Bridging the Information Gap by John Stanley Retailers invest large amounts of money to get consumers into their businesses with the aim of selling them products. Owners monitor conversion rates, i.e. count the number of customers entering the store versus actual buyers to enable them to monitor success. Team members are encouraged to approach consumers to build relationships and make a sale. But, is the process really working? Many of us as potential buyers are either ignoring the messages or are confused by the messages retailers are sending us and as a result do not buy what is on offer. The role of a retailer in todayï¿½s highly competitive market is to bridge the information gap between consumer and product. Two Types of Consumer In todayï¿½s market place, we have two types of consumer. There is the consumer who knows what they want before they even leave from home; they rely on the internet and do their own homework prior to venturing out; they may even organise home delivery to avoid the shopping experience completely. In this article, I want to concentrate on the second type of consumer; the consumer who enters your store. As retailers, you have invested in these people and itï¿½s these people who should be your target. We often neglect or confuse these people when it comes to the information process. Consumers to your store can be divided into four groups and how you provide information to these groups varies dramatically. Your objective is to actually take the customer through the four stages of the shopping experience. 1. The journey of discovery 2. The journey of inspiration 3. The journey of functionality 4. The journey of excitement The Glancing Consumer A large proportion of shoppers have no intention of buying from you, yet over 60% of purchases are impulse. This means there are a lot of retailers doing something right, yet there are still plenty of opportunities out there. A typical customer glances at a display for about ten seconds. This means you have a short span of time to get a lot of information across. The key is how do you get a ï¿½glancerï¿½ to linger longer and move to the next stage in the buying process. Your ï¿½how toï¿½ checklist should include creating a typical simple, fashionable and colourful display that encourages the ï¿½glancerï¿½ to look at the display for longer than ten seconds. Many displays are too confusing for customers. They often are so intriguing or over-communicative that the ï¿½glancerï¿½ switches off and keeps moving to another glance opportunity. Glance displays are your shop window. Your display needs to stand out from the crowd. The most effective eye catching displays are simple, uncomplicated displays. Tom Oï¿½Toole, one of the worldï¿½s most successful retail bakers, often says ï¿½displays need to be simple, this does not mean itï¿½s easyï¿½. Effective information providers at this point tend to use simple colour combinations that are fashionable and displays that are uncluttered. Part of the success formula is to ensure your team observe the ï¿½glancerï¿½. If a ï¿½glancerï¿½ shows interest, that is an opportunity to build a relationship with them. If they glance and do not register any interest, then do not build a verbal relationship with that consumer. Make Them Curious An objective of the retailer is to convert a ï¿½glancerï¿½ into a curious shopper. This can be achieved by daring to be different in the way you merchandise and/or how team members interact with the consumer. I recently visited Hamleys, the largest toyshop in the U.K. This was a week after the London bombings and coincided with the film release of Batman Begins and the launch of the new Harry Potter book …… enough challenges for any retailer to cope with. The store was selling copies of Harry Potterï¿½s new book for ï¿½12.99, discounted from the ï¿½16.99 RRP, but way above the ï¿½4.95 that retailer Kwiksave was selling it for. The store was packed. Hamleys had created Batman windows that made consumers glance longer. In the entrance was a power display of the new Harry Potter book, but consumersï¿½ interest was maintained by the Hamleys team who were playing with flying saucers at the entrance. All this visual activity which included displays, movement and team banter could not help but make passersby curious, plus the information coming across was this is a fun experience to be involved with. Hamleys easily took the customer to the next stage in the information game. Make Your Customers Actively Interested You have got them in the store and they are curious; this is a huge opportunity that retailers often miss. If this is a new experience for the consumer, they often do not know enough information to actually ask the right questions; they are often too embarrassed and do not want to look foolish. This is where the information gap is at its greatest and where most mistakes are made. At this point it is the retailers role to be proactive in engaging the customer, not the other way around. Some salespeople will still completely ignore the customer, even though the customer has given out a number of signals to tell the salesperson they have reached this critical point. Other salespeople will jump in with both feet and assume the customer knows the ins and outs of the product and then bombard them with jargon. In my experience, computer and telephone retailers are the worst at this. The key is to take it slowly, firstly observe or listen to the customer so you can gauge what level they are coming from, novice, expert or somewhere in between. Then my advice is to provide three key points of information. Make these three points relevant to the customersï¿½ needs and wants. Any consumer can manage three key points of information and this allows them to then ask more questions, as they feel appropriate. One of the most important ways of getting information across at this stage is to use product signage. The most effective signage system is to provide the name of the product, three benefits and the price. And Finally Provide the Detail The last stage in closing the information gap is in providing the detail. I am sure, as a consumer, we can all relate to the person who provides information overload and conversely the situation where we have left the store none the wiser. . At this point it is obvious to all concerned that more information is required. The biggest mistake of many sales team members is that they assume that we can absorb new information rapidly, just by listening. The result is often a confused shopper who leaves the store with a comment such as ï¿½I need to think about itï¿½. When it comes to providing detailed information consumers need to see it, not hear it. This information may need to be provided on packaging or labelling. It may need to be provided on the Web. In some situations, it is best to provide it on ï¿½How toï¿½ leaflets. When it comes to big-ticket items, the consumer may need information in writing they can take away with them to study prior to making a decision. If this is the case, it is important that the salesperson is proactive in keeping the relationship going; otherwise the consumer may use your store for the information and then use another store for the purchase. Many sales are lost due to the information gap. Your and your teamï¿½s role is to reduce the gap. Analyse your processes, train your team and grow your business.