Is your retail shop on a downhill slide? Are there days when it stands forlorn – empty of customers, but full of merchandise that you’ve already paid for? Do these days come more often than they used to…. And you are even now wondering about its future?

A boutique faces stiff competition these days – from the chain stores, the big box and department stores, the ecommerce realm and their direct competitors. They need to differentiate, or die. The quickest way to short-circuit the decline is to improve the experience your customers have in your shop.  If customers don’t enjoy being in your shop there is no reason for them to return and if they don’t return… the curtains close.

Imagine an exquisite pasta, creamy and luscious, with a certain something you can’t quite put your finger on. You devour a plateful and enquire of the waiter what made it so nice? What were those mystery ingredients? “Ahhh …. Zat we cannot say – ees a secret sauce!”

You have a secret sauce at your disposal too, dear retailer: Merchandising.

Sounds boring, but then, cream, salt and pepper, and basil is not quite so dramatic as ‘zee secret sauce’

You see, with properly executed merchandising you will charm customers in the same mysterious but deeply enjoyable way that the pasta pleased you. “Why?” your customer wonders “Do I always feel so happy when I go to that shop?”

Zat, my friend, ees the secret sauce.

And like the pasta, when you spell it out…. It’s not that glamorous.

Draw attention to your most sought-after products by ‘showcasing’ them. Dress a mannequin in THAT dress, or build a vignette around THOSE shoes or even quite literally place the standout item in a showcase to add further value to it. The customer who is entranced by your shop will want to own that item; because it makes them feel immersed into the good experience they are having. (If this particular item has a juicy mark-up on it….. more power to you!)

Atmosphere lighting is great in its place – parties, restaurant, clubs and gardens…. But not your store. When your customer leaves your shop and discovers the jeans they thought were tan are a fetching shade of mustard, all memory of  those ‘cosy’ dark nooks in your shop will leave their head, just leaving a sense of disappointment. There’s other ways to create atmosphere – but hands off the lighting! Ideally, the colours of the items should look no different in your shop than outside it. Then your customer will feel just as pleased with the purchase as they did while they were still in your shop.

Like food around a person’s mouth, a shop that is messy will repulse people. Some of your competitors DO unpack cartons on the shop floor, and their customers have to dodge bubble wrap and cardboard. And tidiness, cleanliness and organisation are all easy areas that you can be a cut above your competitors.  These all are a part of merchandising and something even your junior staff can take care of.

A little bit of mind reading never goes astray – try to organise your shop in the way your customer expect it. Yes, you’re a boutique owner, not a master of telepathy. But you should consider how you group objects. Put colours and styles that are similar together. Most people don’t go shopping to feel like indulging in a guessing game (some might…… but they are kind of a lunatic fringe….) so don’t set up your shop in that fashion. Less friction in a customer’s purchase means a happier customer leaving your shop.

Ease of access is another huge winner in customers’ books – wide aisle ways, lots of signage and parking all make for a better experience, and all mean a customer is more likely to visit you rather than a less accessible place.

Customers are a diverse bunch and the vast majority have friends. Give them a great experience and you may find they bring some back with them – giving you more customers….

And so on….. Ad infinitum….

Then one day you’ll realise your shop is still trading. It’s healthy, bustling and a fun place to be. Thanks in part to your attitude and thanks in part to ….

Merchandising…. Ze secret sauce!

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