Want to make your cash register ring?

By Hannah Wallace March 31, 2009

The “season” is winding down and I think most of us (I am referring to locally owned businesses, not the chains) have experienced mixed sales results. From what I can tell from talking with many colleagues, everyone suffered some sort of revenue reduction. While anecdotal, the good news is that our losses seem to be less than the overall economic downturn. The bad news is that any decline in this prime sales period is a serious blow because it eliminates all future cushions.

Now is the time to look forward. Every retailer has to gear up for the summer, and that means paying even more attention to local customers. This in turn means addressing the primary market: women.

We are in a battle for a share of a shrinking wallet. This is not about getting a fair share of the total market spending; it is about capturing a disproportionate share of a smaller purse. Standing pat is going to result in going backwards.

Over the years, my companies spent a considerable amount of time analyzing female purchase patterns and decision making. In addition, I recently conducted my own focus group among 15 women of various ages and incomes. Here are some of the things I learned then—and now, from my Sarasota focus group—that may be helpful.

First, women make up about 75 percent to 80 percent of all purchase decisions. Our previous studies indicated that in tough economic times, it often climbs to 100 percent of purchasing. Women worry excessively about money and household expenditures. Follow the influence and not just the cash source.

Second, women are not a “market.” They are a diverse group and have varying tastes and purchase patterns depending on their demographics and lifestyles. So the main lesson is: Market as if you were selling shoes—one size does not fit all. It makes incredible sense to look at your own female customers and find out what appeals most to them. Try asking them when they visit your establishment.

Here are a few more things I learned from the focus group:

Women, more than men, care about ambiance. I used to call it impact value. If they get a negative feeling when they walk in, they will get out as soon as possible. No cha-ching. I know of two major local department stores that are so cluttered and foreboding that my women’s group hates to go in. They complain about the lack of service and difficulty in finding things. Shopping is a social experience and an opportunity to express; it is not a task. They want to feel special and good about the money as they are spending it.

In my restaurant, we constantly hear about the feel and the warmth and the friendliness of the staff. One thing I learned early was that bathrooms have a significant influence on customers’ perception. Cleanliness is merely the price of entry. The colors, décor and paper products speak volumes about the quality of the rest of the business. In fact, including lit candles adds another dimension to the experience.

How many hotels have you been in where women’s personal needs are an afterthought? Providing special amenities for the female business traveler could pay dividends. How expensive is it to put some hand lotion in the bathroom—in all businesses, not just hotels—and keep it stocked?

Here are a few interrelated considerations that affect your ability to sell every woman. They expect to always make a perfect decision; almost perfect is not good enough. Be patient. Because of this need, women prefer collaboration and consensus, sometimes to the extreme. They will seek advice from many, including strangers. Support the research. Encourage it.

Let the woman talk. If you engage, she will tell you everything you need to know to sell her. I learned a lot from my mother about sales. She worked for a clothing retailer and was the leading sales person year in and year out. Her job was not to take orders or ring the cash register. It was to outfit the customer. She conversed with the customer and learned about them. She built a wardrobe. She would turn a shoe sale into a complete outfit. Her secret: She listened. Your secret: Don’t hire some kid to stand there and look stupid. Get competent people and train them in the art of selling. One other thing—do not rush. Creating pressure is a huge deal breaker. Slow down and work with her.

Relationships are more important to women than men, but they expect you to create one by adding value. Do something extra for them and they will remember you. When I meet someone for the first time at the restaurant, I take the time to talk with them and give them a tour and, if possible, let them meet the chef. Virtually every time it results in a return visit. By the way, it helps if you can actually recall names. I suffer from horrible name recollection, but I remember faces. I try to compensate by being overly friendly, but, if cornered, admitting to my faulty memory.

If you want more information, here are two sources that can help and The former has published many books on marketing and the latter is an excellent practitioner.

Finally, one of the things every panelist mentioned is, “Do not pre-judge me, even if I am with a man.” Remember, she is the one with influence and money. Focus on her.

Filed under
Show Comments