How Retailers can Create a Positive First Impression

When was the last time you made an assumption about something? Or someone?

The reality is, assumptions are often made instinctively – whether they are right or wrong. It’s human nature to react to situations, experiences and even people despite not knowing anything about these scenarios.

It’s fair to say that first impressions matter – plain and simple. Unfortunately, it’s not so plain and simple as a retailer to react to these realities. Instead, merchants must accept the responsibilities that come with being judged and reacted to – ultimately aiming to leave strong first impressions in order to be positively remembered by customers.

Research suggests it takes only a tenth of a second for individuals to form an opinion, meaning retailers have zero time to spare in gaining customer attention.

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From storefront entrances to curbside appeal to interior merchandising to employee behavior to staff dress code and more, every detail matters. Retailers that want to ensure a positive first impression should focus on two key areas: your initial visual appeal and your customer greeting.

Focus on Visual Appeal

Looks matter. There, I said it.

From your storefront to your visual displays to your employee dress code, people will pass judgment based on the visual impressions of your store. Acknowledging this reality presents you with the opportunity to strengthen your visual standards and the first impressions of your brand.

Here are the 3 key visual areas to focus on:

1. Store Exterior

The exterior of your store should offer clear signage that not only shares your store name but also offers store hours, contact details and information on what your store assortment offers.

For example, the name of a boutique called Nicole’s Boutique does not clearly identify what that boutique may sell. But extending additional details that may include fashion and accessories will offer a clearer understanding to customers.

2. Store Displays

When a customer walks into a store, they naturally look around. Your displays either positively or negatively influence their impression of your store.

Are the displays tidy, well stocked and have clear signage? To make a strong first impression, use this merchandising checklist to ensure your merchandising only contributes a positive first impression.

3. Store Dress Code

Attire matters. Dress codes are a retailer’s chance to truly stand-out among their competition and offer customer care that will positively influence customer impressions. Be sure your store staff has a dress code in place that contributes to your store brand and likewise, does not distract customers from what they are truly there for – which is to shop.

Implement Customer Communication Expectations

Nothing can quite deliver a good first impressions like good communication. Keeping this in mind, merchants need to be proactive in identifying ways they want their store staff to greet and support customers that walk into their store.

Extending insight on in-store promotions or products is a natural conversation starter for retailers to consider, yet saying hello is the first step in giving customers the chance to engage with your store staff. Because of this – and because seconds matter here – consider how your store currently greets customers, then consider what variations may exist among your store team.

Do you offer a consistent greeting for all customers that come through your doors? Or do your greetings vary based on who is extending them? Additionally, how is this greeting delivered… with eye contact? From behind your cash wrap area? Or wherever your store staff may be at the time someone enters your store? Looking at all angles of your initial hello to customers may sound simple, but every detail matters here.

To help perfect your store greeting, consider the following:

  1. Identify a standard store greeting that all store staff is expected to use when someone enters your store. This greeting then becomes part of your store branding and helps to create a memorable impression on customers due to its repetitive nature.
  2. Keep the store greeting upbeat and friendly. A simple “hello” is too simple. Yet a “hello, welcome to the name of your store” is simple enough without being too pushy. Customers will not feel pressured to immediately be redirected to a sale area you may point them too or the pressure to spend at all and instead, simply enjoy your store. And if you’re store is merchandised and assorted at its best, the next steps that lead to customer purchases should instinctively begin to take place.
  3. Deliver the greeting with a genuine smile and eye contact. After all, this is about first impressions, remember? Saying anything only matters when it is said with intent, so train your team to be sincere with their greetings. That means to look up if their head is looking down, make eye contact instead of looking away and offer a smile that greets customers with a warm welcome versus anything else.
  4. Audit to ensure your greeting is adopted. Being in your stores and conducting regular retail audits or inspections reinforces brand standards. The only way to know that employees are applying their newly learned communication skills is to visit the store. Additionally, getting into and inspecting your stores offers store employees the opportunity to ask questions and offer feedback.
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Finally, remember that in a world filled with technology and seemingly never-ending to-do-lists for yourself and your consumers alike, make each moment matter when it comes to connecting with customers.

Final thoughts…

The first impression is what leads to the next and ultimately, what makes your brand memorable… or not. As for the rewards of positive first impressions? Sales!

About the author:

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Nicole Leinbach Reyhle is the Founder of RetailMinded and the author of Retail 101. She is a frequent contributor to The Today Show, Forbes and is the Spokesperson for American Express’s Small Business Saturday. Reyhle is recognized as a Top 10 retail thought leader from Vend and a retail “futurist” for IBM. Reyhle is also the Co-Founder of the Independent Retailer Conference.


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