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prevent difficult customers in brick and mortar stores

How to Prevent Difficult Customers in Retail: Brick and Mortar

According to the ICSC (The International Council of Shopping Centers), 78% of consumers still prefer shopping at a physical store.

And just like in your online store, customers have plenty of room to grow difficult in a brick and mortar setting. But unlike online retail, you are face-to-face with difficult customers, and you don’t have the option of closing your eyes and taking a deep breath.

So how can you prevent these tricky situations from unfolding in your store?

Communicate Return Policies Effectively

If a customer goes out of her way to come to your store for a return and is denied, she’s not going to be a happy camper.

It’s important that your sales associates not only know your return policies like the back of their hands, but also communicate them clearly with each purchase.

It can be easy to get lazy with it, but a customer can become difficult if they feel cheated out of a return.

Make sure that the following occurs to communicate your return to your customers:

  • Have signs at checkout
  • Circle the return policy on the receipt
  • Have workers inform new customers about your return policy
  • Include printed handouts in each bag

Keep Your Customers Informed

prevent difficult customers in brick and mortar stores

Keep your customers informed about your sales, events, and online presence. It’s important to train sales associates to communicate this information to your customer.

For example, if a customer finds out that they have been shopping at your store for years without receiving a loyalty card, she may be personally offended and decide not to come back. Or if she finds out that she could have ordered certain things online, she may become difficult and get angry with a sales associate out of frustration. Or worse, she may stop doing business with you all together.

In order to prevent these awkward moments, inform associates on a weekly basis about what they should be informing customers on.

Associates on the floor may be communicating current sales and promotions, while those at the cash registers may explain email list rewards or updates to store policies.

If customers are kept informed, they are much more likely to feel valuable, and less likely to feel ignored and disposable.

Offer Comprehensive Self-Service Options

Like in the ecommerce world, customers in traditional stores are increasingly seeking self-service options. It’s important to offer them, because while many customers truly hate being ignored, they also value their independence when they don’t feel they require assistance.

In-store self-service options can be:

  • A brochure, catalog, or pamphlet that features store policies, products, sales etc.
  • Price-check scanners
  • Self-checkout stations
  • Loyalty cards and phone apps that reward in-person purchases

Curate Retail Items

Customers increasingly suffer from buyer’s fatigue: though the internet can overwhelm them in terms of options, in-person shopping causes other types of stress like physical exertion. This can cause customers to become cranky and demanding.

However if your team is properly trained, they can help customers feel happier and more secure with their purchases.

Help customers shop by:

  1. Creating a Staff Pick Section

    The staff picks section at City Lit Books, an independent bookstore in Chicago, is not only sizeable, but also truly helpful for any perusing book lover.

    Each staff pick has a description penned by a staffer beneath it. Some are funny and others ponderous, but all of them are engaging. Let your workers’ personality and taste shine through a staff’s pick section—not only will this help customers decide what to buy, but it will also make them feel like your sales associates are more approachable.

  2. Curating Attractive Displays

    Find an associate with an especially good eye, or hire a local contractor to create attractive displays with new arrivals and products you’d like to push.

  3. Train Your Staff

    All staff members should be trained to guide customers through products and features. Let associates try your products so they can understand how they work, and consider creating a manual to help train workers about product features.

  4. Keep Sections and Merchandise Organized

    If a customer doesn’t know how to navigate your store, they’re sure to complain. Just like offering self-service options, keeping an organized store respects a customer’s independence.

Take the Customer-Centric Approach

In a brick and mortar establishment, a customer-centric approach means finding out what best suits your most frequent customers, and then adapting your strategies and plans around their experiences.

By doing this, you can anticipate what your customers need and want because you get to know them and their needs intimately. This is a great way to nip dissatisfaction in the bud.

Use the following to help you instill a customer-centric approach:

  1. Invite Customers to Leave Feedback

    The only way to truly know how to assist your customers is by asking them for their feedback.

    You can print a URL on a receipt like many big companies do, but it may be best ask your most loyal customers for their feedback. After all, they’re the ones who are most aware of your strengths and weaknesses, and will have a much stronger opinions than casual shoppers. Ask them to fill out an in-person survey, and offer them a gift card or entrance into a raffle for their participation.

    Recommended for you: 31 Questions to Help You Craft the Perfect Customer Satisfaction Survey

  2. Make Sure Your Sales Team Is Approachable

    This doesn’t just mean that they look professional—this means that they look like the kind of person that is ready to service your ideal customer.

    You can clearly tell the difference between someone who works for the Best Buy Geek Squad and someone who works for Hot Topic, and that’s a good thing. This shows that you understand your customers, and want them to feel comfortable approaching a sales associate who likely has a similar style or taste.

  3. Put the Customer First

    There are a number of things that a sales associate needs to do to keep a store running, and they may have side duties like organizing merchandise or answering the phone.

    Either have separate employees who handle these duties exclusively, or require that all associates prioritize in-store customers.

    It’s better to have them return calls later or abandon a messy display than to disrupt the connection they are having with a customer in-person. And while a customer might not immediately appreciate what’s happening, they will probably complain if they are being ignored for a phone call.

Preventing difficult customer scenarios from unfolding can be challenging, but the key is to focus on creating a strategy that works with your team and space. Although the retail world is evolving, brick and mortar establishments are still the bread and butter of many companies, and keeping customers happy is a huge part of your success.

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Carla Jerez

About Carla Jerez

Carla Jerez is a senior content writer at Comm100. She has a degree in Creative Writing from Florida State University and has years' experience writing for the SaaS industry. When she’s not writing, she’s reading, traveling, or playing around on Photoshop. Connect with her on LinkedIn.