As a retailer, you likely use a wealth of resources to get people to walk through your door. While foot traffic is crucial, what do you do to generate more retail sales once shoppers cross your threshold?
Sometimes products meet a need so well that they sell themselves, but that’s rarely the case.
Rather than leaving your retail sales to chance or talent, you can alternatively rely on retail selling techniques that you can teach your staff or apply directly yourself.
Here, we’ll look at four retail selling techniques, how to train your associates on retail selling, and several retail sales tips to help you sell more and build greater customer loyalty.
Table of Contents
What are retail selling techniques?
Retail selling techniques are used to engage with shoppers so you can introduce them to products and build a human connection. The personal element is one of the main advantages of in-person selling, and with the right sales techniques, you’ll be able to convert more store visits into sales and reach your retail sales goals.
Here are a few of the most commonly used retail selling techniques that can help you increase sales:
SPIN stands for Situation, Problem, Implication, and Need payoff. In retail, this selling technique can help you convert complicated and difficult sales. The SPIN methodology was introduced in 1988 by Neil Rackham. His book SPIN Selling outlines a framework for creating structured questions that are delivered on time to increase sales conversions.
Implementing SPIN selling techniques in retail means you and your associates can follow four phases of selling, depending on where the customer is in the buying process.
Phase 1: Situation. Ask these questions during the beginning of the buying process to learn more about the shopper’s current circumstances. This is your opportunity to gather information, show interest, and start building a relationship. Don’t push product sales yet.
For example, if you have a skincare boutique, you may want to ask what brings the customer in? Are they looking for new products or to replenish items they already know and love? You can also ask them what they like and don’t like about the skincare products they currently use.
Phase 2: Problem. Next is the investigation phase. You’ll want to find out what the customer’s pain points and frustrations are, and reassure them that you’re there to help.
For example, you’ve already asked the customer what they like and don’t like about the skincare products they’re using. Here, you can dig deeper into the reasons why they don’t like the products they have. If they say the face moisturizer they’re currently using is too greasy and causes them to break out, you can reassure them by saying you have plenty of oil-free face moisturizer options.
Phase 3: Implication. In this stage, you can start to introduce your products and explain how they solve the shopper’s problem. Talk about the product features and benefits, give product demos, and help the customer realize how your products will provide a solution.
For example, now you can segue into showing the customer the oil-free face moisturizer options you have available. At this point, you’ll want to mention the unique features of each, as well as the benefits and how the products will help solve the shopper’s problem of breaking out due to oily moisturizer.
Phase 4: Need payoff. This last phase is where you’ll want to focus on closing the sale. You can ask the customer how urgently they need the product(s) being considered and reiterate how their problem will be solved. The objective is to complete payment, thank them for their business, and celebrate their new purchase.
For example, if the customer expresses interest in one or a few of the recommendations, you can suggest that they start with an oil-free face moisturizer and a cleanser that can help clear up their breakout. This will help them solve their problem, and you can remind them that they can come back if they’d like to try another option.
Jill Konrath’s bestselling book SNAP Selling helps you speed up and simplify the sales process so you don’t lose the shopper’s attention.
The SNAP selling framework has four elements:
Keep it "S"imple. Consumers today are busy and overwhelmed with information. Your objective is to make it easy for shoppers to make a choice and buy what you’re selling.
Be i"N"valuable. In a sea of choices, it’s important to educate shoppers about features and benefits of your products and how they’ll solve the customer’s problem. Explain the value your products will add to people’s lives.
Always "A"lign. Seventy-one percent of consumers prefer buying from companies aligned with their values. This means you’ll need to make sure your business objectives align with your core beliefs and the values of your target market. The more you align your values, the better chance you’ll have to attract and retain customers.
Raise "P"riorities. Shoppers with busy lives usually have a priority list for the items they need to buy. Stay focused on what the customer actually needs versus trying to sell them something they’re not currently looking for. This will make it easier for them to make a decision and complete their purchase.
Simply put, considering the shopper’s needs and looking at the big picture rather than making a quick sale is called solution selling. It requires asking questions to understand the customer’s pain points and goals and then recommending specific products that solve their unique needs.
Suggestive selling has two components:
- Cross selling. You suggest that shoppers add complementary products to their initial purchase.
- Upselling. You encourage shoppers to buy a similar item with a higher price point than the product they were originally interested in purchasing.
To win at suggestive selling, it’s essential to recommend products that align with the customer’s wants and needs. Always aim to add value and you’ll raise the likelihood of increasing average order values (AOV) with suggestive selling.
Training sales associates on retail selling
Whether you’re a team of two or 10, training sales associates on retail selling will help you and your staff reach your team and individual sales goals.
Here are a few suggestions for training your team:
- Create an onboarding process and training plan for new associates. This way, you can bring them up to speed and ensure they know what’s expected of them.
For example, you could have new associates shadow an experienced team member for the first week on the job.
- Have monthly or quarterly team training sessions to make sure everyone is aligned on best practices.
- Provide daily or weekly suggestive selling ideas that your associates can test on customers.
- Teach retail psychology so your staff can learn what drives consumer behavior and purchasing decisions, and understand what will motivate shoppers to buy.
- Request product knowledge guides from suppliers—for all new arrivals—and share them with your staff.
- Prepare associates to handle the most common situations with ease.
For example, prepare them for a situation where the customer requests another size or color and it’s out of stock in-store but available at another location or at your warehouse. This way they can still complete the sale and either ship the order to the customer or ask if they’d like to pick it up at a later date.
- Schedule monthly one-on-one meetings with your staff to review their performance and provide constructive feedback.
16 retail sales tips
More sales revenue is what every retailer wants. But figuring out the right way to approach customers and sell without being pushy is essential for boosting sales.
Here are 16 retail sales tips to help you succeed:
1. Make a great first impression
How do you start off on the right foot when engaging a customer who just walked into your store?
You might have heard that it takes one-tenth of a second to form a first impression of someone, but let’s look at what’s actually taking place inside a person’s mind when they make that judgment.
Social scientist Amy Cuddy explains that when we form a first impression, we actually form two impressions. First, we determine how warm and trustworthy the person is. Second, we try to answer the questions: “What are this person’s intentions toward me?” and “How strong and competent is this person?”
According to Cuddy, these two dimensions make up 80% to 90% of an overall first impression—and this holds true across cultures.
We’ve all walked into stores and been approached by a sales associate who made us feel suspicious, uncomfortable, and on our guard. And we’ve had the opposite experience of feeling helped, comforted, and relaxed.
So, what accounts for the difference?
Cuddy has some suggestions that could help retailers make customers feel more at ease. Some of the advice that’s particularly applicable as retail sales tips include:
- Let the other person speak first. Our first instinct is to take charge of the conversation and control the dialogue, but that doesn’t pan out so well when trying to understand your customer’s needs and how your products can fulfill them. To encourage shoppers to open up, ask an engaging question such as, “What brings you in today?” or “Are you looking for anything particular today?” Then, make sure you let them speak, and listen actively before offering advice or recommendations.
- Collect information about the other person’s interests. Getting the other person to talk about themselves, or what we like to call “making small talk,” goes a long way in building a rapport with customers. Research proves that just five minutes of small talk before a negotiation increases the amount of value created in the negotiation. Engaging in idle conversation also starts your dialogue in neutral territory—which can help you gain a customer’s trust and more easily glean insights on how your product can help them solve a problem.
2. Think before you speak
One of my all-time favorite quotes is the following from Epictetus: “Nature gave us one tongue and two ears so we could hear twice as much as we speak.”
When it comes to sales, some of us have a tendency to associate a good sales associate as a talkative extrovert that exudes charisma and charm. But introverts tend to do better on average than extroverts, even though they’re not as commonly found in sales roles.
In fact, there is zero evidence to support the correlation between extroversion and sales performance, according to a study led by Murray Barrick of Michigan State University.
Another key thing to be mindful of is talking down a competitor. It might be hard to keep your mouth closed when a customer brings up a competing product, but know that speaking negatively has the opposite effect of what you intend. Speaking poorly about a similar product or brand is often a turn off for customers (remember how positive comments increased sales?).
Social scientists call this spontaneous trait transference. Essentially, anytime you say bad things about someone else, people associate those same traits with you. So, when you say a competitor is low quality or unreliable, your prospective customer is actually linking those traits with you.
Instead of bad mouthing competitors or their products, acknowledge the customer’s question or comment and use the interaction as an opportunity to educate them about your products. Discuss how your product is great for solving a specific problem, and actively listen to what your customer needs.
Another retail sales tip to keep in mind: Be aware of how you word your answers to customer queries. Sometimes the way you communicate an idea is more important than the idea itself.
To illustrate what I mean, here is a helpful list of alternatives to the common elements of a conversation in a retail setting from the blog of Retailer Training Services:
- “I don’t know.” vs. “That’s a great question. Let me find out for you.”
- “All sales are final.” vs. “Let us know if you’re not satisfied and we’ll make it right.”
- “Calm down.” vs. “I apologize.”
- “We’re closed.” vs. “We close at __ o’clock and reopen at __ o’clock. Is there something I can quickly help you with now?”
- “Will that be all?” vs. “Let me show you __” or “Have you tried __?”
- “It’s over there.” vs. “Follow me, I’ll show you right where it is.”
- “I can’t do that.” vs. “I think the best solution is __”
- “That’s not my department.” vs. “Let’s go find the right person to help you!”
- “We’re out of that item.” vs. “That item is currently out of stock. We have a great alternative.” or “I can give you a ring when it is back in stock, OK?”
- “That is against our policy.” vs. “Typically our policy is __ but I want to make this right for you. This is what I can do …”
- “I’m new here.” vs. “Please bear with me, and I’ll get you the help you need.”
- “Hold on.” vs. “Are you able to hold for a moment?”
- “I’m busy right now.” vs. “I’d be happy to help you.”
- “You’re wrong.” vs. “I think there has been a misunderstanding.”
- “If you didn’t see one, then we must not have it.” vs. “Let’s see if we can find one for you!”
Paying attention to how you address your customers can drastically increase the chances of someone making a purchase.
FURTHER READING: Want to learn more modern customer service tactics? Read about 7 retailers embracing new ways to serve their customers.
3. Don’t forget about body language
When you consider that roughly 93% of all communication is nonverbal, it seems almost crazy how little we consider our own body language and other nonverbal cues.
This is particularly important in retail sales, where your job depends on successful interactions with customers. So, what do you need to pay attention to to increase your chances of making a sale?
There are a few basic nonverbal cues you can keep in mind next time you’re on the sales floor:
Open your arms
Across contexts and cultures, crossing your arms is often seen as a defensive stance. When your arms are crossed, you appear closed off and uninterested in the person engaged in a conversation with you.
In order to be fully engaged with a prospective customer, avoid crossing your arms. In fact, not only will you appear more approachable, you’ll actually retain more information about what they’re telling you. In a study from Science of People, among two groups who attended a lecture, the group with folded arms learned and retained 38% less than the group with unfolded arms.
Greet customers with a smile
If there’s still a mask mandate in your region or if you prefer to keep yours on, greeting customers with a smile could be challenging. But you can still create a friendly and welcoming expression with your eyes, otherwise known as a “smize,” a term coined by Tyra Banks, meaning to smile with the eyes.
Dress the part
A basic rule of sales and customer service is being presentable. That’s why it’s important to set a dress code that you and your associates follow. If you sell clothing, you’ll want to consider providing your staff with a few products to wear while they’re on the sales floor. Dressing the part will help customers feel like you relate to them and will create a cohesive in-store experience.
4. Remember that less is more
What if I were to tell you that shoppers are more likely to buy jam from a seller offering a selection of six or fewer variations? Especially when stacked up against a seller offering upward of 30 choices?
Sounds counterintuitive right? Some retailers feel like it’s important to give consumers more and more options.
That’s exactly the assumption professors Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper sought to disprove, and they did so in their famous study, titled “When Choice is Demotivating.”
In the case of product variations for shoppers, they discovered less is actually more. The modern world demands the average person make more choices on a daily basis, and many of us end up suffering from decision fatigue.
So, rather than offering dozens of product variations, carefully curate a smaller selection.
Communication expert Carmine Gallo also suggests retailers pay attention to the “rule of three,” which is a powerful weapon in retail sales. The average person’s short-term memory can only retain roughly three “chunks” of information at a time. With too many choices, you run the risk of making consumers frustrated.
He also cites an example from a retailer with over 800 stores that invited him to do a keynote. During his time there, he discovered that that retailer specifically trains employees to offer a second option only if it has the features the customer said was important.
In fact, it caps the number of options suggested by retail staff at two or three, having found that presenting customers with more than three options at one time actually overwhelms them rather than making them more likely to buy.
5. Make active listening a habit
By actively listening to customers you can understand them better, personalize your approach, and make the right product recommendations. But what does active listening actually mean?
Standing in front of shoppers silently while they talk isn’t how it works. Here are a few tips to help you improve your active listening skills:
- Avoid forming a response while the customer is speaking. Instead, actively listen and refrain from interrupting or completing their sentences.
- Show you’re engaged with body language. Having an open stance and nodding your head as the customer speaks will show them you’re listening and processing the conversation.
- Before you speak, briefly summarize what the customer said. This will show the shopper you were listening to everything they said and it can remind them to provide additional details. It will also allow you to formulate your response.
Training yourself and your staff to listen actively will help create a more engaging customer experience where shoppers feel heard and understood. You’ll gain their trust, making it easier to provide recommendations and to sell more.
6. Use storytelling to sell
According to Uri Hasson, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Princeton University, as you hear a story unfold, your brain waves actually start to synchronize with those of the storyteller.
So integrating storytelling into your selling strategies is a great way to engage with shoppers and keep their attention.
Here are a few ways to do this:
Share stories about how and where your products are made
Whether you manufacture and stock products you design or work with a range of brands that you buy merchandise from, nailing down the story and sharing it with customers is a great way to explain what makes your products unique.
For example, what inspired the design? Where are the materials from? And, if you stock brands from various designers, how can you tell each designer’s unique story?
Sharing this information provides an opportunity to build a connection with shoppers, educate them, and give a notable experience. This makes it easier for customers to trust you and make buying decisions.
Share your story
Your retail business didn’t appear out of nowhere. There’s a reason why you started it, and making sure your customers know that reason can help them feel more connected to your brand.
A few questions to consider are:
- What motivated you to open a retail store?
- What impact does your business have on the community?
- What obstacles did you overcome?
- Are you filling a personal need that other retailers were not able to?
Your company story should be a document that new and existing associates can review on a regular basis. This way, they’ll know how to tell your story to customers in a natural way.
For example, if a prospective customer comes into your store asking basic questions about the business, you can use storytelling to hook them.
Instead of giving a general explanation like, “We sell women’s skincare products for ages 30 and up,” you can tell a brief story about how and why the business was started, and if the way your products are made is compelling, you can mention that too.
For example, you could say, “I had great skin in my teens and 20s, but when I hit my 30s I started getting blemishes. The products on the market were too heavy and more focused on anti-aging features, so I developed a formula—made from 100% natural ingredients—that met my needs of acne control and anti-aging. After seeing success with our first face oil, we expanded the collection and now offer a range of skincare products for women 30 and up.”
You can also incorporate your brand story into your store design with signage or by putting quotes in easy-to-see places, such as on the mirrors near product testing stations.
Share customer stories
Collecting customer testimonials and reviews and sharing user-generated content (UGC) are all forms of social proof that can be used online to bolster sales. But you can also tell customer stories in person to build trust and increase sales.
For example, using the same example from above, you could say, “In the last month, many women in their 30s benefited from using our bestselling face oil. Their skin started clearing up in one week, and they came back to buy the cleanser and lotion too.”
When you’re sharing customer stories, two things to think about are:
- How did your product(s) help people?
- Have customers come back to buy more of the same or similar products?
You can pull customer stories from online reviews and UGC that’s posted on social media and use them to incorporate social proof into in-person selling.
7. Do product demos and allow for testing
Giving customers a chance to experience your products firsthand is a great way to drive sales. Continuing with the women’s skincare example, you could have testing stations throughout the store where shoppers can try products themselves, or you could set up one demo station and have an associate manage it. This way, they can share pertinent product information to educate shoppers, hand out samples, and answer questions.
8. Educate customers
The more prospective and existing customers know about your products, the more likely they’ll be to make a purchase. Teaching shoppers helps boost trust, sales, and brand loyalty while positioning your business as a credible authority in your market.
There are various ways to educate your customers. Here are a few:
- Have in-store events or workshops to share your knowledge and how your products solve a particular problem. If you stock various brands, invite the brand owners to attend the events and share their expertise.
- Use in-store signage to educate shoppers about how your products are made, the advantages of using them, and any other useful information that will help make the buying process easier.
- Write blog articles about how to use your products and the benefits of them and share the articles via a monthly newsletter and social media.
9. Incorporate clienteling into your sales strategy
Clienteling is used to engage with shoppers and provide a personalized experience. This sales approach helps you build long-term relationships with customers and increase customer loyalty and retention.
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But to do it successfully, you’ll want to keep a record of each customer’s buying history and get to know them better so you can maintain a relationship and encourage repeat purchases. You can also do this virtually with virtual shopping and clienteling apps.
💡 PRO TIP: Create customer profiles to collect shoppers’ contact information and record their purchase history. This data lets you create email newsletters to help shoppers discover products and inspire them to buy from you again.
10. Use scarcity to create a sense of urgency
Scarcity can be a very effective sales tactic.
Nearly seven in 10 (69%) millennials experience FOMO, so depending on your target audience, the scarcity tactic could benefit your bottom line.
The scarcity principle is an economic and psychological theory where humans give higher value to things that are more scarce and lower value to things that are abundantly available.
You can use this strategy to create artificial scarcity for a product to make it feel exclusive and limited. Or, perhaps you really did make or buy a small amount of inventory. In turn, you’ll generate demand and induce FOMO. Customers will be worried that if they don’t act fast the products will be gone and will be more likely to complete their purchase quickly.
For example, you may have a limited-time product that is only available for two weeks. By letting customers know they only have a small window of time to get the product, they’ll be more inclined to buy it right away to avoid missing out.
11. Be persistent, but not pushy
Like most things in life, persistence is key. But when it comes to retail sales, there’s a fine line between being persistent and being pushy. Following up before the sale is important to convert new customers, and equally important is keeping in touch after the sale to encourage repeat purchases.
But you’ll want to make sure you don’t appear to be desperate in your approach to be persistent. It doesn’t matter how much you want or need to make the sale to reach your sales goals or grow your business, never make customers feel like you’re just in it for the money. You’ll always want to make customers feel like you’re helping them and providing value versus them helping you.
12. Always be honest
We’ve all had that moment when we could see right through a salesperson's phony facade. Shopper’s can sense when you’re being dishonest with them. By always being honest, you’ll earn customers’ trust and they’ll be more likely to purchase from your retail store.
This includes making sure you don’t provide false information about products and their features or benefits, and being open about potential downsides of certain products. Training your associates to be honest if they don’t know the answer to a question and to seek out the right information before responding to the customer can go a long way.
13. Sell value, not price
Rather than focusing on the price of a product, explain how it can benefit the customer and add value to their lives. How is it enjoyable or useful, or how can it solve a specific problem?
Focusing on value can help you avoid discounting just to move inventory and will help you educate customers about each product’s unique features and benefits.
For example, “This skincare bundle includes a face cleanser, toner, and oil, so you’ll have everything you need for your morning and evening skincare routine.”
Then you can go into detail about the benefits of each product as well as how well they work together for specific skin types (depending on the customer’s needs).
14. Encourage referrals
Ninety-two percent of consumers trust referrals from people they know, making customer referrals crucial in retail. There are a few ways to encourage referrals:
- Create a referral program that lets customers earn points or rewards for each new customer they refer to your retail business.
- Focus on building relationships with customers in-store to create a more memorable experience and people will naturally share their positive experience with friends and family.
- Run contests or special offers in-store where existing customers who bring in a friend or family member during a set period can earn discounts or freebies.
15. Keep merchandise and product displays fresh
Sixty-five percent of a company’s business comes from existing customers and 82% of companies agree that retention is cheaper than acquisition. But if you want to keep your customers coming back for more, you need to keep your store looking fresh. This doesn’t mean you need to put out new merchandise every week (unless you’re able to), but it does mean you need to mix up product displays and visual merchandising strategies to keep your store looking fresh. If customers see the same products too frequently, they’ll be less likely to return often and you could lose out on a lot of repeat business.
How can you keep merchandise fresh? Create a schedule to rotate products on the floor. This could be a big overhaul or just moving products from the back to the front, and vice versa, and changing window displays every few days. Keep an eye on how these changes affect your foot traffic and retail sales, and then iterate.
16. Practice makes perfect—learn from your successes and failures
At the end of each day, make a note about which sales strategies worked and which didn’t (and encourage your staff to do the same). Finding the right retail sales tactics for your business and customers is an ongoing process that requires daily evaluation and training. Keeping a record of your successes and failures will help you understand why customers buy or don’t buy and what you can do differently in the future to reach your sales goals.
Bonus retail sales tip: invoke your inner Bob the Builder
When you’re in sales, you’re bound to encounter rejection—a lot of rejection.
So, how do you pump yourself up to go at it again and again?
Many sales gurus might suggest hyping yourself up with positive self-talk. But researchers at the University of Southern Mississippi recommend something practiced by a popular children's cartoon character, known as Bob the Builder, who frequently asks his audience, “Can we build it?”
Known as interrogative self-talk, researchers conducted a series of studies and found that, in every instance, participants who started the various tasks with a questioning self-talk approach outperformed those who psyched themselves up (called declarative self-talk).
So, the next time a customer walks in your doors and you’re not sure if you’ll make a sale or not, ask yourself, “Can I do it?” to get your brain into problem-solving mode. Follow up with “How can I do it?” and “What can I do better?”
Put these retail sales tips to work at your store
Now that you have an abundance of retail sales tips to try, it’s time to put them into action. Whether it’s just you or you have a team of associates, try a few of these strategies at a time to find what works best for your business and your target audience. As long as you’re authentic and in tune with your customers, you’ll be able to confidently own the sales floor and boost your sales revenue.
Do you have any retail sales tips? Share your advice in the comments below.
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