Five Retail Challenges Separating You from Your Customer (and how to avoid them)

Edward Sattaur  |  March 27, 2019

So you run a business, you’ve built it by gaining a clear understanding of your customer and her desires. You have invested time, money and expertise into earning trust and loyalty from her and she can feel it.

Earned loyalty

During the “honeymoon period” you avoided the traditional retail challenges based on: location, location, location. Your prime location on the corner of a main intersection next to a subway entrance has always served you well.  She proudly recommends you to her friends. They have listened too. Many have been referred to you, inquiring about a specific item she has suggested. In kind, you have gladly shared complimentary words about her.  When frustration about access to your store during seasonal construction came up, she was your staunch public defender, Twitter-er, Slack-er and Instagram-er, rising to quell a tide of negative sentiment from forming against you. Foreign concepts to you for the most part, you’ve heard about social media, but you’re in the personal business mostly. When it comes to getting the service and reliability she can trust, she knows there is you and in return she is loyal. Rarely does she go elsewhere for a solution that may at best, rival what she’s grown to count on from you.


Customer advocacy dream

In fact, you’ve grown so content and secure in the relationship that you rarely feel the need to introduce new things. With satisfaction at such a high level, you have become comfortable in the relationship. You proceed doing what you’ve always done: delivering the odd hand-written note every once in awhile, giving her advance notice when you introduced the new order to ship process, and rewarding her with special savings for her loyalty. You’ve “checked that box” and put your attention elsewhere, until after some time one of your top sales associate asks “Have you seen her lately?”


Shattered illusion

“No, actually,..." you reply. "come to think of it, I haven’t seen her.” Quickly scanning the order queue, it’s been over three months. You remember because she mentioned having almost completed her holiday shopping at that time, and you marveled, as the calendar had only just turned to December.

"She’s probably on vacation..." you tell yourself, "or out of town helping a family member with a transition. She’s so caring that way." It does seem plausible to you, but then that moment passes.

None of this explains the sudden drop off in visits. Every day you open the shop, you look for her. She is your light, affirmation of what you do, but for some strange reason she’s been missing.


Step 1 – Not Being Honest

A false sense of security has caused you to overlook the need to be brutally honest about the situation. When you sell yourself on the idea that your work is done securing and retaining your top customers, you’ve lied to yourself and ceased being honest about your situation. Retail challenges are real. Most retailers are under siege, with more options available to consumers today than at any other time. Evaluate what you’re doing now compared to when you won her loyalty. What does she see in the market today compared to then? Undoubtedly, new options abound, including enhanced delivery service that may be putting someone else's product in her hands the very next day.


Step 2 – Remaining Static

The best methods of captivating her attention have shifted, but you’re still doing them because they have gotten you this far. You have a successful business that was only a dream a few short years ago. That said, you know there has been a shift because your product offering is a consumable – a resource subject to regular replenishment. This is both a blessing and a curse, requiring her to visit you more frequently, even at times however, when it may not be easy to do so. Without an effective final mile delivery component, your business is at risk of her schedule - one that has likely become more cluttered since your relationship began.


Making a living, breathing log of the top concerns of your target customer is essential to avoid this pitfall. Inject it with truth by polling your customers formally and informally. Tweak the information gathering process continually to uncover more about your “moving” target. This is essential because the last five years have proven that static business models remain static at their own peril. (Source: Datex Corporation “What is Last Mile Logistics – Part 1”)


Step 3 – Failure to Bond

Bonding came naturally when you started the business. You had the time to drum up conversation in a manner that was genuine. Being sincere and finding common points of interest regularly translates into validation. When staff are validated on the job, this transfers into how they treat your customers. You know this/knew this, especially as the bond was critical to growth, but you may have forgotten this. As the business has expanded and your direct contact with her has been limited, you’ve lost touch with that bond and are uncertain whether it has carried over into her interactions with your people. You have great staff, but they aren’t relationship builders, not in the same manner as a caring business owner would be.


Maybe you’ll call her. Would that seem odd? In order to do so, you’d need to find her phone number, which leads us to…


Step 4 – Disengagement

Ouch. You haven’t gathered and organized a complete list of your points of contact since your grand opening sale. Phone numbers, addresses, items purchased, have all fallen by the wayside as you've focused on sales and inventory. Each of these elements work to keep you in touch in a meaningful way. Elements you felt were no longer needed in her case. You’ve forgotten how to engage her in a meaningful way, but there is hope, as long as you avoid the pitfall of the final Step in your progression toward losing her entirely…


Step 5 – Resistance to Change

Since you've never had a complete list or organized method of reaching out to your client base, it really shouldn’t be a surprise that they may have forgotten about how great your offering is. Now is the time to re-calibrate (you read about that somewhere). Learn from what you discovered in Steps 3 and 4 and find compelling ways to approach her again.


Maybe it was the product line that lost her, the frequency or infrequency of new items or the ability/inability to market to her in an appropriate manner. You will have to do something different and it must capture her attention. Remember the pleasure, knowing that you had all of her needs covered in your offering? That was a good space to be in. Each time she left that door and those bells started to echo across the shop floor, you felt satisfaction. That day will return if you can only accept that through inaction, continuing to ignore the warning signs summarized here, losing customers is inevitable.


In many cases these Steps happened, not through your own fault, but simply due to the nature of business. Surely Blockbuster did not recognize there was a problem when they rejected approaches by Netflix, but indeed, change was happening. The key is to let change happen, with you, not to you.


By being self aware and recognizing the retail challenges you are experiencing, you can grab the wheel by both hands. We know a bit about that. Let us help.