Creating a Better Shopping Experience

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The year 2016 is finally here, and we know many businesses are back on the grind trying to attract and retain new customers. With an operating environment like Zimbabwe’s, the thin line between keeping and losing a customer can be a deadly one for any business.

With the way our finances are set up, Zimbabweans have to be extremely careful with how and where we spend our “hard-earned” United States Dollars (or Rands, Pounds, Euros, Pula and Yuan). From my experience, there are a few simple things any company can do not just to gain my custom, but to keep me coming back.

Create confidence: Provide shoppers with the tools and advice they need to choose the best options for their wants and needs. I don’t like to feel hustled. If I enter a supermarket, I do not like to see gimmicks or feel like I am being “closed”. If an item is being offered at a certain price, I expect it to be marked clearly. If there is a promotion, the language should be clear as well. The fastest way to lose the trust of a consumer is if they feel like they are being lied to.

Eliminate obstacles: Use technology to speed up the path to purchase. This is a failing prevalent in many local businesses. Paying via debit card, or mobile money, should never take as long as it does. There is often a connection failure, or the machines are “down”, or one machine isn’t working so a supervisor has to be called to bring another one. Prices at the till differ from prices on the shelves, or are missing completely and now a “code” has to be found. All this frustration degrades the shopping experience to an annoying chore, and there is nothing more annoying than having my time wasted!

Recognize and personalize:­ Use systems that can record customers purchasing history and preferences. It is nice to feel appreciated. The Cheers bar of eighties television fame had “Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name” in the theme song for a reason. Everybody wants to feel acknowledged. Everyone wants to feel like they are getting MORE than their money’s worth, and that a business recognises and appreciates the choice they’ve made to spend their money in that particular spot.

Promote transparency: Be open with customers about your products and services as well as how you use their personal information. If a business collects mobile phone numbers for any reason, then starts sending SMS advertisements or WhatsApp group messages, they’re immediately dead to me. The same goes with unsolicited email advertisements. If someone gets their hands on my personal info and uses it for marketing, it’s time to seek out the competition.

Optimize ownership: Build a support network for customers on products and their use so customers feel part of your business and will refer back to you for information and future purchases. If you are transparent about how you use personal info, this can be a valuable channel to stay in constant contact with your clients and help them help themselves. People have questions about their products very often, and I would personally make my next purchase from someone who supported me through my last.

Cultivate community: Plan events and special shopping opportunities for customers to come together. This should be a no-brainer, but it’s amazing how many companies forget to do special events for their client network. And if you do it, please do NOT call it an “activation”.

Deliver delight: Provide something unexpected and fun. It is the little things. Keep a box of sweets on the counter of your school supplies store. Hand out an energy bar with every purchase in your sports shop. Even the occasional beer on the house won’t go amiss (that one is just for me). Little touches and gestures go a long way in helping you to retain a customer.

We would like to wish all Zimbabwean businesses and consumers a happy and fruitful 2016!