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Do customers come for education, leave for the sale?

Do customers come for education, leave for the sale?

What sets your store apart from the glossy supermarket down the way? Why should shoppers buy organic bell peppers and probiotics from you when the local Walmart sells them cheaper? Why would a time-pressed young mother want to wheel her kid-filled cart down your aisles once a week when she could make one Costco run per month and call it good?

Your answers likely mirror the exact tenets you founded your store upon: quality products, superb customer service and a sense of community. These attributes have been attracting wellness- and eco-minded customers for years, keeping them coming back and inspiring them to trumpet your assets to their friends and families.

But how do you react when shoppers come in to learn about specific products, discuss diet plans with your staff, share their stories of weight-loss woe, and then waltz out empty-handed only to purchase items elsewhere? 

In talking with retailers during my recent Minnesota store tour and at last week’s Natural Products Expo East in Baltimore, it became clear that “take the education and run” is a real and mounting concern for independent natural products retailers. As more conventional stores expand their natural and organic selections and larger natural-minded chains like Whole Foods Market and Earth Fare sprinkle more stores across the nation, you know you have to emphasize those cornerstones of your business to attract and keep customers. And, most likely, that has worked, as you see new and knowledge-hungry consumers stroll through your doors each day. But how can you ensure these shoppers stay for the sale?

Even online retailing is starting to impact brick-and-mortar natural products stores in this way. E-tailers allow busy consumers to purchase goods from their homes, and they often can offer lower prices in exchange for the personable customer service that your store offers. But what’s stopping shoppers from taking a lesson in L-theanine from your supplements staff and then not busting out their credit cards until they’re back home at their laptops?

You do what you can to keep your prices comparable, but we all know that isn’t always feasible. You always try to keep your shelves stocked, but manufacturers’ sales and distributors’ supplies can lead to empty spaces that are beyond your control. You can offer coupons to get people poised for purchase, but those can attract the type of bargain-happy store-hoppers who won’t come back anyway.

Clearly, this is a challenge. If it hasn’t yet impacted your store, who knows? Maybe you’re lucky and it never will. But all signs point to education-poaching being an issue that won’t fizzle away tomorrow.

I don’t purport to have stellar solutions. But I’d strongly suggest you keep doing exactly what you already do well. Reward the customers you do have and continue making them glad they support you with dollars. Keep the customers that “get” this happy, and they’ll keep coming back and sending their friends. Because, remember, no matter how rapidly the world changes and technology transforms sales experiences, nothing beats person-to-person contact and the power of word-of-mouth. Even if you can’t convince every last soul to spend at your store, you can get many—and these are the types of shoppers you want.    

Retailers, I'd love to hear your ideas about this: Have you faced this issue? Have you found successful strategies to address it? 

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