This article is part of a larger series on Retail Management.
Retailers have taken a huge hit since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, with store foot traffic down by 96.4% at its lowest point. If your retail business is one of the many that has struggled (even though traffic has risen, it is still down 30%), or you’re just looking for fresh ideas, this guide will help you find ways to increase sales for your brick-and-mortar stores as well as your ecommerce offering.
As we covered in our guide to retail marketing strategies, you should always consider your digital experience and developing an online presence to increase sales. Additionally, create a strong pricing strategy that takes the competitive landscape into account. Beyond that, other tips to increase your sales include:
1. Optimize Store Layout
Before your customers even come through the door, you’ll want to make sure you carefully plan your retail store layout. When planning, maximizing the space you have, making sure your customers are comfortable, and thinking through easy navigation in the store are all areas to include.
Beyond the floor plan itself, you can also use the following methods to help inform your ideas.
Analyze Foot Traffic
The first tactic you can try for optimizing your store layout is to determine your foot traffic, both in and out of the store. Doing regular analyses on your store’s foot traffic can help you determine if your location is optimal, and how well your store layout works.
For example, if you use a heatmap service like Link Retail, you might find that parts of your store are “cold zones,” an indication that you should rethink your layout.
Appeal to Impulse Buys
Another strategy you should make use of if you haven’t already is taking advantage of impulse buys. Consider placing your high margin, seasonal, or fresh items at the front of the store so potential customers see them when they first walk in.
The other important area prime for triggering impulse buying is the checkout counter or a queue route toward the checkout counter. Here, you’ll want to place your low-cost items as customers are more likely to add low-cost impulse items to their shopping carts than high-cost items.
2. Empower Your Associates
One aspect of working in retail you might overlook is the ability of your staff to close sales. Some salespeople are naturally gifted with the soft skills needed to persuade customers to purchase products, but the same is not true for everyone.
Whether some staff aren’t as confident with their sales skills or technology is getting in the way, you’ll want to do everything you can to empower them to be able to do their jobs well.
Train Staff on Sales Techniques
Top-performing salespeople are up to 36% more likely to spend time training with their managers. So, for an effective business, the rest of your team needs to be open to sales opportunities by having regular sales training across the board.
You can train in-house to save money, but it’s also a good idea to have a budget in place for external training opportunities. Giving each staff member an education budget also shows them you invest in them and their careers.
Equip Them With a Mobile POS System
As mentioned above, maybe your staff are good at closing sales, but what might boost sales even more is equipping them with mobile point-of-sale (POS) apps. For example, some Apple stores don’t have cash registers at all.
Instead, the store assistants will get the item you want (after discussing your options) and administer the payment transaction using their mobile POS. This means customers can pay for what they want anywhere in the store, which equals smaller lines, email data collection for customer profiles, and freed up floor space for better merchandising.
3. Offer Different Payment Methods
Another essential element of retail business is how you expect customers to pay for your merchandise. As a result, you must assess your customer’s needs in terms of preferred payment methods. If you only accept cash, you’re capped at around a 12% market share of payments made in the US.
If you want your customers to be able to pay how they want and accept more payments as a result, let’s take a look at some non-cash or in-person payment options:
- Mobile wallets. Gaining in popularity in recent years thanks to the likes of Apple Pay, Google Pay, and Samsung Pay, mobile wallets are a form of contactless payments using customers’ mobile devices.
- Credit card/debit card. Sitting at a share of 38%, credit cards are the most popular form of payment method in the US as of 2020. Accepting credit or debit cards is, therefore, a must-have for most retail businesses to succeed.
- Subscription-based. Subscriptions are another form of payment customers are now familiar with. Depending on the type of products you specialize in, you could even consider building a subscription package, with bulk products at a discount, alongside your normal shop.
- Self-checkout. Statista found that in December 2019, almost half of consumers suggested they regularly use self-service kiosks. Self-service checkouts can help you free up staff, save customers’ time, and improve in-store sales.
- Buy online, pick up in store/click and collect. The buy online, pick up in store (BOPIS) or click and collect method has gained much more popularity since the beginning of the pandemic, especially for small business owners. Shopify’s Market Insights team found 38% of all shoppers plan to continue curbside pickup (a socially distanced version of click and collect). You’ll need to set up click and collect in your online checkout process, but once you do, you have the opportunity to reach your local target market even more effectively.
You don’t have to implement every different payment method available, but thankfully with services like Square, accepting credit cards also means you can accept mobile payments—the most popular methods other than cash.
4. Provide Complementary Services
Customers who go in-store to browse and purchase goods are ultimately looking for an experience. Otherwise, they would simply do all of their shopping online. Given how the pandemic has resulted in a craving for human interaction, especially among young people, in-store experiences are now more important and in-demand.
One way to improve your in-store experiences is to provide complementary services beyond the products you sell. Here are a few ideas to help you get started and win more loyal customers.
- Free delivery. This is one of the easiest ways for increasing sales, especially for online stores. If you’re not sure about being able to offset the costs, you can offer free delivery for orders over a certain value.
- Gift wrapping. Depending on the type of products you sell, a free or premium gift wrapping service can help your customers save time and effort in wrapping gifts themselves.
- Product demonstrations. One of the most common types of in-store experiences is product demonstrations. A perfect example of this would be Lush, where the staff are trained to demonstrate how products work on your skin, which often provides great cross-selling opportunities.
- In-store repairs. If your products are more mechanical, such as technology or appliances, you can offer to repair or troubleshoot your products in-store—saving customers from having to send their items via the mail.
- Product assembly. Another common complementary service is offering product assembly services. This works especially well for retailers that sell large furnishings, such as IKEA.
- Free parking. Our final service idea is simple: offer free parking. Naturally, this point is location dependent. However, it may be possible to strike deals with nearby parking lots where you can get customer tickets refunded or discounted.
In all, customer-centric complementary services alongside your other retail offerings provide your business the opportunity to boost customer retention and loyalty.
5. Check Your Signage & Displays
Coming back to the more physical parts of the retail business, another area you can potentially improve is your signage and displays. It’s common knowledge that color has a huge influence on consumers’ psychology, so it’s worth experimenting with different colors on your signs.
Red is the most common color for sales, but too much of it might be garish or distracting. You should also try to manage the balance between window signage and merchandise display—you want people to see what is on sale after all.
However, another trick you can try comes from a 2020 study in Sweden, where it was shown that adding the names and recommendations from specific staff members increased sales.
6. Use a Customer Loyalty Program
Our penultimate tip for increasing your retail sales is to increase your customer retention by creating a customer loyalty program. The goal of a loyalty program is to get customers to re-engage with your brand and become repeat buyers, usually benefiting from discounts or other special perks.
If you’re stuck for loyalty program ideas, some include tiered memberships, referral rewards, or the simple “get X product free after X purchases.” If you’re not sure about the effort it takes to design and print paper loyalty cards (which customers tend to lose anyway), you can try going digital by using loyalty program software.
7. Stay on Top of Stock Levels
Let’s say you plan on trying out some of the tips we’ve covered so far in this guide and alongside your regular marketing campaigns, they become successful. The last thing you want to happen is for your business to run out of stock. No stock leads to unhappy customers and ultimately to no sales.
Having smooth and efficient inventory management at each point in your supply chain is critical to making sure you don’t suffer lost sales opportunities thanks to stockouts. One way of preventing this situation is to use a POS inventory system, which checks and tracks stock in real time with each sale.
Of course, such software normally comes at a premium but there are free inventory management software options available. As a business owner, you’ll need to reflect on your business needs and research to narrow down the best option for you.
8. Introduce Free Samples
Sometimes people want to try before they buy. When you let shoppers try your product before committing to a purchase, you can ease any final hesitations or doubts. The best way to prove your claims is to let your product do the talking, and a shopper can’t argue their own personal experiences.
While you might think of free samples traditionally in a grocery store environment or at a wholesale club like Costco, there are ways to introduce free samples even if you’re not a food and beverage retailer.
Skincare and beauty brands can let customers try “single servings” on the spot. If you sell apparel or accessories, you might introduce a “try before you buy” type of program. Warby Parker’s Home Try-On program is an excellent example of this. If you can’t afford to let shoppers try items for free, offer clothing and accessories for a rental period at a small fee. If they love the product enough, allow them to put the rental fee toward the purchase price of the product.
REI doesn’t quite go the lengths of Warby Parker, but its generous no-questions-asked return policy can be considered another form of try before you buy, as it’s a low-risk purchase.
Other ways to allow potential buyers to try your products before purchasing them, as we cover below, is to host an in-store event featuring your items. Maybe you sell cookware and host a cooking class, and participants can purchase the very items they cooked on. Or if you sell crafting supplies, host a sip-and-paint event where people can try your new paint brushes, for example.
9. Host an In-Store Event
On the topic of in-store events, these are great ways to increase retail sales by boosting foot traffic. If you’ve taken the steps to follow the advice outlined above, your space is ideally optimized for sales. Therefore, your next step is to get people to visit your space so they can make their purchases.
In-store events give people a reason to come to your store at a specific time and day. As such, you can specifically prepare your space for this audience, perhaps tailoring in-store displays to their unique interests. If you host the sip-and-paint event mentioned above, for example, you might make sure paints, paint brushes, and canvases are on display and easy to pick up for purchase.
You might also consider collaborating on your in-store event. Maybe it’s another local business that caters to a similar target market, or perhaps you enlist the help of a subject matter expert who can promote the event to their audience—a new potential source of customers for you. Regardless of your approach, you can use in-store events to bring people to your space and promote your products to them.
While many retail businesses managed to improve their sales thanks to surges in online shopping throughout the pandemic, in-store retail sales took a dramatic hit. But now that we’re starting to see people return to stores, sales are slowly beginning to pick back up.
Since we’re still not at pre-pandemic levels of in-person sales, it makes sense to use as many strategies as you can to maximize the opportunities you get. The tips we’ve covered in this article should help you increase retail sales and build on the momentum of returning customers.