A funny thing happened while I was shopping at the mall over the weekend.
John needed to get a couple pairs of blue jeans, so we headed over to JCPenney. They were having a sale on his favorite brand, so we knew exactly where we were headed. I say this only to explain that we weren't on a typical Traci "let's look around" kind of mission. We went in with a plan, and we stuck to it.
In the short time between entering and exiting the store, we were greeted by no less than FIVE sales associates. I'm not talking about your standard, "can I help you find something?" that comes off fake and creepy - I'm talking about a genuine, look-you-in-the-eyes-and-smile greeting. There was something immediately different about the way in which they greeted us, and we immediately noticed.
I worked at JCPenney in high school and college - in fact, it was my very first "real job." This was back in the day when James Cash Penney (for whom the chain is named) appeared in the training videos. Mind you, that has been MANY moons ago, but even so - I knew that there was something different here. It was really nice.
In the eternal words of the late Billy Mays, "but wait! There's more!"
We left the store and headed out into the food court for lunch. We decided to grab a quick sandwich at Chick-Fil-A. While placing our order, a food court attendant brushed past us to place a stack of trays on the counter for the CFA folks. The clerk taking our order apologized profusely for "the intrusion." We laughed, replying that it would take more than that to offend us, and left the counter moments later with our order, and a slight smile still on our faces.
While we were enjoying our lunch, another Chick-Fil-A employee asked if we'd like for her to refill our beverages. Get out of Dodge! I couldn't believe we were getting that level of service in a crowded mall food court.
Minutes later, we headed out of the mall, but the discussion as we headed to the car was all about the many examples of great service we'd received during our brief visit.
In a tough economy, price is often removed from the equation. The huge discount retailers will often match prices on popular items. If the product is identical from multiple retailers, and you've removed the price barrier - what's left? Service. Focus on providing the customer with a better experience, better service, or a better value, and you'll win their loyalty.
Create a better buying experience, and leave an impression on the customer. In tough times, customers hold tight to the wallet. If they are going to open the wallet to make a purchase, you want them to feel GOOD about it, not experience buyer's remorse. In each of the examples I noted, we walked away having noted that it was a positive buying experience. We felt good about making the choice we made.
Yes, times are tough, and they may get worse before they get better. But, consumers will still have needs to fill. If you want to be the retailer they choose to fill those needs, start finding ways to make yourself the obvious choice. Offer value-added services. Offer superior service. Create a better experience.
Do that, and your customer walks away happy, comfortable and evangelizing your business. In the end, you'll get more mileage out of that than a good pair of blue jeans.