Customer Attitudes

This is number eleven in our series based on Challenges of the
Future: The Rebirth of Small Independent Retail in America
, a 64 page white paper by Jack Stanyon, underwritten by the George H. Baum
Community Charitable Trust, the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, and the
National Retail Federation Foundation.  Today we take a look at the trend of Changing consumer attitudes and behavior.

Today’s customers can be overwhelmed by the amount and variety of messages that come their way every day.  Add to that the huge number of shopping choices that are available today and it’s no wonder that consumer attitudes and behavior are changing.  According to Stanyon, "People are more fluid in their shopping behavior.  They no longer sit still confortably in a single segment….Today, the same customers will buy a luxury good in the morning and then buy a lowest discount price item in the afternoon. 

As we discussed in an earlier post, "Hunting for Treasure", Michael Silverstein describes this trend in his book, "Treasure Hunt:  Inside the Mind of the New Consumer".  Today’s consumer may scrimp on comodity items and use the savings to upgrade on items they consider important.  Our job as merchants is to make our products and service so desirable that Mr. and Ms. Consumer will be willing to forego the best toothpaste and laundry detergent in favor of doing business with us.

Stanyon goes on to say that "we value most what is most scarce."  Time, which is only available in units of 24 hours per day and seven days per week, seems to be the thing that most Americans desire.  Since no one gets more than their daily allotment, using it efficiently is very important to a lot of people.  Independent retailers offer the in-a-hurry consumer the advantage of close-by parking, personal service, and no-hassle checkout.  This explains, at least in-part, the decline in shopping mega-malls and the growth of the so-called lifestyle centers.

One thing that’s constant, especially in the twenty-first century, is change.  Not long ago, most consumers wouldn’t even think about making a major purchase on the Internet.  Today it’s common.  Customers attitudes change much more frequently and loyalty isn’t what it used to be. 

As I follow various Internet groups that discuss products that we sell, I often see a core of loyal customers.  But I also see "influencers".  These are people whose opinion is clearly valued by other members of the group.  If they reccomend a product, a retailer, or a web site, other members of the group will act on that reccomendation.  On the reverse side, let one of them say something negative and others will quickly jump in with their own stories to back up the negative comment.

The point is that you’re only as good as your customer’s most recent experience.  Years of satisfaction can be wiped out by one less-than-satisfactory visit to your store, even if that visit was by someone else.

What’s the solution?  Someone once said, "treat them so many ways that they have to like one of them".  That’s a start.  Every member of your team has to be "on their game" for every single contact, whether it’s in person, on the phone, or over the Internet.  You can’t afford to give your customers a reason to even think about going somewhere else.

As the owner/manager, it’s up to you to make sure that every transaction goes beyond the ordinary, even beyond the great.  Exceed their expectations.  As Tom Peters says, leave them saying "Wow!"  Give them a story to tell their friends.  Make the experience of shopping with you such a treat that they won’t even consider shopping elsewhere.  If people truly are "more fluid" in their shopping behavior, then you want your business to be the one they "flow to", not the one they flow away from.

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