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The Customer Experience: Be Extraordinary

By Donald Cooper, MBA

Managing any retail business is tough – and getting tougher. We’re all faced with more demanding customers, more and stronger competition, increased complexity and shrinking margins. On top of that, great employees are hard to find and keep. Mediocrity is no longer an option. So, how can you create extraordinary experiences?

1) Dispel the big retail myth: There’s a myth that anyone can work in retail; that what we do is easy. So, we tend to inherit employees who are trying to figure out what they really want to do when they grow up. It takes very special and talented people to be good retailers. Hire talent, intelligence and passion, not “bodies.” Then pay more, and expect more.

2) Stop being boring: Whether you’re selling fashion, power tools or pizzas, offer me something that I can’t get anywhere else. Have a clear and compelling product concept, show me possibilities and help me make wise choices. To pull that off, you must have unusual talent for what you do and the passion and energy to do it wonderfully, over and over again.

3) Offer real value: In the past 20 years, retailers have increasingly made it all about price, when it’s about experiences. You can’t make a living selling at 30%, 40% or 60% off every day, so we have marking up to mark down, and manufactured sales and promotions – and we’ve lost consumer trust in the process. Take a lesson from luxury retailers that rarely go on sale: Focus instead on the customer experience, and demonstrate the real value in what you offer.

4) Break the rules: When I worked for a fashion retailer back in the 80s and 90s, we dared to be different. While our competitors had signs on the front door stating, “No food or beverages,” we built a beautiful mahogany drink bar offering two kinds of coffee, seven kinds of herbal tea, a choice of fruit drinks, or spring water, in real mugs – at no charge. While our competitors declared, “Limit of 3 items in the change room,” we let customers take in as many as they liked. Women took 27 items in the change room and usually bought 23 of them. We had electric massage chairs for husbands, a pirate ship play area for kids and change tables with free diapers, diaper wipes and cream for babies in distress. No one else did this at the time – it was a big idea that was human and compelling. And it worked.

Does your business have a big idea? What will you commit to do that no one else has done? Remember, mediocrity is no longer an option.

Donald Cooper, MBA, CSP, HoF, has an extensive background in manufacturing and retailing. Now, as a Toronto-based international management speaker and coach, he helps business owners and managers rethink, refocus and re-energize their business to sell more, manage smarter, grow their bottom line – and have a life. He can be reached at 416-252-3704 or by email at