Stand Up and Stand Out

Protect and grow your greatest asset: your individuality

News flash: Retail is changing. It has probably made more transitions and faced more threats in the past three years than in the past thousand years.

Technology and the Internet are offering more choice to consumers at more affordable prices. Manufacturers are asking why they should deal with retailers when they can deal directly with the public online. Brands are starting to dominate the retail space, often with their own competing outlets.

Retailers who see themselves as middlemen, simply passing on goods from manufacturers to customers and expecting to receive a premium for the privilege, won’t be happy with the prognosis (think dinosaurs).

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Smart retailers understand where they fit into the equation and are adapting their business models. They realize it’s no longer about the commodity but the experience—after all, if they didn’t sell the goods, somebody else would. These retailers understand there are two parts to every sale: the product being sold and the customer who buys it. The product is interchangeable, but the customer is not. Businesses have traditionally put a value on the products they carry, seldom valuing their customer relationships.

“But my product is different,” you might say. And maybe it is. But if you stopped making it tomorrow, would the world shed a tear, or would it simply move on and buy an alternative? Your customers can find your product, or something similar elsewhere, but they can’t find you.

Now, that won’t worry them if you are a “me too” retailer, offering the same average service and ordinary product as the next person. However, if you really do have something different to offer—if you genuinely have a point of difference that makes you stand out from the crowd—then the relationship becomes just as important to consumers as it is to you.

So the secret to success in your business isn’t the items you sell; it’s the breadth and depth of your relationships with customers. The better you know them, the more you can meet their needs and provide an experience that is unique—and technology can help you achieve this.

Make personal connections with your customers in your own unique way.

In the good old days, the customer relationship was one-on-one. Nothing helped the storekeeper interact with the customer other than a face-to-face experience. Then along came technology, enabling mass communication and mass production of product. Prices were driven down, but somewhere in the midst of it all, the customer experience lost its personal touch.

Now, however, technology has brought us full circle. You can communicate with your customers in an individualized way that reflects their specific interests and desires, yet allows you to reach many people of similar interests at once. You can use technology to recognize and greet customers as they enter your store. Customers can design items to their requirements online, then order them once completed. All this is now available to make the consumer experience more personable.

But are you using it?

Too often, businesses assume they know what their customers want, and too often they let their egos dictate what they offer instead of listening to the customer.

The size and depth of your customer base is really what makes a difference to your business. Try selling your business without one and see what sort of goodwill a buyer will offer. Without a strong, clean database, most savvy buyers won’t bother.

If you don’t have a database, start one now. Much like exercise, it’s never too late, but just like exercise, you have to keep at it. Customers are your oxygen. Your business is about not just selling product, but building relationships, because that’s where your future sales will come from.

All other factors being equal, if a customer must choose between a store they know and trust and one they don’t, they will go with trust every time. But don’t take this for granted.

If you think you can get away with just being the middleman, it’s time to think again.