We can always learn something by turning off all our perceived notions and simply observing people who are not aware of our watchful gaze. I cannot recall a single presentation that I have done where I have not included an observation of my son or daughter shopping. Have you ever watched your customers maneuver in your store?

Observe Customers
Watching customers as they enter your store to see how they maneuver the layout could give you valuable insight into deficiencies in your layout and merchandising. I recently watched as a young customer became frustrated going from one accessory display to another trying to find what he had come to buy. It was evident that this store’s lack of rack header signage made it impossible to quickly find the desired product category.

Lately, some retailers have taken observation one step further, installing video cameras and hiring psychologists and even anthropologists to observe their customers and learn from them. You don’t have to be that elaborate, but you should make it a habit to objectively observe people as they shop in your store and even in other stores. You’ll never get it right if you just assume you know why people do what they do. Watch and learn!

Observe Employees
Observe your employees, too. Watching your sales floor personnel to see how they respond to customers in their area will provide clues to how effective they really are. I once saw a young boy come into a store with his older sister and begin exploring items in one department while the sister was busy in another. At one point the boy appeared to be ready to buy something. He approached the counter, but no one paid attention to him. He reached into his pocket, pulled out his money, and laid it on the counter. Still, no one paid attention to him. Finally he summoned his sister to get someone to notice him.

These valuable clues could easily go unnoticed. Sure, you could hire expensive outside help to figure out what your customers think and want, but all you really need to do is step back and objectively watch what is happening. Learn to observe. Make it a regular, ongoing management activity.

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