merchandise and promote, US retailers have lost sight of two simple behaviors that create the personalization most shoppers crave. The ultimate irony is that they cost nothing, but seem the most difficult.

#1 – Bickers has nailed how retailers are missing a golden opportunity

James Bickers is the Senior Editor of Retail Customer Experience (RCE). For those interested in retail trends and strategies, I heartily recommend subscribing to RCE … and it's one of the few things that are in fact FREE today.

So as I followed RCE last week, I was pleased to see a blog by James Bickers himself, "The one simple thing your retail associates should be doing, but probably aren't." The most personal thing about us as an individual is our name. As Bickers points out, most Retail Sales People (RSPs) have ample opportunity to learn your name through your typical payment mechanism – credit card or debit card. And if you pay cash, there are numerous opportunities to ask your name during the sale or at the cash register.

How many times this busy holiday season has an RSP used your name?

In the frenetic pace of the holiday season and Black Friday sales, there are numerous excuses as to why there is not time for names … the focus is on efficiency. Yet think about it. Using a customer name from a credit/debit transaction takes seconds, it's simple, and it costs NOTHING. It is the ultimate personalization that makes a difference, but one that will rarely happen at most retailers this holiday season.

#2 Major retail miss – Giving thanks to consumers for their business

The ultimate irony of last week in US retail is that the holiday is in fact called thanks giving. The verb giving implies action. Going out of your way to recognize someone and express gratitude. Yet, how many times have you been greeted by someone in a store actually thanking you for coming in and doing business with them? Unfortunately it is increasingly rare! Thanking customers personally is one of the simplest, yet most noticed things that small local retailers can do to create a personalized experience neglected by big box retailers.

Don't believe in the power of thanks? Just watch what happens if you reverse the process and give thanks to the RSP for their assistance. The value of thank you is more than you think … it totally changes the conversation. Stop and say thank you to a RSP or cashier in store. Watch what happens. You might even elicit a smile from someone frowning while working long hours on the busiest days of the retail year.

Big Box retail seems more intent on price match than saying thanks

As we have noted previously, the name of the game for big box retailing seems to be price matching guarantees this holiday season. And, speaking of holiday promotions, Black Friday ads started weeks early online, with deals appearing daily the entire Thanksgiving week in the US and Canada. In response to online pressure, stores have announced price matching. AND … many opened their stores a day earlier right on top of the holiday itself, disrupting Thanksgiving family meals before Black Friday.

Have retail stores lost their soul? We have posted many times before about the accelerating "Race to the Bottom." In looking at flat sales growth in relation to Amazon and other online retailers' double digit gains, US retailers seem to have panicked. If big box retailers continue down the slippery slope of commoditizing products and competing on low price, this story will not end well for stores. The major advantage of having you in store is greeting you and creating a personal experience that is impossible online.

I've said many times that we could quickly transform retail stores if we hired wait staff from restaurants. Restaurants are much more intimate venues. There is a philosophy, process, and training on how to greet and treat customers. The best waitresses absolutely know the power of using customer names, saying thank you, and welcoming them back for a return visit. And most amazingly, they can do all of this as a matter of "habit" while waiting on numerous tables at the busiest times of the year.

In retail as with any other business, it comes down to focusing on what leaders deem to be important. In recent years, there has been tremendous focus on efficiency, merchandising, promotions and PRICE. In the process, retailers seem to have forgotten that their business is built one customer at a time and each has a name … and each of us appreciates the courtesy of being thanked for our business.

Topics: Consumer Behavior , Customer Experience , Employee Training

Chris Petersen / Chris H. Petersen, PhD, CEO of Integrated Marketing Solutions is a strategic consultant who specializes in retail, leadership, marketing, and measurement. He has built a legacy through working with Fortune 500 companies to achieve measurable results in improving their performance and partnerships. Chris is the founder of IMS Retail University, a series of strategic workshops focusing on the critical elements of competing profitably in the increasingly complex retail marketplace.
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