How to boost retail sales

Written by Nate Hendley

Want to boost sales at your retail store without breaking the bank? There are a number of small things you can do to get your customers spending, says John Torella, senior partner at the Toronto office of J.C. Williams Group, a retail consultancy.

Here are Torella’s top tips:

Create magnetic window displays

An effective window display catches a consumer’s attention in the time it takes to blink, says Torella. For more on creating the perfect window display, read “How to dress a window.”

Be wary of retail clichés

It used to be given that supermarkets should put staples such as bread and milk at the back of their stores, forcing customers to pass other products to reach them. The idea is to create more opportunities for impulse purchases.

Such retail clichés are being challenged, says Torella, who questions the wisdom of “forcing a customer to spend more time than they want to” in your store. Cutting-edge grocers have taken note of this. In a radical readjustment of shelving priorities, explains Torella, “some big supermarkets have created a shop within the supermarket, containing convenience goods. This allows people to get in and out quickly.” Think outside the box when designing your store.

Place merchandise strategically

Visual appeal isn’t the only thing to consider when merchandising. The items that sell best tend to be on shelves just below eye-level, so stock your shelves accordingly.

Use lighting to set the mood

“If you’ve got a casual, laid-back lifestyle store, then the lighting should be subdued and pleasant,” says Torella. “On the other hand, if it’s a convenience store, then you want bright lights to create a sense of energy and motion.”

Be wary of using unnatural lighting, such as colored lights, which can unconsciously annoy customers and deter them from buying. On the other hand, all rules are meant to be broken: if you think you can use unnatural lighting in a creative, dramatic fashion that works for your customers, then try it, says Torella. Just remember, you’re selling consumer goods, not tickets to a light show.

Press “play” on your CD player

Pleasant background music can enhance a shopping experience and encourage sales. It’s vital, however, to play the right kind of music. “You don’t want to have music that’s inconsistent with the customer,” says Torella.

Some general guidelines: mid-range fashion stores should play easy-listening radio, Muzak or soft rock. Teen-oriented stores should play contemporary pop music, as long as it doesn’t offend parents. High-end retailers should consider classical or light jazz. Absolute silence is almost never a good idea, as it can make shoppers uncomfortable.

Be creative about what music can do for your store. Some McDonald’s locations, for example, play loud classical music in a deliberate effort to keep teens under control.

Show and tell

Product demonstrations are very popular with customers and can drive sales — when done right. A common mistake is allowing staff to be too aggressive. Many shoppers — especially men — have nightmares about being sprayed with perfume by overly solicitous department store clerks at the cosmetics counter.

Consider the comfort zone

Keep the entrance of your store clean and clear of clutter. “There is a ‘decompression zone’ when the customer walks into the store,” says Torella. “It’s about 10 feet. Within that space, you want to avoid congestion or anything that will act as a barrier.” Otherwise, a potential big spender might turn on his heels and leave your store.

Read other pointers on How To contribute to your business success!

© 2004 Nate Hendley

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