Surely at some point during a shopping experience, you have walked into a store, only to be ignored by the sales staff. In these situations, you can’t help but wonder, “Does this person want my business?” Not putting the needs of your customers first is off-putting, since they count on you to stay in business. As a retailer, you should never take for granted a basic sales principle: putting your customers first and truly understanding their needs will help your sales stay in the black.

Establishing a positive rapport with customers is especially important in today’s competitive marketplace as a tool for setting yourself apart from your competition. All it takes is a little effort on your part to strike-up some non-sales small-talk first. This can create an open environment in which customers will be more apt to give you a better sense of their needs.

Of course, the next step cannot be stressed enough…listen, listen, listen to what your customers want to buy. By doing this you can focus on their needs/wants and likes/dislikes. Why push an item for which you have a little overstock if it’s not exactly what that particular customer wants? While you may get it out the door for the time being, it’s unlikely that he/she will come back for a repeat purchase.

But, when there are sales on items that your shopping community is crazy about, be sure that your staff is trained about them. Nothing makes shoppers more unsure about your store than if your staff is not fully knowledgeable of sales, promotions, specials and everyday pricing. It is vital to the life of your store for you to know the ins-and-outs of as many items as you can (from both nutritional and pricing standpoints) and share it with shoppers in a helpful way. But before your staff inundates shoppers with a sales pitch, remember that there’s a fine line between offering great information in an open, helpful way and coming across as pressuring customers to make a decision.

Communication is the name of the game when it comes to customers. Being able to quickly assess the needs of your customers is a win–win situation for everyone.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, Nov. 2009