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How to Make Your Store More Word-of-Mouth Friendly … and More of Your Questions for November

Plus tips for using signage effectively during the holiday season.

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How can I make my store more word-of-mouth-friendly?

You’re definitely on the right track by focusing on word of mouth to drive traffic. A few years ago we polled the INSTORE Brain Squad on what led customers to their stores and 67 percent cited WOM, versus 25 percent for advertising. But as you’re no doubt finding, encouraging people to recommend you to friends is no easy task. Short-term incentives (essentially bribes such as “10 percent off your next purchase if you refer someone”) rarely do well, because people don’t like to “sell out” their friends. However, giving customers something such as an insider deal or a special invitation to an event that they can share with their friends and, in doing so, enhance their “social capital” has shown to be effective. In terms of strategy, WOM is so fluid it demands constant experimenting: What stories to tell people about your store, what offers, what incentives, what surprising acts of service … require testing and tweaking. There is of course one thing that will set you apart: truly over-the-top service. The thing is, don’t claim to provide it. Most people won’t believe you anyway. The ultimate rule driving WOM is: Never praise yourself. Do things that make the client praise you.

I’m worried a rival with a very similar name is hurting my business. Their goods and services aren’t anywhere near as good as ours, but people confuse us. What should I do?

Ah, the John Smith problem. The traditional view has been, don’t rename unless something catastrophic happens (think Ratner’s change to “Signet Group” following their CEO’s comment that their goods were “total crap.”) After all, you’ve probably spent years building up your good name. Today, however, when most of your customers are going to meet you first through the Internet, the game has changed. A store with a name like the “Design Center” can very easily get lost in the Google forest. Keep in mind it’s not necessary to change your name completely. A jeweler told us recently how adding “Custom” to his store name had done wonders for business. Other things you can do are to invest more in SEO to ensure your store comes up first every time in Google and get more involved in the community to draw attention to who you are and the good things you do.

How can I get the best out of my signs this holiday season?

Done well, signs allow you take control over the consumer’s eye, educate her and importantly, justify prices. At the same time, signs should be like well-raised children — seen, not heard, meaning they shouldn’t scream and they shouldn’t be the focus of attention. Rather, they should quietly augment the sales presentation, reinforcing the associate’s message or providing information — such as financing offers — that the customer doesn’t really want to ask for. Small signs about the designer’s background, where the gem was sourced, and discreet price tags all help build interest in a line of jewelry. Done poorly, signs clutter the customer’s view of the sales floor or fill his head with too many words. Keep in mind too that shoppers love to explore and discover exciting new items, so don’t take away all the mystery with an overly officious approach to signs. Sometimes a big black-and-white photo of a couple in wedding attire does a better mood-setting job than a sign that declares “Bridal Dept.,” says Paco Underhill, author of the bestseller Why We Buy and a speaker at the 2015 SMART Show: “The purpose of the sign is to get somebody to ask a question rather than to close a deal.”

Is it true I can’t ask a job applicant if he’s used illegal drugs?

Yes. Drug addictions and alcoholism are basically considered illnesses under the Americans With Disabilities Act. You can, however, ask, “Do you currently use illegal drugs?” or “What illegal drugs have you used in the last six months?” (Note the emphasis on “illegal”; you can’t ask people what prescription drugs they may be taking.) Depending on your state, you can ask candidates to submit to a drug test but it’s usually on the proviso that if they pass, you must offer them the position. For a list of drug-testing rules by state, see: instr.us/1141.

Over the years, INSTORE has won 80 international journalism awards for its publication and website. Contact INSTORE's editors at [email protected].

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