25 ways to rate your store from your customer’s perspective
We’ve all shopped at stores that have made such a bad first impression we’ve vowed they won’t have the opportunity to make a second. But even if you consider yourself a critical shopper, you may have a blind spot when it comes to evaluating your own store. That’s why it’s so important to step back and look at your store from a shopper’s point of view.
While few customers will enter your store with a checklist and clipboard, all will form opinions the moment they step inside. As a retailer, you need to be aware of the subconscious impressions your store makes.
With this checklist as a guide, take an afternoon to walk your store as a customer, not a manager or owner, and have your staff do the same.
The Shopper’s Store Rating Checklist
Often without realizing it, shoppers are evaluating and rating every store they enter. Most of the issues they have will never be brought to the attention of management. Instead, they just mention it to their friends or post it on Yelp. Then they vote with their wallets.
Here are 25 items that studies have shown to be of importance to shoppers (and you can automate the scoring process by using the Retail Owners Institute’s free online Store Rater). Using these explanations, enter a rating on a scale of 1 to 4, with 4 being outstanding.
1. Accessibility: How easy is it to get to your store? You need to make it as easy as possible for shoppers to get to your store. If your store is in an odd location, publish directions in your advertising and make sure your staff is prepared to provide clear directions over the phone.
2. Advertising: Do you have an in-store link to your outside advertising? It’s amazing how many stores spend a bundle on advertising, while neglecting to “connect the dots” between their ads and their store. One easy way to do this is to display your ads on a sign board at the front of the shop. Use your logo both in advertising and as a consistent presence in your shop. Spotlight the items featured in your ad with special displays or signage. Be consistent with your advertising, so customers will come to recognize your advertising style.
3. Basics: Are your shelves stocked with basics? Be sure to always stock the basics. Rain checks are no longer an acceptable replacement for out-of-stock items. You want the people who stop in for a quick purchase to return to your store. Don’t turn them away with under-stocked shelves.
4. Bathrooms: This really does matter! Are your bathrooms clean? Bathrooms are an important part of customer service. Do you keep them clean and well-lit? Are paper towels, soap, etc. always available? Do you have an employee frequently inspect them to assure they are well-maintained?
5. Cash/wrap: Is your cash/wrap counter organized and free of clutter? The cash/wrap is your customers’ last impression of your store. Keep it neat and representative of your store’s dedication to service and organization. Be mindful of open storage shelves that often become a haven for clutter. Keep office supplies neat and organized.
6. Cleanliness: Is your store clean? Cleanliness should start in the parking lot, continue through your entrance and carry throughout your entire store. Remember that tidiness is an important indication of pride in your store. Make cleaning and tidying your shop a daily activity.
7. Competitive (but practical) prices: Is your merchandise priced appropriately? Studies show that 20% of customers are true price hounds and will chase down the lowest price. The other 80% care about price, but also take into consideration what else the store has to offer.
When pricing merchandise, don’t be distracted by the 20% who are price-hounds and lose sight of the 80% who are looking for total value. Keep your prices competitive, but don’t lock yourself into a habit of hasty discounting in order to chase fickle price shoppers.
8. Customer mailing list: Do you ask customers if they’d like to enter their e-mail address on a mailing list? Don’t underestimate the importance of regular correspondence with customers. It’s not enough just to have a mailing list — you must continually use this resource and update it, providing your customers with meaningful information. At the cash/wrap, ask customers if they’re interested in joining your mailing list if they haven’t already.
9. Displays: Are they timely? Are they fun? Are they constantly changing? If a display seems to be turning slowly and not generating a lot of interest, consider making some changes. Use creative signage to add interest, replace it with another display, couple it with faster-turning products or move it to a different part of the store. Just make sure it’s eye-catching.
10. Fixtures: Do the fixtures showcase the merchandise? The best fixtures highlight merchandise in a discreet way. Choose fixtures that are practical and durable, but that won’t draw the attention away from the products with gimmicky colors or design.
11. Flooring: Does your floor help to guide customers through your store? As flooring options become increasingly affordable, it’s easy for you to take full advantage of different flooring throughout your shop. Use hard surfaces in high-traffic areas and carpeting to add class to specific areas.
12. In-store graphics and signage: Are your graphics and signs clear? Are they colorful? Do they have a theme? Graphics and signage should never detract from or compete with the merchandise. Their goal should simply be to draw attention to various products, discounts and special offers. Make sure your signage communicates its message immediately. Customers won’t read a sign if they have to take the time to figure out its message.
13. Lighting: Is it appropriate for the merchandise and the store’s image? More than any other variable in retailing today, lighting can create or destroy a store’s competitive edge. Featured products should be highlighted to attract customer attention. Keep your store bright and airy and make sure all areas are adequately lit — you don’t want any dark corners.
14. Location: Is your store in an appropriate location? The three keys to success were once considered to be location, location and location. Today, location is only one consideration of many, but it’s still extremely important. Stores need to be located where the customers are, where they want to be, or where they’re willing to go. Make sure your shop’s location isn’t working against you.
15. Merchandise mix: Is it clear who the “right” customer is? At a glance, customers should know who the store is intending to attract, whether it’s teenagers, working moms, young families or “empty nesters.” As you look at the merchandise assortment, do you get a sense of who the customer is?
16. Merchandise selection: Is your product selection too broad? It’s important to focus your product selection around customer needs — but many stores have a selection that’s far too broad. These retailers try too hard to be all things to all people and don’t concentrate enough on the customers they may really want or need to attract. Carry what your customers want, but don’t spread yourself too thin.
17. Music: Is there music playing? If so, is it being played for the customers … or for the staff? Music is a great way to create an inviting atmosphere in your store. But be careful — music should always be selected to appeal to the customer, not the staff. Also, keep the music volume low — it should never intrude on conversation.
18. Name: Does your store’s name indicate what it sells? Many retailers choose names that convey something about themselves rather than the store. These same retailers end up spending a lot of money later trying to inform customers about what kind of store they are and what products they offer. If your store’s name itself doesn’t identify your retail segment, consider adding a tagline. When customers hear your store’s name, you want them to immediately think of what you’re selling.
19. Parking: Is your parking lot clean and safe? If your store’s parking area isn’t clean, safe and clearly marked, you may inadvertently discourage business. Consider the practicality of your parking lot for shoppers coming at night or in bad weather.
20. Quality: Is the value of your merchandise evident? Never just assume that customers will be familiar with the quality of your merchandise. Post product guarantees at the cash/wrap or on your displays. Display quality assurances on hang tags. Learn about the products you sell and use this information on the sales floor.
21. Smell: What does your store smell like? Don’t ignore the role of scent in projecting an image. Think of how many stores you’ve entered that had unpleasant odors or “pleasant” ones that were too strong. Remember how quickly you walked right back out?
The first step to keeping your store free of offensive smells is to discover what it presently smells like. You may need to enlist a candid friend for this project, someone who is not in the store every day who actually can notice its fragrance. Then, decide what mild fragrance would enhance the atmosphere you are creating in your store.
22. Special services: What kinds of “extras” does your store provide? Many retailers provide special services but fail to communicate this to their customers. If you provide an extra service, make sure your customers know about it. Make signs and mention these services in your advertising.
23. Store Image: What is your store’s personality? This is where the “theater of retail” really comes into play. Is there a match between the look of your store, your merchandise mix, the music, the lighting, the signage and graphics: do all of these elements combine to tell your story to your very best customers? Is your store one where they want to see and be seen?
24. Storefront: Is your storefront pleasant and appealing? Always keep in mind that your storefront is the first impression your customers have of your store. Dated or hastily assembled displays, unkempt signs and dirty windows are inexcusable. These sorts of things do injustice to all the hard work that may have gone on inside the store. Make sure your storefront is inviting and pleasing to customers.
25. Windows: Are they compelling and inviting? Are your windows clean and appropriately lit? Spotlights on window displays should be near the glass and angled onto the display. Some stores have window lighting that is set in on top of the display, casting unintentional shadows. How are yours?
How do customers rate your store?
The Retail Owners Institute store rater combines the grades for these 25 rating items into five major categories: first impressions, the basics, merchandise, marketing and theater. Each category is worth a maximum of 20 total points.
Using this formula, you can tell at a glance which of these five major areas are your strengths and which ones need more work. And any changes you make will all be done from the important shopper’s perspective.
Involve Your Staff
In conjunction with your own evaluation, involving your employees in this process can lead to a lively discussion at a staff meeting — and it can be a subtle training tool on some retail basics.
It might be smart to have your staff use the Store Rater for stores where they typically shop, such as grocery stores, bookstores, other dispensaries, etc. Have everybody bring in their results and discuss in a staff meeting.
Next, have them review your store from the eyes of the customer. Remind them to approach and enter the store from the front, just as the customer would.
Collect their rating sheets and tally them up for the group to share in the next staff meeting.
Especially if there are some categories whose ratings suggest they “need work,” you’ll likely find that your employees will be quick to offer some excellent ways to improve.
Patricia M. Johnson and Richard F. Outcalt are certified management consultants and co-founders of The Retail Owners Institute. They are strategists for retailers, workshop presenters and publishers of a free and popular newsletter for store owners and managers. Sign up for The ROI News for free at RetailOwner.com. They can be reached at 206-623-3973.