People@Work

Do you believe in what you sell?

V Rajesh | Updated on March 27, 2019 Published on March 27, 2019

If your staff is convinced that they are offering the best products to consumers, sales will follow

I met a young manager of an international brand’s boutique store in an airport a couple of weeks back. He was bemoaning his fate, that his boss did not understand the Indian situation and was giving him unrealistic targets. Ironically he was breaking his New Year resolution of quitting smoking because of this!

A brief conversation led me to help identify the key pain point he was facing — not enough shoppers were ready to complete the purchase. The store, in spite of having a good number of walk-in customers, was therefore struggling.

As I continued the conversation, he added, interestingly; “I can understand why they are not ready to purchase. Who will buy a bag for ₹40,000, especially when they are travelling abroad and can buy this in that country?”

His comment brought back an unforgettable memory pertaining to solving retail problems — during 1998-99 — when I was a part of the start-up team of Foodworld Supermarkets. After a lot of self-taught lessons, which included making many a mistake, we had realised the importance of groceries, especially certain products like rice, in creating shopper loyalty. As an outcome, there was a clear focus on increasing the sale of bulk packs of rice as this would be a good indicator of the number of customers who had started monthly grocery purchases at our stores.

However, the numbers did not increase in spite of very good pricing, display, etc. As the Marketing Head for Chennai, I would go to various stores to try and figure out why shoppers were not switching to our stores for purchasing all their groceries.

Despite my speaking to many shoppers there was no light at the end of the tunnel and it was quite frustrating. During one such store visit I remarked to one of the supervisors about this puzzle.

It might have been a slip by the supervisor or may be it was fortuitous that I asked the question to that particular person. He remarked “Why will anyone buy the rice from here, Sir, when the local store offers it at a much lower price!”

This comment triggered something in my mind and a solution clearly emerged. The resultant action plan was to have a series of information sessions (not training programmes) for every store staff member. During these sessions, samples of rice sold by other stores as also our store were shown and the difference in quality explained. Finally the staff would be asked to recalculate the price of rice at other stores. It became clear that we were selling better quality rice at a lower price.

However, the battle was not yet over. There was scepticism among staff members till they were told to venture out and get samples for comparison from stores near their homes. Slowly the tide turned with the staff believing that the rice sold at our stores was indeed of better quality but at a lower price.

This signalled a milestone in the journey of supermarkets in India. People started to buy all their groceries from our store based on their faith that the quality and price of rice was the best at our stores. Needless to say, the numbers shot up and there was no looking back.

More than the numbers, I felt a personal sense of victory when a staff member told me that his family too had started to purchase all their groceries from our store.

Believe to make it happen

An important lesson was learned out of this experience. Your store staff needs to passionately believe that they are giving the best possible option to the shoppers. If that does not happen, the doubts in the minds of the staff are bound to be infectious and affect the shopper’s decision making.

Cut to today and my conversation with the young boutique manager. Based on this memory and the lesson learnt out of that experience I asked him why he thought that shoppers would not purchase a ₹40,000 bag from his outlet. In spite of his repeated excuses, I kept asking him if he could think of a single reason that would make the shopper buy this expensive bag here instead of in a foreign country.

He finally came up with a good reason and his face lit up when he realised that such a bag can indeed be sold in India on the backing of a solid value proposition. That moment, when he started to believe in what he was selling, was a positive turning point for his store and his professional journey.

Whenever I am asked for solutions to improve store sales and the discussion turns to whether a training programme on selling, customer service, etc, will make the magic happen, my contrarian view has always been this — “Templated programmes are not the answer. Invest in making your staff truly believe in what they sell in the stores and then there will be no looking back.”

V Rajesh is a Retail & Shopper Behaviour Expert who has authored several books, such as “The INDIAN reTALEs”, “Out Of Syllabus” and , “BREAK FREE”

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Published on March 27, 2019
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