Store Conditions Vs. Customer Engagement: Are You Managing The Right Things?

Store conditions are brand critical. Customers tend to notice them first.

  • The store is clean and tidy.
  • There are no maintenance issues.
  • Merchandise is presented in a fresh, appealing way.

From a retail management perspective, nothing is easier to see, verify, and control.

Perhaps that’s why store managers in every retail category tend to focus on the store environment. They emphasize it, question employees about it, and take stock of it on a daily basis.
Managing conditions may yield a great-looking store, but there’s a price to be paid. When faced with a choice between responsibility and opportunity (Should I continue arranging this display, or stop to engage this customer?), employees are likely to choose the concrete task at hand.

If you want to achieve breakout success in the retail business, you have to take ownership of the things you can (and should) drive on a daily basis. We’re referring to both store conditions and customer engagement—the complementary halves of the customer experience whole that are controllable at the store level.

Why Engagement Is Often M.I.A.

When we walk through clients’ stores with them, we see it all too often: Sales-floor realities don’t reflect corporate priorities. Typically, it’s the engagement piece that’s lacking.

  • Associates aren’t acknowledging customers throughout the store.
  • They’re not making eye contact and initiating conversation.
  • They aren’t looking for opportunities to help.

Here are two industry-specific examples we encounter frequently.

Apparel – Boutique apparel stores are known for their highly personal service. Most apparel stores, however, are shop-and-service as needed. Even so, “service as needed” doesn’t mean “stay out of the customer’s way.” All too often, associates make this assumption and keep their distance on the sales floor.

Grocery – Grocery employees may be busy stocking produce. With their backs to the store entrance and their carts to their left or right, 9 out of 10 customers escape their notice. Same is true at the deli counter: Deli prep areas and cutters face the wall, so employees are oblivious to the general traffic flow.

There’s a disconnect here, and it starts at the top. Retailers aren’t effectively conveying their expectations to in-store teams. Therefore, managers don’t talk about engagement, and associates don’t understand its importance.

What Needs to Change?

Retail policies, procedures, and initiatives don’t materialize out of thin air (or at least they shouldn’t). They’re informed and driven by research.

For many years, mystery shopping studies scored conditions and engagement together as a comprehensive measure of the customer experience. Many providers in our industry still do it this way.

But this all-in-one approach isn’t helpful to retailers.

Suppose a retailer scores an 86 on its mystery shop for three months running. On the surface, the score appears to be flat. But if you were to dissect it, you might find that engagement has dropped to the low 70s, while conditions are scoring in the mid- to high-90s (reflecting managers’ focus on the store environment).

With two distinct scores in hand, retailers can clearly see which half of the customer experience needs more work. And they can make the necessary adjustments to balance the scales.

Small Improvements Go a Long Way

Your goal should be to facilitate engagement—better yet, encourage it—by creating the conditions for it. Even simple changes like these can have a tremendous impact.

Share customer data.

In your weekly store huddles, don’t limit the discussion to tasks and sales. Make time to talk about customer interactions. Share customer satisfaction scores, or some other customer-related metric, on a frequent basis.

Work on employee habits.

When associates are tending to shelves or displays, they should position themselves to keep customers in view at all times. Instill the notion that courtesy and accessibility are as important as any item on the day’s checklist. Once the right habits are established, engagement will happen naturally.

Revisit your store layout.

Move equipment or operations to client-facing positions. Where associates must face back walls, hang mirrors so they can see who’s behind them. In every department and every corner of your store, look for ways to keep your associates’ smiling, helpful faces in plain sight.