4 Customer-Centric Questions You Should Be Asking (and How to Get Answers)

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When it comes to improving your business, there’s no better source of insights than your customers. Knowing what makes them tick will help you come up with decisions on what products to carry, how to market or sell merchandise, and most important, how to keep customers happy.

That’s why it’s essential for retailers to regularly communicate with customers and find ways to get to know them better. To help you do this, we’ve compiled a list of customer-centric questions you should be asking. Check them out below:

 

What is their basic demographic and contact info?

Gathering customer details (gender, date of birth, location, and email address) may sound, well, basic, but you’d be surprised at the number of retailers–particularly those in the SMB realm–that don’t collect the data, and those that do collect, don’t make full use of it!

Don’t be one of them. Strive to be more proactive with collecting shopper information. Doing so will give you a deeper understanding of types of people shopping at your store so you can market products more effectively.

For example, if you see that most of your customers are women in their 20s, you can use that discovery to improve your product mix and sell items that appeal to that particular demographic. Or, if you’re selling to both men and women, you can use the data you’ve collected to segment shoppers and send them messages or product recommendations tailored to their gender (ex: recommending neckties to your male customers and dresses to the females.)

It’s also important to note that you can (and should) use customer data beyond sales and marketing purposes. Collecting people’s contact details, such as their email address or phone number, can actually help you serve them better.

Consider what Arbor, a fabulous jewelry retailer in Melbourne, is doing. According to store owner Ellinor (Elli) Mazza, they don’t just collect people’s email addresses to send them marketing messages; they do it so they can send customers digital receipts. “It’s great to be able to email receipts,” says Elli. “People love it!”

So how can you  start collecting the demographic and contact info of your customers? Consider doing it at checkout. Depending on what software you’re using, you may be able to use your POS system to capture the information you need. Vend, for example, lets you enter people’s email addresses at checkout so you can send them a digital receipt and/or enroll them into your loyalty program.

Customers can simply hand over their emails while you’re ringing them up, and they will receive the receipt in their inbox, along with a quick link to join your rewards program and get on your list.

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If your POS doesn’t have the capabilities to collect email addresses at checkout, consider using form apps such as SignUpAnywhere or email marketing apps like Chimpadeedoo (MailChimp) or Enlist (Campaign Monitor).

Tip
Check out our primer on email marketing for retailers to get tips on incentivizing customers to provide their email address + advice on personalization.

What do they think of your store?

Try to get insights into people’s perception of your store. Are your window displays enticing people to come in? How are they responding to your fixtures? Answers to such questions will help you make better layout decisions, and ultimately improve the in-store experience and increase sales.

You can learn more about how customers see and react to various store elements by being more observant and by testing different layouts or designs. Consider investing in store analytics tools that can measure foot traffic, dwell time, and sales, so you can get actual data on which displays or arrangements are converting customers and what changes you need to make to improve results.

RetailNext has a great case study on this, and also published a piece on improving fixture performance. According to its report, a large retailer sought the help of RetailNext “to understand and optimize the performance of two different apparel fixtures in its stores.” There was the focal fixture, located at the front of the apparel department, and there was the secondary fixture, which was located further back.

Upon analyzing metrics such as exposure, engagement, dwell time, and conversions, they soon figured out that while the focal fixture had a high exposure rate, its conversion and engagement rates weren’t that great. Meanwhile, the secondary fixture had a much lower exposure rate, but converted and engaged shoppers more effectively.

This information allowed the retailer to better understand the store and helped them identify opportunities for improvement. They learned that the focal fixture “needed an increased ability to engage the large number of shoppers who passed its way, which could be accomplished by displaying trend merchandise as opposed to basic merchandise.”

The secondary fixture on the other hand was good at converting and engaging customers, but wasn’t getting enough exposure, “suggesting that the retailer should display destination merchandise at this fixture or apply marketing efforts in the store to increase traffic to this part of the store.”

 

When and how often do they want to hear from you?

Regular communication with customers is key. It keeps you on their radars and when done right, it gives you the opportunity to drive sales. For some retailers though, determining the timing and frequency of messages can be a bit tricky. Fortunately, there are things you can do to know for sure.

The first is to just ask. Talk to shoppers at checkout or during a customer service call and ask about when and how often they’d like to hear from you. You might be surprised at how they respond.

Check out the story of Steve Silberberg, founder of Fitpacking, who initially thought that his clients didn’t like getting emails from him.

“I’ve always assumed that customers get miffed or borderline irate when I sent out email marketing,” he said. “However, several clients have told me that they would like to hear from the company more often and that they will just delete messages that they don’t have time for or interest in.”

Steve didn’t even have to prod too hard to get this insight; it was something he learned simply by making conversation with customers. “I’ll tell clients that I don’t like to bother them with emails the way that online retailers often do, and that’s usually when I’m told that they would appreciate hearing more from me.”

Consider following Steve’s lead. If you haven’t done so yet, talk to customers about the types of messages they want to get from you, along with how often they want to receive them, and keep those learning in mind the next time you touch base with subscribers.

Looking for a more techie way to determine the right timing and frequency for communicating with customers? Explore the analytics features of your email marketing software. Most of these tools let you track open rates and clicks, so you may want to pay attention to these numbers and start experimenting with different timeslots and schedules to see which ones drive the most opens and conversions.

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Another good way to make sure that you’re not bothering customers with too many (or even too few) messages is to let them adjust their email settings. Check with your email marketing provider and see if you can give subscribers the ability to modify their email preferences.

 

What have they been buying and how much have they spent?

Tracking your customers’ purchase history helps you figure out the best way to approach or engage them. Big retailers such as Amazon have been doing this for years, and with the right customer management tools, so can you.

Vend, for example, lets you dig deep into the purchase history of your customers so you can see what products they’ve bought and how much they’ve spent so far. This is powerful stuff. Being aware of what people bought from you in the past enables you to offer more relevant product recommendations, and knowing who your top spenders are helps you create better loyalty programs.

Take for instance, Onward Reserve, an ecommerce site for men’s fashion. A case study by Windsor Circle details how the retailer figured out who their top customers are by analyzing metrics like purchase recency, frequency, and monetary values. Onward Reserve then sent out “best customer emails” to this segment, where they exclusively offered each member a personal shopping assistant.

According to Windsor Circle, this created a win-win situation for the company and customers alike. “Onward Reserve protects their margins and doesn’t offer a discount to a segment who are already loyal and willing to spend money,” while customers gain access to a personal shopper and get a better experience overall.

See if you can do something similar in your business. Find out who your best customers are by looking at their purchase histories, then send them a VIP reward to let them know just how much you value them.

 

The practice of asking the right questions can lead to great insights and ideas. No matter what type of store you have, there’s a good chance that you’re only a few questions away from reaching the next level of retail success.

Can you think of other customer-centric questions retailers should be asking? Share them in the comments.

Image:  mlinksva on Flickr

About Francesca Nicasio

Francesca Nicasio is Vend's Retail Expert and Content Strategist. She writes about trends, tips, and other cool things that enable retailers to increase sales, serve customers better, and be more awesome overall. She's also the author of Retail Survival of the Fittest, a free eBook to help retailers future-proof their stores. Connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Google+.