Competition Increases Sales

Dealers, would you rather be the only antique store in your town, or have a lot of competition? I asked that question often in my recent visit to the Hillsville, Va., Labor Day Flea Market. A surprising number of dealers answered that they prefer to have no competition at all. One dealer even boasted that he was the only antique store in his town, and that he enjoyed having the antiques trade “sewn up” in his community.

That attitude is short-sighted. Competition creates a good shopping environment. As the iconic character Mr. T often said in the movie and TV show “The A Team”: “I pity the poor fool.” If this dealer understood how competition stimulates his business, he’d be begging the town council to establish an antiques district on Main Street. If consumers don’t find an item they are looking for in one shop, they visit another (provided there’s another shop to visit). That’s why it’s called “shopping.”

Somehow, this dealer doesn’t grasp that shopping is the Great American Pastime. According to a recent retail spending report by The Wall Street Journal, Americans spend more than $1.2 trillion annually on non-essential purchases like pleasure boats, sports tickets, booze, antiques and collectibles. That amounts to more than $11 out of every $100. Our purchases fill our garages while our cars are parked on the street.

And why not?

We live in a consumer-driven economy. Your business and my business thrive on such spending.

Americans love to shop

Shopping is a recreational and social activity that provides fun and variety and almost always ends with a reward. No one goes “buying”; they go “shopping.” Buying is secondary to shopping. Shopping with a friend is all about sharing the experience, discussing alternatives and obtaining advice before making a purchase.

Shopping has acquired its own vocabulary: compulsive shoppers are called “shopaholics.” Shopping when you’re stressed is called “retail therapy”; and we justify our purchases by saying that we are “stimulating the economy.”

When the government wants to give the economy a quick shot in the arm, they dole out tax refunds because they know we will go right out and spend the money.

The question for dealers is: If shopping is such a big deal, how do we get more shoppers into our stores?The answer is short: Make shopping in your store a fun experience. If you do, your customers will stay longer and want to come back more often.

Here are two techniques (one hi-tech, one low-tech) that other retailers use to ensure their customers enjoy shopping in their stores:

Create a social atmosphere

Last year, Saks Fifth Avenue hired 25 new marketing directors to improve the chain’s in-store experience. The marketing directors’ marching orders were to assess the “social scene” in each store’s neighborhood and to create in-store events like meet-and-greets and charity benefit auctions. Many Saks stores have community rooms that allow customers to host private birthday parties and book clubs for free.

Topshop, an upscale clothing boutique with stores in New York and London, hosts weekly parties and mini-fashion shows that always include extra time for shoppers to browse and buy. Photos of the events are posted on their Facebook page. Attendees who see their pictures on Facebook “like” and “share” the photos with their friends, which increases the event’s exposure and future attendance. Topshop’s marketing manager, Sheena Sauvaire, says the events increase their average transaction value, compared with sales during normal shopping hours.

Of course, Saks and Topshop have more space than you do, but a Mom & Pop antique store or mall that is willing to dedicate 200 square feet of space for small community activities will find that their customer base and sales grow rapidly. Two hundred square feet is a perfectly sized space for book clubs, collectors clubs, seminars, music teachers’ recitals and other small events. Taking photos of such events and posting them on your Facebook page might easily be the cheapest advertising you can get.

Invite the competition

Shopping entails making comparisons: Compare product A to product B, or compare your store’s product A to another store’s product A. Shoppers insist on choice; stores without clear choices leave shoppers dissatisfied. If you only have one of an item (however rare), a shopper has no point of comparison; they have no way of knowing whether your offering represents a good value. A doubting mind does not buy. You can be certain that such customers will leave your store to shop in another (or online).

Consider allowing comparison shopping within the walls of your store by offering free WiFi. Cross-channel shopping (known as “convergence”) is becoming commonplace; consumers often price-check online while shopping in retail stores.

This is a good trend for antique dealers, because it eliminates the need for customers to leave your store to comparison shop; dealers can sell the customer while they are still in their store. Business News Daily quotes technology giant NCR saying, “By offering free Wi-Fi, more retailers will enable consumers to compare price and features in-store using their smartphones. A near-match pricing strategy, along with a ‘buy online, pick up in store’ capability, will accelerate convergence.”

Another benefit of free in-store WiFi is the ability of customers to collaborate with friends as they shop. Shopping with a friend is more fun than shopping alone (or so I’m told…). Instant messaging and photo capability makes it possible for friends to shop “together” from different locations and share their finds.

I’ve seen countless studies that investigated how to create an ideal shopping atmosphere in a retail store. The studies were always seller-centric rather than shopper-centric. Retailers are usually focused on selling, and that’s as it should be. No sales equals no business. Retailers who focus on a customer’s shopping experience, however, find that they make more sales and have a higher percentage of repeat shoppers.

After all, shopping is “The Great American Pastime.”

Previously published in Antique Trader Magazine

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