The Rules of Retail

Often times, the first thing a customer sees when entering a retail stores are all of the “rules” that need to be followed while in the shop. From no cell phones, to no drinks, these kinds of rules always make us scratch our heads. Isn’t the store there to serve customers? Shouldn’t it be comfortable and convenient for them? This month we bring you the Retail Concepts take on rules.

We believe that in retail, they are made to be broken. So really what is with all the rules? If a customer just bought a $4 coffee on their way to do some errands, you can be sure they will not be pleased to be stopped and told it cannot be brought in the store. Aside from this being a very awkward exchange between customer and store staff, a few things may happen — the customer may be pissed off and tell you so, they may quietly oblige (and our guess is not too happily), or they may just murmur that they will come back later and walk out never to return. If this is the case, is it really worth it to upset or potentially lose a customer over a cup of coffee carried into your store? We understand that you may have items that could be ruined with a spill or mess from food or drink. However, the rare occasion it happens is more than outweighed by the number of customers that buy in your store while transporting a coffee. We consider this a cost of doing business and those that are allowed to sip and shop will end up buying enough to make up for that rare loss. By turning their beverage away you are leaving a bad taste in the customer’s mouth (no pun intended).

There are lots of other rules we see in retail that always leave us a little perplexed:

  • No food or drink
  • No cell phones
  • No strollers
  • No public restrooms
  • No cameras or pictures

Who wants to follow silly rules while shopping? A customer may come in to check out an item and then compare prices (aka showrooming). At this point, if you have been reading our newsletters regularly, you should know we have a fair amount to say about letting customers shop how they want. But really who cares? If you are worried about them finding cheaper prices online, match it, offer a service with it, let them take it home and try it out, come up with some a reason that it is better to buy it from you. Remember, they are in your store, under your roof, they are engaged with your product and get instant gratification if they purchase that item from you. So if they are not buying from you, you have problems bigger than Amazon. Also, don’t forget if someone whips out their phone to take a picture, in many cases, they are doing so to send it to a friend or family member to ask an opinion. Do you really want to tell them that is not allowed?

And if you have a bathroom, let customers use it. And better yet, let people who are not customers use it too. They may be customers on another day and if they can’t use the bathroom when they need it, rest assured they will most likely never be your customers. And if a customer is in your store and needs to leave to find a bathroom, in most cases they won’t be back to finish that purchase either.

Before posting rules in your store, think about what you can do to make the experience in your store one that really doesn’t need rules to be effective operationally. For example, do strollers make it too cramped for people to comfortably shop when the store is busy? Instead of a no stroller policy, designate a confined area in your store as “stroller parking” to encourage (and not mandate!) parents to keep them tucked out of the way when they shop.

Or do your fitting rooms become dumping grounds for unwanted clothes that end up in a heap on the floor once people are done trying them on? Instead of instituting a fitting room maximum, add additional hooks and label them “love, maybe and no” to help customers organize their items and make it more likely for them to keep them neatly on hangers. Thinking about ways to circumvent rules with clever strategies will not only prevent certain problems from happening, but will also please the customer.

Now we know there are are certain rules that you need to adhere to (like anything mandated by the board of health for example), but think about how you communicate these rules before printing up a curt sign. Imagine how you would verbally explain these rules to a customer before typing up a sign that may not sit well with your customer base. Would you really say “NO PUBLIC RESTROOMS!” all in shouty caps to a customer who asked if you had a bathroom? If not, then don’t write that on your sign.

A great example is a sign at a children’s store that speaks in a way that works for its customers. Instead of telling customer “No Dogs!”, it explains that the reason it can’t let them in is because some of their customers may be afraid of them. A perfect articulation for customers that everyone understands.

Remember that at the end of the day, you are in business to sell products/services/experiences to your customers and anything you build into your policies that may put off your customers will not help your cause here.

When you do communicate to customers about any policies etc, talk in their language (which should coincide with your brand approach anyway) so that they get what you are trying to say and more readily accept any restrictions.