Not sure I should name the store but let me set the scene: An extremely well kept outlet mall housing some nice looking designer brand stores, but quite empty as its Friday afternoon just after the lunch hour. I stepped into a well-known brand clothes store. There are two assistants at the cash desk. None of them acknowledge me as I entered yet I overheard their conversation concerning one of the assistants working hours and the fact that they definitely need a certain date as holiday for a family occasion. I browsed, picking up items for about 6 minutes. Another customer walked in while I was still browsing and one of the assistants said hello then continued with their own discussion. They were still talking when I left! How do you think I felt?

The questions in my mind were, “where was the manager? Do these staff members care? And more importantly do they have any understanding of customer experience?" My answer: “Of course they do! We all do! We all go out to shop at some point so we all know how we want to be treated”.

I love to shop and love to note assistants behaviours because I grew up in retail, so I can be critical of the level of customer service I witness or experience first-hand. However when I put everything I know together with feedback from young retail staff including my own son, coupled with own experience, I begin to understand;

There are many reasons why I think sales assistants 'lose interest' and here’s how I think they can be tackled;

  1. Boredom from lack of footfall - train staff to be innovative with their time. The better service they provide, and the more interesting they look, the more customers they will attract.
  2. Timewasting browsers - Don't exist unless you let them. Know which questions to use to quickly asses why they are here. I have heard many people ask “are you just browsing or looking for something in particular?" , this is ok or you can also slightly change that to "are you looking for inspiration or maybe to treat yourself?" Think about the wording which is more likely to make the customer feel on a level with you and help build better rapport?
  3. Don’t want to scare customers away - This usually stems from the assistance own personal preferences and characteristics. If the assistant feels they are going to intimidate a customer then they need help in confidence. The customer chose to enter so they already know or expect a sales assistant to approach them, therefore assistants need help to overcome their own fear and barriers to this. There are many nice ways to acknowledge a customer gently, for example: 'hi, thanks for coming in we've got some great sales items and fabulous new lines let me know if I can help you....."
  4. Repeat timewasters - I have to admit, I will often visit a store a few times before I might decide to buy, but does make me a time waster? In fact it means quite the opposite. If I keep going in it’s because I'm being drawn in by the store collections or the brand. Most of the time I want to buy something from that store but I can’t yet see something that is good enough to justify my spend. This happens when I don't need something I just want something to stand out so much that I am influenced to buy it. I’m looking for perceived value to make me feel good. This is what we know as retail therapy and it’s a good thing. Though I can often sense when an assistant has recognised me and decides to label me a time waster and hence they steer away from me. I would rather they broke the ice with something like “hello, I recognise you, thanks for coming back. Have a look round and call me if anything catches your attention." That would make me so much more comfortable about being back and so much more likely to spend more time in there and we know that the longer I spend in there, the more likely I am to want something!

I guess that’s enough for now. I hope this helps Retail Managers to think about how to get the most from their footfall.

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