Creating Customer Experience with Felt Need Merchandising


On Friday I had the privilege to speak at the Book Expo America convention in Los Angeles. It was a tremendous opportunity to connect with retailers from around the world and hear about their stores. My topic was felt need merchandising and how a retailer can better connect with their customer if they are willing to do some simple things that, in the end, create a tremendous difference.

Let’s face it, customers today have too many choices, especially for books and book-related products. It’s far too easy to simply spin around in your comfy chair and order a book online rather than take the time to visit a retail store. So retailers more than ever need to be smart and give the customer a reason to come to the store. They need to create a merchandising model based on felt needs.

I presented seven things a store needs to do to create this kind of experience and they all center around merchandising. Let’s face it, retailers spend so much time on price and service, they forget merchandising and it’s a key component in the overall package. In summary, here’s what I recommend:

  • Physical look. Customers enter the store not only with a “need” but also with expectations (another type of need). Successful retailers meet both needs with a knockout exterior appearance (clean windows, clean door handles, etc.) and also with an interior look where the transition zone is mercandised (giving the customer a chance to take a much needed breath), aisles that have integrity and purpose (causing the customer to want to stay and discover what all they have) and answer the three questions on every shopper’s mind (What’s new? What’s hot? and What’s on sale?)
  • Differentiation. 73% of customers recently polled said that all stores look the same. If you are a retailer, what are you doing to help your store stand out and be different? If you are the same store as everyone else why should time-strapped customers make a hole in their schedule to visit your store?
  • Cleanliness. Do you and your employees take pride in the store? Are the bathrooms spotless? Is someone checking for dead flies? Are people actually warmly greeted and welcomed into the store? I travel into a lot of stores and its’ always the clean stores that win in the end. Customers have a tremendous expectation and need and the clean store builds customer confidence.
  • In Stock. Customers don’t understand a store, especially a specialty store, being out of stock. Today’s customer looks at gaps in shelves as a real problem. They have never experienced scarcity so they assume you can get anything. Plus they simply don’t have time to waste on your poor inventory control. You must always be in stock of the merchandise you plan to carry, period.
  • Uniqueness. What is your uniqueness? What does your store stand for? Are you taking a position on a certain product line so people in your community know you are THE place for them to go for this? I was in a tremendous store in Tempe, AZ. They had table after table of books, labeled with the name of the reading group currently reading that book. They had contact names, reading lists, etc. If you were in a reading group they were the one store who had it all for you. That’s uniqueness and taking a stand for something!
  • Looking Ahead. Are you always making your store revevant? Or is it old and not keeping up? I’m not saying you always have to remodel, what I’m saying is that trends change and great retailers keep up. What are you doing to attract electronic customers? There are several ways now you can offer the service. Are your shelves and displays dated? What about signage? Colors? Customers have needs to feel trendy (or if you can create a great retro look it accomplishes the same idea).
  • The Boomerang. If a retailer will focus on the above six, it’s my strong belief that they will create the boomerang effect — people will come back. Retailers are most successful when then have returning customers and those customer bring friends. A focus, not just on price and service (which anyone can duplicate), but on unique, customer need driven merchandising, will cause the boomerang effect.

In an hour I was able to cover so much more, but hopefully you can see the rough outline. Bottom line, customers have written and unwritten needs and great retailers know how to serve both through merchandising.

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2 Responses to “Creating Customer Experience with Felt Need Merchandising”

  1. Mary K Bird-Guilliams says:

    I work for a public library in Kansas and attended your session. It was fantastic what I could use in the library setting. I remember a survey on buying Bibles was mentioned, that a uncomfortabe number of people that actually came into the store wanting one left without because they couldn’t find it! So transferable to a public library! Would it be possible to have those numbers emailed to me? I couldn’t write fast enough! I would like to use this with my admin team.
    Mary K. Bird-Guilliams
    Collection Development Manager
    Wichita Kansas
    Thanks for a great session!

  2. Mary,
    Thank you for your encouraging comment. Let me share some data with you and hopefully this is what you need:
    46% of people who went into the store with the intent to purchase a Bible left the store without making the purchase. Reason? Confusion
    7 out of 8 Bible buyers go to the store knowing they want to purchase a Bible. So think of how many people are disappointed, angry, frustrated? They know what they want and can’t find it under poor merchandising schemes
    The average Bible buyer takes 21 minutes to make a purchase decision. Compare this to the fact that the average customer spends less than 2 minutes at a best-seller end cap or display. People have no time, yet the Bible purchase, under poor merchandising, forces them to waste their time. Again, customer frustration.
    I hope this is helpful to you. Please let me know if you need anything else.

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