Summer 2008
Rushed or Relaxed: Make Every Customer Visit Count! By Annamaria Turano

You can see it in their eyes as these customers walk in your store—that sense of anxiety over finding the perfect gift in a limited amount of time. Many of your customers routinely put off holiday shopping till the last minute or try to squeeze in a quick shopping trip between other errands. For such customers, time is of the essence. How do you maximize the limited amount of time these customers will spend in your store? First, try setting up “best seller” tables at the front of your store.

Best seller tables

When a customer is short on time, a good selection of merchandise and a friendly smile might not be enough to clinch a sale. Retailers like you do well when you recognize that the customer’s time is at a premium. Setting up “best seller” tables near the entrance will help rushed customers make a quick, informed selection from a pre-screened group of popular gifts.  These tables can have popular gifts grouped by price point (<$50, $50-100, >$100, etc.), or by recipient (husband, wife, friend, colleague, etc.) to help your customers who know they have to buy something but who have no idea what exactly to buy.

Try pre-wrapping these gifts and your customers will appreciate the extra convenience and time saved. Display a sample gift with the contents revealed so the customer can take a peek at what’s included in the package. It will help speed up the customer’s decision.

Setting up such bestseller tables for holidays and other occasions throughout the year is also a terrific idea. A Valentine’s Day table close to the entrance in late January is sure to remind and tempt customers about the upcoming holiday.

What about those customers who have an approximate idea of what they are looking for but who are nevertheless, still rushed for time? In this case, after asking them what they’re looking to buy, bring a handful of appropriate gift options out to them. After all, you know the store better than they do. Even better, by bringing the options out to the customer you will maximize their time spent looking at merchandise than navigating the store in search of the right gift. Every minute spent by your customers focusing on product is a better chance at a sale!

Time to linger

As you know, the more time a customer spends in your store, the greater the chances at a sale. Even better, Discovery Wines, a popular shop on the Lower East Side in New York, also found that the total purchase rung up at the cash register was higher when the customer spent more time in the store and received more in-store assistance. Encouraging customers to spend more time and energy in selecting a gift will ultimately translate into customers spending more money on a gift purchase.

If you are lucky enough to have a customer who can invest some time and energy into shopping for a gift, make sure you and your employees are ready with questions to help bring the recipient “to life.” This allows you to quickly suggest appropriate gift ideas.

The easy-to-remember ROSE line of questions helps:

  • Who is the Recipient?
  • What is the Occasion? 
  • How much do you want to Spend?
  • What does the recipient Enjoy doing?

A customer’s answers to the ROSE questions should spark several gift ideas and you and your staff can make appropriate suggestions both within the specified price range as well as slightly above.  During downtime, maybe you can role-play responses to various customer answers so you have a few ideas pre-rehearsed. For example, what if a woman is shopping for a birthday gift for her husband who loves to golf but doesn’t have enough time on weekends to indulge? An appropriate gift here might be providing a personalized golf memento (such as a sleeve of golf balls or a coffee table book on famous courses) and pre-paying for a tee time at a nearby golf course thereby making sure the time is already planned for. In another scenario, a woman wants to buy a house-warming gift for her sister who has just moved into a new apartment. An appropriate gift here might be purchasing a set of decorated glasses as well as coasters. With practice, you and your employees will feel less pressure when suggesting a gift as you have creative ideas already rehearsed in your head. Also, collecting this information will help you better make merchandising selections for your store.

No thanks; I’m just looking

You have created a warm and comfortable environment that will help customers take a breath and feel welcome to browse. But how do you create casual browsers into customers? Doing so is critical so you always want to extend a friendly smile, point out new or popular gift items, or even remind people of upcoming holidays that they might want to plan ahead for. Provide information about unique items and make it an educational experience. Fresh tips on how to use an item (for example, putting a child’s drawing vs. a photo in a frame) also help in triggering customer purchases. Gentle suggestions or light conversation will make a browser feel welcome. But don’t overdo it or you might scare some customers away. Remember—your goal is to give the browser a reason to purchase a gift today—or a reason for him/her to remember your store when they’re about to shop for their next gift-giving occasion.

Added value: personal shopper services

At Discovery Wines, customers who are frequent shoppers spend more on average vs. the one-time shopper. To gain the loyalty of those customers who want to be most efficient with their time, you can also offer an annual or seasonal shopping service. This service will help customers who have a list of individuals to shop for—or a number of upcoming special occasions to plan for.  Mailing postcards, sending emails, posting a sign about the service, and gently mentioning the service in casual conversation are excellent ways to generate awareness.

Timing is critical. Sending reminders in advance of upcoming holidays or customers’ birthdays/anniversaries will prompt these customers to contact you for the service. Keeping detailed records of customer transactions—what they purchased, who was the recipient, what was the occasion, when was the occasion, what was the amount, etc—helps. Regularly review customers’ files and send timely reminders or even place a call to their customers’ offices to gently suggest a gift. Quick notes about your customers (e.g., hobbies, interests, work, lifestyle) and their related transactions will help strengthen your connection with customers when they’re next in-store.

Added value: tips for gifting

Help customers present their gift in a memorable way. Provide additional tips on how to creatively “gift the gift.” These tips can be sample phrases/thoughts to include on a greeting card, recipe ideas for a special dinner or dessert, and recommendations (with contact information, location, and hours) for a local restaurant or event/activity to help celebrate a special occasion in a memorable way. Since it’s about saving time, you might want to have these tips printed up on index cards or a tear-pad near the gift tables so your customer can grab these ideas for later consideration.

Gift giving is a two-way street: your customers are buying gifts for their friends and family while you are giving your customers the gift of time and advice. Your customers will appreciate every special touch and every effort you make to value their time and resources.

Annamaria Turano

AnnaMaria M. Turano is co-author of the book "Stopwatch Marketing: Take Charge of the Time When Your Customer Decides to Buy" (Portfolio: Jan 2008). She is also an executive director at Marketing Consulting Association, a strategic marketing consulting firm based in Westport, CT. Clients have included MasterCard, Verizon, Gillette, PepsiCo, Pfizer, Goodyear, Payless ShoeSource, and many other companies. For more information visit her blog and website at

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