I was recently shopping at one of my favorite independent natural products stores, and the manager told me an incredible story that I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. While the situation I’m about to relay may seem all too familiar, I believe we can all learn from the retailer’s response to it.

Dealing with the “New” Shopper A new shopper came into the store one day asking several questions about a certain supplements category. What is it all about? What differentiates the products on the shelves? How are they made? What does it do for the body? Which items does the manager recommend? As you could imagine, the time invested in this particular shopper was fairly substantial, though most retailers don’t see it as a chore. They are happy to share their knowledge—even if it means they may not ring up a big sale in the end.

Let’s pause for a second. Someone who has never shopped at an independent natural products store may find this counterintuitive. See, many natural products retailers are not in the business just to make a sale. Of course, sales are absolutely necessary for keeping a business running, but sales are not what make the heart of an independent retailer tick. Every great retailer I’ve met has a love of the products, the industry and of retailing. But moreover, these creative go-getters are excellent communicators and stellar educators. Their love for sharing information about a subject they’re passionate about is what makes retailers in this business a very special breed. And, they’re willing to continue offering this part of themselves, even if they get burned in the process.

Now, back to our story. I’ll bet every retailer reading this piece can predict what happened next. The shopper pulled out her smart phone to find out if she could buy it cheaper at a larger grocery chain. I have a lot of respect for the retailer’s reaction. He calmly explained that the price may be slightly lower elsewhere, but he could guarantee the better selection, availability and great customer service that his store provides.

Annoyed, the shopper left—but then returned 10 minutes later only to ask another similar line of questions about another product category. The retailer, being the larger person, again willingly offered up the information she needed. And then she left, saying she’d find the products cheaper elsewhere.

I was stunned at this second part, with the manager having the composure to go around in circles again with this shopper. But, it’s just who he is; a caring person who doesn’t mind giving his time and energy to help someone interested in natural products.

The Answer? I can’t say I have an answer for what is the “correct” response in this situation. But I do believe re-emphasizing customer service is the right move. And then if it doesn’t work out, perhaps politely suggesting that your store may not meet his/her needs and their best bet is to try another type of shop. Focus on the shoppers that are as serious about supporting you as you are about supporting them. WF 

Published in WholeFoods Magazine August 2016

 After Thought

While you’re thinking of yourself as an educator, I wanted to say how important it is for all retailers and manufacturers to read this month’s Vitamin Connection (p. 44) and Legal Tips (p. 48) columns. Our science editor, Richard A. Passwater, Ph.D., has been interviewing vitamin E expert Maret Traber, Ph.D. Among the topics they discuss this month is a labeling change on certain supplements that will have a major impact on shoppers’ perceptions of certain nutrients. Then, our legal editor, Scott Tips, challenges some of the choices FDA made in developing the new labels.

Put these columns on your “must read” list this month, and take note of Dr. Traber’s question: How will industry educate shoppers about this important and confusing issue?

EditorialKaylynn Chiarello-Ebner Editor/Associate Publisher