Sometimes I feel self-conscious about watching customers, especially when they're not regulars. Some people get a little paranoid about being watched. Some people are not accustomed to friendly staff. Some want to be left alone like in the big box stores, where many people shop almost exclusively. Some want to avoid high pressure sales tactics. Anyway, I thought I might shed some insight into why we take an interest in our customers, why we observe them and try to help.
Shrinkage. The most obvious reason to watch customers is to make sure the small percentage of thieves don't walk away with the stuff. Rule number one for employees is protect my stuff. Rule number two is sell my stuff, followed by number three, which is keep my stuff clean. Those are the highlights of retail right there.
Customer Curiosity. Store managers are desperately curious to divine what customers are thinking. We watch as customers walk the aisles. What direction do they turn? Do they pause? Heck, are they in any danger? Once a customer knocked a precarious plastic model off the shelf down onto their small child, who began crying. What a jerk I was! Looking back, I saw that problem coming as that shelf wobbled each time a customer handled the model.
Product Curiosity. We're also wondering about product interest. I know some products are picked up and examined because of their superior packaging. Other products might be good but get passed over. They might need some explanation. Puerto Rico is the highest ranked board game, and has been for years, yet the photo on the box is of a German version of the game. Some explanation on our part could help. Sometimes we'll discover that an item is damaged or shelf worn, and would normally sell if it was in better condition. It might take months to realize this.
Sometimes we'll notice synergies that aren't being exploited, like the fact that RPG books are in one part of the store, while RPG miniatures are at the opposite end. Why not put them together? We're not a grocery store where customers will walk to the back to pick up their milk. Small children will not cry at night if they don't get their Reaper miniature of a snakeman.
Watching customers peruse product also allows us to make suggestions, part of rule number two, sell my stuff. Suggestions or conversation are two way streets, and we gain lots of information from knowledgeable customers. The goal is to be helpful, so you can sell them stuff, but it's also a social outlet, if time permits. Not that it's the goal, but the longer a customer spends in the store, the more they buy. That's mostly a justification for some social time, rather than a cynical reason to engage customers.
The Dark Side. It's hard not to profile people. As you gain experience, you know your target audience. You also know who steals from you. Eventually you start seeing patterns emerge and we are talking about money here, your personal money as store owner. It's the money you use to feed your family. If red headed teenage girls keep stealing your Bella Sera cards, aren't you going to pay a bit more attention to the card section when these gals are around? It's unfortunate if you're a red headed girl, as even the most liberal of sales person will be treating you with a bit too much attention, but that's life and my family needs to eat. The key is to try to be fair about it. Some red headed teenage girls make excellent customers.