Business growth

The only New Year’s resolution retail shop owners should keep in 2017

By Pernille Christine Larsen
On 15 February 2017

New year's resolutions.

Either you love them or you hate them – or you love hating them.

Personally, I love them. Not just because I love making lists that I can tick off, but also because I think that New Year's resolutions are a valuable help when putting the past year into perspective and explicitly stating your wants for the future.

But I admit: New Year's resolutions are hard, and most of them will never be more than good intentions.

It may go well the first week – or even the first month – but as the year goes by and everyday life creeps in, it gets harder and harder to keep your resolutions.

Bummer. But don’t fret just yet:

You might actually be one of the few people to keep your New Year's resolutions.

How, you might ask.

It's simple.

By having one New Year's resolution. Only one.

We have such high expectations of ourselves that we’re tempted to set the bar extremely high as well. When we start dreaming about the future and our future selves, it’s hard to stop. And that’s a recipe for disaster.

When this happens, you often end up abandoning your resolutions, either because you’ve set unrealistic goals (a phenomenon called 'false hope syndrome') or because you’re expecting that keeping your resolutions will change your life.

Having loads of New Year’s resolutions might look good on paper. But when 2018 is approaching and you’re looking at your list of failed resolutions, you’ll be even more disheartened because you feel you have betrayed yourself.

Obviously, I cannot tell you which New Year's resolution YOU should have. I can only encourage you to think carefully about this: What do you really want? What would make you proud deep down inside?

When you’ve found it, that’s your resolution.

Doing it this way means your resolution will be driven by your inner motivation. This will make you keep it week after week – simply because it’s important to you.

Your New Year's resolution doesn’t have to be personal, such as losing weight, getting more sleep, or stop nail-biting.

We all know those, right?

Your New Year's resolution could relate to your retail store as well.

Can I make a suggestion?

Get to know your customers

Do you really know your customers? Who they are, what motivates them, what they dream about, and why they choose you instead of a competitor?

If you can’t answer these questions straight away, an ideal New Year's resolution might be to get to know your customers better this year.

Customers are the key to your success. They decide whether your store is a success or a failure. 

For this reason, it’s crucial that you know them, ask them for feedback, and gain insights into how you can make shopping in your store even better.

What do customers think about your prices? Do your products live up to customer expectations? How about the customer experience? Is there anything about your customer service that customers don’t like – or that could make the shopping experience in your store even better?

It can be hard to open up to feedback, because it also opens up to criticism that you may not be prepared to hear.

But know this:

The upside about feedback is that the insights you get will make up for the pain. I promise.

Yeah, I know – you already have customers today. But will they be there tomorrow and the day after tomorrow? Competition is fierce, and unless you’re ready to run the risk of shutting down, you should steer away from guesswork and assumptions, and move towards knowledge that you can act on.

The first step on this road is to collect data, and below I’ll try to show you how you can do this.

3 ways to get more knowledge about your customers

I will now introduce you to three methods for data collection: interviewonline survey, and observation.

You've probably heard about them before. They’re not new, nor revolutionary. In fact, these ancient methods have been used, tried, and tested for centuries. And they work. Ask science.

The following is as an introduction to the methods that can inspire you to get started gathering knowledge about your customers. 

I’m aware that each of the three methods can be elaborated on and explained much more in-depth, and that you – if you were to comply with the rules of scientific method – should thoroughly research each of them before moving on. For more knowledge, find a book about ‘social research methods’ or try searching online for it. There’s plenty of help out there.

That being said, I believe that these fundamental methods are taken for granted in today's digital world where it’s all about likes, clicks and engagement.

It’s time to step away from the computer, look your customers in the eye, and talk to them.

1. Interview
I often find that especially small business owners are scared of the word interview. They might see an interview as something extremely resource demanding, but actually it’s not that hard.

Literally, an interview is an exchange of views between two or more people who meet and talk about a common concern. In this case your business.

However, there are some methodological considerations you should take into account to plan, execute, and analyze an interview.

One of the first considerations is whether you want to interview customers individually (personal interviews) or in a group (group interview). Mind, though, there are advantages and disadvantages to both methods.

Personal interview
The main advantage of interviewing customers individually is that you can go in depth with each customer’s opinions and experiences. Moreover, it might be easier for the customer to be open and honest, for which reason this interview form is suitable for exploring a particular subject in-depth.

However, you’ll have to conduct several interviews to get valid results as you cannot base your insights on the statements of only one customer. 

Group interview
A group interview usually consists of 5-10 people and, compared to the personal interview, it’s less demanding, since you can make do with fewer interviews to get useful results (depending on your needs).

Additionally, in a group interview, the participants sometimes inspire each other, meaning that more viewpoints are illuminated.

However, be aware that people in a group tend to withhold their personal views if these go against the prevailing view in the group. This phenomenon is called groupthink and is caused by our strong desire to fit in.

Which method you choose is up to you, but whatever your choice, remember that the secret behind a successful interview is preparation.

Find out what the purpose of the interview is, and which questions you want answered.

Maybe you want insights into your customers’ experiences visiting your café, or maybe you’d like a better understanding of your customers' needs, so you can select the right products for your store.

Write your questions, and take a critical look at them.

Keep in mind that few interviews go exactly as planned. A large part of interviewing is the ability to listen and ask additional questions.

In many cases, the most relevant or surprising insights occur when the customer simply tells her story. Therefore, think of your questions as a guideline more than a script.

2. Online survey
If you still think that interviews sound like a mouthful, an online survey be a good alternative.

An online survey is simply a questionnaire – just online.

You can do an online survey in many different ways, but more or less the same principles apply to this method as with interviews.

First, you figure out what you want to investigate, and devise your questions accordingly. You can find lots of different tools for surveys online, for instance SurveyMonkey or AskPeople. Remember that in an online survey you’re not there to clarify any misunderstandings, so make sure that your questions are easily understandable. Therefore, write your questions in a clear language without jargon.

A common disadvantage of online surveys is that they are so widespread, and it might be hard to get people to respond to your survey. Consider offering a prize (e.g. a gift voucher for your store) to encourage people to take your survey.

3. Direct observation
If you want to know more about your customers’ behavior, you could try direct observation.

Interestingly, there’s often a great difference between what people say they do and what they actually do. Moreover, some people find it hard to put into words and reflect upon their own behavior when asked to do so.  

Hence, the advantage of direct observation is that you can identify actual behavior. You might want to observe how customers orientate themselves in your store, or how they interact with your employees.

For direct observation, you can choose one of the following two strategies:

The first strategy involves being blatant and obvious about your role as an observer. The second involves you being discreet and unobtrusive so the participants won’t know they are being observed.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both, and I can’t tell you which one to choose. After all, observation is about using your eyes and ears to understand what goes on. To the extent possible, try to shut off your personal opinions about the store, the concept, etc. Your observations and the results of them are always a product of your interpretation, and if you’ve decided on the conclusion beforehand, the observations themselves won’t really matter, will they?

As an observer, your most important tool (besides your eyes and ears) is a notebook. The notes you take will help you to remember and document what you saw and heard. However, you might want to avoid scribbling down your notes directly in front of your customers. Instead, go somewhere they can’t see you.

Whether you have a New Year's resolution this year or not, I hope that this article can inspire you to become better acquainted with your customers.

Keep in mind that Rome wasn’t built in a day. I encourage you to start somewhere. Reach out, ask questions, start a dialogue, and use your insights to make better decisions and a stronger business in 2017.

If you have any feedback, I’d love to hear from you. Let us know what you think on Facebook or Twitter.

Pernille Christine Larsen

Social media and digital content at Bambora. If i’m not on the internet lurking, I’m probably busy kicking butt at the gym, satisfying my coffee fix or out hunting for new experiences.

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