In a climate where every customer counts, you must take note of requests to make sure you have the items that potential clients are searching for. Our business expert Adam Bernstein investigates how to boost sales.
Have you ever asked for something in a shop and been told: “we don’t stock it because there’s not enough demand”? This happens quite often as shop owners haven’t twigged that enquiries mean that there is a demand for a product. To the consumer, of course, this kind of situation is just a nuisance. But for the shop manager or owner, it represents a loss of business.
Obviously, the consumer can’t buy what isn’t there; worse still, buyers may decide to look elsewhere – online – for their other needs, too, regardless of whether the shop can in fact meet them. They may also never return.
The problem for retail is that while situations like this happen, they are not usually recorded. Accounts systems only record sales that are made – not sales that are lost. And complaints systems, too, usually record complaints about purchases – not complaints about what the shop doesn’t sell.
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The easiest way to start recording unmet demand is simply to start a logbook of every instance a customer asked for something you didn’t have. Looking through, say, a month’s customer questions might well show one or two significant areas of demand which can easily be supplied.
If three people actually ask for something, you can rely on the fact that at least as many again have looked round the store and either been too embarrassed or not had enough time to ask. It’s also quite likely that some of your paying customers will have walked out with something they didn’t really want – the “next best thing”.
Better still, ask staff to record what action they took about the query, as well as the query itself. Are you able to make special orders for items which are not economic to stock in bulk? Can you refer customers to a nearby specialist? A customer who has been referred to a specialist supplier, or who has had something ordered specially, will always remember the service you gave – and will probably continue to use you.
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Think about how those with multiple branches are perceived when staff automatically check (online) stock systems for product availability at other locations and then offer to have the item sent to the customer’s home, or made ready for collection in-branch – sometimes at no extra cost? It’s a great advert.
Don’t forget, either, that although you may have the right product, the price may be wrong. If your logbook shows you that customers refused to buy on the grounds that the product was too expensive, start scouring suppliers for a cheaper source, or even cut your margins.
There might even be room for you to stock two products – a basic and a more expensive one. Remember that 80 percent of something is better than 100 percent of nothing. Suppose you have identified a demand for a particular product in this way.
How can you reduce the risk of taking on stock that won’t sell? One simple way is to go to a competitor – perhaps larger than you – and see what is moving off the shelves there. What do they stock that you don’t? How is it selling? That should give you an idea of whether a product will be a success.
Of course, if they don’t stock it either, that doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s no demand for it – they, too, may have been making the same mistake. If you log customer requests, you may well be able to expand your business. And you should certainly be able to offer a better service to your customers. There is an oft-used phrase, that the customer is king.
The reality is that it is the non-customer who is king because there will always be more people who walk past the shop than those who actually come in the door. Those customers walking past represent a demand you have still not met.
Most marketing is really only useful for keeping the customers you have. But how do you find out about those that haven’t yet become a customer? One interesting exercise is to look through your customer list and spot the missing people and groups.
Are you mainly serving women from one part of the area? Do certain groups of people feel comfortable buying from you? It’s well known, for example, that women feel less than comfortable in car showrooms. Now while that’s clearly a world away from bridal, are you catering for everyone?
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One final point. Sometimes you have the product; the right customer comes in; the product’s in the right place; and you still don’t get a sale. Make sure you are always ready to help; you may never know how many customers went away without being satisfied.
Remember that unmet demand represents an available source of profitable business. A customer asking for something you haven’t got is not a nuisance, it’s a potential source of revenue. Make sure you think very carefully before you turn down this wonderful opportunity.
Want more advice like this? Take a look at our January/February digital issue of Bridal Buyer here.