“Don’t buy from us today”

I’m on a bit of a health-kick so I stopped in at a health food store and wandered around the aisles. Wasn’t looking for anything specific but was just acquainting myself with the probiotic/organic/gluten-free melee of over-priced, ultra-hyped foods and snake oils.

There were 3 clerks at the counter (and it was a tiny store so I’m a little curious about their staffing costs, but that’s another blog) and one of them asked if I needed anything. I told her I had just happened to be walking by and thought I’d browse around; I wasn’t looking for anything specific.

Then she said: “We’re having a huge store-wide sale on almost everything on Friday. Why don’t you take a flyer and check it out.”

Uhh, okay. Without actually saying the words, she basically told me not to buy anything today but rather to come back on Friday and spend less.

From a customer-perspective, I appreciate that. I want to spend less, just as every consumer does in any given transaction. But from a business-perspective, it’s not so good. I could have been easily coaxed into buying something today.

Big, advertised sales are dangerous that way. The argument could be made that people spend more at your store during a sale than they would have spent during periods of regular pricing. However, I think big sales run the risk of keeping people away until sale time.  And if you have sales regularly enough, you’ll end up getting the people who ONLY shop when you have a sale.

Now, there are times when a store-wide sale is appropriate but, in general, you should consider putting just a few items on sale (perhaps rotating what goes on sale). That way, you’ll get the customers (like me) who are willing to spend full retail price but the sales items help to make non-impulse items into impulse items (because of the unpredictability of what is on sale). You’ll also help ease another situation: Where regular customers pay the regular high prices and perhaps miss out on a sale and feel that they are getting hosed.

In case you’re wondering, here’s what she should have done instead:

After I said I was just browsing, she should have asked if I was looking to get healthier or to manage a food allergy. From that response (I would have answered “to get healthier), she should have asked about my current food intake and level of activity. Just general, non-threatening questions. Then she could have directed me to the front of the store where the vitamins and minerals were or to the back of the store where some of more intense health foods were.

While I’m on my rant, I should say this: Health food stores have a huge opportunity that they are missing out on. (Not just this health food store but others that I’ve seen, too). Health food stores have an opportunity to position themselves in the same way that pharmacists and dentists and optometrists are positioning themselves right now: As integral members of “your healthcare team”. Health food stores should have well-trained clerks dressed in white lab coats with access to a bunch of health resources. (Yes, I’m aware of the risks that could come with these clerks making a diagnosis and I would never suggest that they should go that far).

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