The other day, I went with my husband and baby son to the Apple store here in Scottsdale, Arizona to pick out an iPod for my birthday. I thought it was time to get with the 21st century and walk around like everyone else with little white headphones in my ears, especially since I am anxious to listen to some great podcasts.
I don’t remember the last time I was in an Apple store, but as soon as I walked in, I felt very engaged. The atmosphere was simple and stylish, and I didn’t feel overwhelmed by screaming advertisements or mounds and mounds of computer equipment. A very cool, friendly and knowledgeable young man came up to me and in a very relaxed way asked what I was looking for. After I told him I was looking for an iPod, he steered me over to an easy-to-understand chart and asked a few simple questions:
- What was I planning on using it for?
- How much music or how many movies was I planning to download?
- Did I prefer white or black?
The technically savvy among you may groan loudly at my lack of technical finesse but I have to share something with you – my eyes glaze over and my head rolls back when I am forced to discuss too many bytes or bits or megs or rams. I just want someone to listen carefully to what my intended use of the product will be, use their vast technical expertise to recommend what I should buy, and stick out their hand to accept my credit card.
And that is exactly what happened at the store. This cute, cool techno sales kid got me the exact product that I wanted, put it in my hands in less than 5 minutes, rang my sale with a handheld remote credit card processor so that I didn’t have to stand in line to pay for it, and did nothing to hype me into an extended warranty plan.
To top it off, while I was being taken care of in the aisle, my husband and baby son were sitting on comfortable, kid-sized beanbag chairs at a low table and playing educational games on Macintosh computers. My husband was so enchanted by the whole thing that he was ready to buy my son a new Mac right then and there. I had to remind him that our son just barely started to walk and talk and that perhaps we should wait until he doesn’t try to eat the mouse before buying him a computer.
This is just one example of a retail location that does so many things right, and takes its target customer’s needs into account with their entire sales model. They don’t force you to buy, they seduce you into buying. Other favorite retail experiences:
Whole Foods Market, which is like a blast of fresh, healthful and refreshing colors and smells every time you step inside. I actually feel physically better when I am inside the store. They make homemade, healthy food in their deli, carry fun extras like aromatherapy candles and massage oil, and have a gigantic abundance of fresh fruit attractively displayed right when you walk in the door.
Peet’s Coffee, especially the Lake Merritt location in my old home town of Oakland, California. Peet’s is not just a place to get coffee, it is a community center. Their coffee is like diesel fuel, just my style. They have good pastries. Their servers are genuine, nice people and they look you in the eye and ask how you are doing. I was voted “customer of the week” by the staff two months after moving to Lake Merritt based on the following wonderfully subjective criteria: “You have to come in a lot and we have to like you.” They took a Polaroid snapshot of me and placed it on the counter, gave me unlimited free drinks all week and generally made me feel like a cherished celebrity. It wasn’t forced, and I didn’t have to punch out 250 boxes of a “frequent buyer card” to attain the honor.
What are the lessons to learn from these examples as you plan your business?
- Respect your customer’s style. Even if you are a 5th degree black belt in Java programming and could slice electrons with your bare fists, save your techno-babble for someone who cares. When you see a clueless, pressed-for-time and credit-card bearing customer like me walk through your door, become a consultant and help me make an informed purchase without forcing me to listen to information I don’t understand or care about.
- Make it easy for the customer to buy from you. Analyze the steps that your customers have to take to purchase a product from you. If you have a web-based business, how can you make it “1-Click Amazon” simple? For a retail store, how can you do like Apple and avoid the line at the cash register altogether?
- Let people mess around with your stuff. I learned from a savvy salesperson that the key to getting someone emotionally ready to buy is to let them “test drive” your product. Find ways to let them try on, hold in their hands, eat, listen to and play with your products. If you are a service-based company, offer a free sample of a great audio program, assessment tool or video.
- Don’t be afraid to be funky and use humor. One of the appeals of the blogging world is the free speech, humor and open communication. This medium is growing because people are hungry for real conversations with real people. Let your true self show through in your business. Don’t use boring “business language” to describe your products or services. You can still be professional, smart and fun.
- Use color, art and style in your brand. We are sensual creatures! The more we see, hear, taste, touch and feel beautiful, rich, colorful and pleasing things, the more engaged we are with them. Make your facilities, website, product packaging, business cards and all other marketing collateral pleasing to look at. You don’t have to spend a fortune, just engage a smart and talented artist to help you.
- Hire genuine, caring and knowledgeable employees. I have no patience for gum-chewing, irreverent and bored employees. Anywhere. Make sure that you, and your employees if you have them, respect your customers. Care about them. Listen to them and thank them for their business. My worst pet peeve? When I politely say “thank you” after purchasing an item in a store and a bored-looking employee rolls her eyes and says “You’re welcome.” Make your customers feel like rock stars, not lucky to do business with you.