How Using Humor Can Boost Sales in Your Store

Bolster your bottom line with a great punchline.
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Showering your customers with politeness isn't always enough. Try introducing humor to stand out from the crowd. (Photo: Iryna Inshyna/Shutterstock)

A polite and friendly demeanor might be enough to satisfy customers. But if you tap into their sense of humor, that can really win them over.

“Gently and briefly kid around with the customer. Humor usually relaxes tensions and lifts spirits, both of which enhance the shopper’s desire to give you business,” said consumer psychologist Bruce Sanders, author of “Retailer’s Edge: Boost Profits Using Shopper Psychology.”

Sanders shared a few psychology-backed ways to leverage humor in your small business to build bonds with customers and seal the deal on sales.

Get customers in a good mood

You don’t need to turn your store into a comedy club to reap the sales-boosting benefits of humor. Simply focus on getting customers in a good mood, said Sanders.

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“Joining in with something the customer is also joking around is the best. It creates spontaneous, fresh laughter and it’s relevant.” -Bruce Sanders (Photo: Bruce Sanders)

“When customers feel happy, they’re more likely to buy,” he said.

If store owners are successful in lifting shoppers’ moods, they can reap two big benefits that help with sales.

“First, their thinking gets more flexible. They’re more receptive to new ideas, and that means they’re more open to considering products they haven’t tried before,” said Sanders.

“The other important effect of happiness on shopping behavior is that the person is willing to persevere through an extended selling pitch. So if you realize it will take you a while to explain why a particular product choice is best for this customer, aim to improve their mood first.”

Related: How to Win Over a Customer in 10 Seconds or Less

So how do you put customers in a positive state of mind? Self-deprecation, store-specific quips and even playfully bemoaning prices will tickle most shoppers’ funny bones, said Sanders.

“Joining in with something the customer is also joking around is the best. It creates spontaneous, fresh laughter and it’s relevant.”

Listen as they laugh

Once you get customers to chuckle, listen to them. Research shows that the act of laughing helps people let their guard down and reveal personal details about themselves.

“This occurs without the individuals being sensitive to the fact that they are so open and candid,” said Sanders. “Because of this increased exposure of the shopper’s distinctive needs and desires, a retailer can better serve the shopper.”

Sharing a laugh not only allows you to make mental notes about your shoppers, it also helps you build bonds with them. They’ll form long-lasting positive feelings about your store and be more inclined to shop there again in the future, said Sanders.

“It works best if the laughter is spontaneous, not forced or done to be courteous. Humor in retailing is most effective when it is novel and unexpected.”

Related: 4 Types of Shoppers and How to Appeal to All of Them

Lighten up embarrassing situations

Who hasn’t felt a little bashful shopping for an intimate item? Humor can break the ice in a potentially embarrassing situation, said Sanders.

“A customer who’s poking around a drug store might be pretty sure they’re not going to say they’re looking for hemorrhoid cream. But if you approach them with joviality and a light tone, it’s more likely they’ll feel comfortable to say something slightly gross or uncomfortable.”

This can also work for socially awkward situations, such as a customer who’s buying wine for a party with friends, but doesn’t want to splurge, said Sanders.

“Try to make a joke out of it, like, ‘these are good friends but not great friends, so you don’t want to look cheap but you don’t want to spend a lot.’ It helps people feel less bad, and will help you build repeat business.”

Make your ads funny

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Introducing humor to ads and marketing strategies for your small business will stand out to customers and boost the chances that they will share the ad with others. (Photo: JGibbs_Images/Shutterstock)

Customers are bombarded with hundreds of advertisements every day. To make your ads stand out from the crowd, inject them with humor, said Sanders.

“Humor in an ad can facilitate viewers’ or reader’s memory for the ad and increases the chances they’ll share the ad message with others, building word-of-mouth for the retailer,” he said.

However, it’s important to strike a balance between the product promotion and the humor, said Sanders.

“Humor can become a promotional vampire when people pay more attention to the joke than to the sales message. The best thing to do is to integrate your product or service with the humor itself.”

Related: Do’s and Don’ts of Marketing to Millennials

Understand the nuances

Humor will only work if you understand the nuances of the topics that people find funny and avoid themes that shoppers will find offensive.

Sanders: “Stay away from cultural stereotypes and political humor. You should also avoid topical humor. When something’s happening in the news, you don’t know how it will turn out in the end, and making a joke about it could reflect poorly on you.”

“Stay away from cultural stereotypes and political humor. You should also avoid topical humor. When something’s happening in the news, you don’t know how it will turn out in the end, and making a joke about it could reflect poorly on you.” -Bruce Sanders

Instead, stick to classic, safe humor, like making a lighthearted joke about yourself.

“Westerners find laughing at themselves attractive — it relates to underdog effect,” he said. “We want to be laughing with the shopper, never at the shopper. To avoid offending, build on what you discover the customer considers to be funny. Make humor a team sport as you volley giggles back and forth.”

If you do accidentally offend a customer, apologize sincerely. Ask what you can do to make things right and move on quickly, said Sanders.

What if they don’t get the joke?

One of the biggest reasons store owners avoid humor is the fear that the customer won’t get the joke. But this is a situation you can actually use to your advantage, said Sanders.

“A joke which isn’t immediately understood can be especially effective in making a sale. The shopper’s mental energies are taken with trying to figure out the humor, and this distracts the customer from thinking about reasons not to buy. So humor can be useful in moving the indecisive customer to the cashier station.”

A smile also works

Not great at cracking jokes? You still can warm up sales with smiles.

“Research shows that a smile makes for more motivated customers,” said Sanders. “It lightens the tone and opens ourselves up to engaging in humor and laughs.”

Related: How to Create a Culture of Kindness in Your Small Business

Your sense of humor can take a variety of forms, from an authentic smile to a gut-busting punchline. The key is to create a positive mood and get customers to like you enough to feel happy as they shop at your store.

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