A friend who is an antique dealer says he likes to visit antique malls so that he can see how much other dealers are getting for their wares. I pointed out that what he was actually seeing was the prices that dealers weren’t getting, since all the items he would view were unsold. “Yeah,” he replied, “but I consider it market research. I can look around for an hour or so without anyone bothering me or trying to sell me something.”
Such is the world of antique mall retailing. Customers can browse booths without fear of being “sold” anything. They are welcome to buy, of course. But in general, customer service in an antique mall is lacking. In a mall booth there is no “show and sell;” there is no “show and tell.” There’s just “display, and hope someone buys.” An antique mall is staffed primarily to ring up sales and keep the place tidy. If a customer has questions about certain items or wants to haggle over price, a staff member may or may not be able to help them. Of course, there are exceptions, but they are rare. If your antique mall doesn’t fit this description, I salute you.
I recently spent the better part of a day browsing the antique malls in the town of Berlin, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Berlin is a lovely town, and its quaint setting has served as the backdrop for the feature films Tuck Everlasting and Runaway Bride. The mall booths were well stocked and the prices seemed reasonable for the area. But if a customer wanted a question answered, they had to stand in line at the register to ask it. If there were other employees around, they weren’t obvious.
Now, I have a somewhat embarrassing confession to make: when I shop: I eavesdrop on conversations. Not personal conversations, but “shopping” conversations. I like to know what shoppers think of a store’s products, displays and staff. Overheard repeatedly in Berlin — and almost every other antique mall I’ve ever been in — are conversations that go something like this:
Q: What is this?
A: Dunno. Ask someone.
Q: Sure costs a lot. What makes this so pricey?
A: Beats me. Let’s go.
I often wonder: If someone was there at that moment to answer questions, give a little history of the item and build value to justify the price, how many browsers would be turned into buyers?
Turn Antique Mall Browsers into Buyers with QR Codes
I understand why antique malls don’t hire more staff: It would drive up booth rents and dealers would have to raise prices to compensate. But often, the difference between making a sale and having a customer walk out is simply the timely delivery of information. In this day and age, information can be delivered — effectively and cheaply — without having to pay staff. The key to increasing sales is for antique mall dealers to put QR codes on their price tags. It’s an incredibly simple solution, but I’ve yet to see anyone do it.
Every dealer keeps an inventory. Smart dealers, when they enter new items into their inventory, add a photo and description of each item. Dealers who sell online spend many hours photographing and describing their offerings. Dealers who sell from their own website already have product photos and descriptions on their web pages. Once you have photos and a description (or a video) on a web page, it’s a simple matter to copy and paste the page’s URL into a QR code generator and download the QR code. I create QR codes for free on the website www.qrstuff.com.
Print a QR code onto a label and put it onto each price tag, or print the code directly to the tag. When a shopper in your booth has a question about an item, they simply scan the QR code with their smartphone and they are taken directly to your web page, where they will find a description, links to your online reviews and testimonials, and any other item you may want them to have — say, a discount coupon for the item they are browsing.
Don’t have a website? Really? Then get one. Websites are cheaper than they’ve ever been. A fully functional DIY website with shopping cart can be had for about $500 per year. For the purpose of using QR codes, all that’s really needed is a mobile-ready site that will display your inventory on a smartphone. WordPress (wordpress.org) offers many mobile-optimized themes and plug-ins that will get the job done inexpensively. The marketplace for web-building services is very competitive; on the freelancer’s website elance.com I searched the term “retail website” and found 8,312 freelancers around the world ready to competitively bid for your website project.
The time is right for QR technology to appear in antique malls. According to a June 2013 Nielson survey, 60 percent of adult Americans now own a smartphone. By 2016, there will be more than 193 million smartphone users in America. Flip phones will soon be history. According to a recent study by Google, 69 percent of smartphone users use their phone to research products before they buy, and 84 percent of smartphone shoppers use their phones in the store while they are shopping. The study shows that smartphone shoppers stay in stores longer, browse longer and buy more. Those numbers will continue to rise.
Currently, more than half the shoppers who visit your antique mall booth have smartphones, and they use them. How hard is it to print QR codes when you are doing most of the other work (photos and descriptions) anyway? As each new technology is introduced, the bar for retailers gets a little higher. Antique dealers are lagging behind the greater world of retail. Sadly, one of the most “antique” things about today’s antique shops is their business model. “Browse and buy” doesn’t work very well anymore.
Consumers demand product information. Antique mall dealers who deliver information in a timely fashion will find that their sales increase and their customer base grows. Will you be one of the few dealers who will take an extra minute or so per item to print a QR code?
Previously published by Antique Trader Magazine