How To Project Authenticity to CustomersShowing sincerity goes a long way to building trust and loyalty.
Looking for a foolproof strategy to help your store compete with chain retailers? Focus on amplifying the one thing the big-boxes can’t offer — an authentic shopping experience that customers won’t find anywhere else.
“People are more likely to come to your store or restaurant and buy from you when they perceive your business, the items you offer and your staff to be authentic,” said Bruce Sanders, consumer psychologist and author of “Retailer’s Edge: Boost Profits Using Shopper Psychology.” “It’s an important distinction small to midsize retailers have from the big chains.”
Today’s savvy customers can sniff out a disingenuous brand quickly. Here, Sanders explains how your store can successfully project authenticity and build customer loyalty.
Stay true to your word
Following through with your business claims seems like a no-brainer, but it’s of utmost importance if you want customers to see your authenticity. Be careful that the words and phrases you use with customers communicate the truth — nothing more, nothing less.
“When making a claim to a shopper, state the certainty you intend. Saying, ‘I can guarantee you,’ is different from, ‘Most shoppers say,’“ Sanders explained.
Nothing destroys trust faster than murky store policies that are difficult to understand. Be sure to display your return policy and other important information in conversational English, said Sanders.
“This element of authenticity takes on added importance with purchases that are difficult to assess until the item has been used,” he added.
Use puffery with caution
Every store expresses its best qualities in marketing materials. But too much boasting can backfire and leave customers dubious about your claims, said Sanders.
“Puffery consists of lavish claims about a store or products, and should be used cautiously. If you sell quality products and services and you maintain a staff with acknowledged expertise, expose shoppers to that,” he said. “Let the puffery demonstrate the abundant enthusiasm you have for what you’re offering, but don’t push it to the point where your shoppers question your ability to deliver.”
And whatever you do, avoid using authenticity as an explicit selling point.
“Bragging about being authentic detracts from the overall feeling of authenticity, and risks leading people to question it. Instead, invite shoppers to discover your authenticity for themselves,” he said.
Give your decor a handmade touch
Stores with slick displays and flashy decorations might look put together, but they can also feel artificial to customers seeking a more meaningful experience. Add creative, personal touches throughout your store to charm shoppers.
“Hand-drawn signs and mementos from your family or travels can give personality to the shopping experience and influence shoppers who aspire to be authentically creative,” said Sanders.
Stories about these items work to further project an authentic image of your store in the minds of customers, said Sanders. For example, if a customer points out how much she loves a textile on display in your store, tell her about when you bought it at a women’s cooperative on a family trip to Guatemala.
“Keep important details of the story the same each time you tell it. Make the story short. Be sure the point of each story is crystal clear,” he said.
Authenticity isn’t developed overnight — it’s a quality that emerges by offering consistent experiences over the long term. Demonstrate continuity whenever possible, said Sanders.
“A store being in business for a longer time and carrying the same sorts of merchandise over that time leads customers to consider it authentic,” he said. “[It also helps to have] low staff turnover and clear evidence of family involvement in the business.”
Change is inevitable in any business. So when you do need to make noticeable adjustments at your store, do it gradually and communicate the reasons for the changes so customers will still see you as authentic.
Serve, don’t sell
Demonstrating that you have a customer’s best interest at heart is one of the best ways to build a reputation as an authentic brand. Take the time to learn about their needs and preferences before trying to sell them anything.
“Have a commitment to serve, rather than give a hard sell. Customers want evidence that the store and its staff intend to earn a profit by serving customers well, rather than selling each customer as much as possible,” said Sanders.
“Have a commitment to serve, rather than give a hard sell.” -Bruce Sanders
If you find that your store’s products or services aren’t the right fit for a particular customer, refer them to a better source. Shoppers will see you as an honest retailer, and they’ll be more likely to return (and refer friends and family) in the future.
“It’s a matter of listening to each person before you suggest any products, and reflecting back to them what you’ve heard them say. That’s the best way to communicate integrity,” said Sanders.
There’s an art to articulating the authenticity of your store. The more you can subtly show customers that you’re genuine about the way you do business, the more they’ll see value in continuing to do business with you.