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A Value Proposition

Right before the summer market season, I ordered a new dress online. One of the mainstay brands in my wardrobe, I wasn’t so concerned about the sizing or fit. But when it came, it just wasn’t meant for me.

I went to the mall to return it. Just out of the return window thanks to a busy travel schedule, the store refused to take it back, even with the receipt and tags. The store manager wouldn’t even offer a discounted return price. I left in a huff, slightly upset that no one was willing to find a solution for me. The dress is still hanging in my closet.

Fast forward a few months later. I purchased another dress online from the very same retailer. It came and guess what? The material was not my favorite. Again, I brought the dress back to the brick-and-mortar store, albeit a different location. And I was once again told I was out of the return window.

“Tell you what,” the store manager said to me, “if you return it for store credit instead of a refund, I’ll do it and give you the full price.”

Not only did I walk out of that store after spending double the money I was refunded, but I left with an experience I would tell others about. This brand is the same. The policies are the same. But think about the sales the former store manager missed out on by not at least trying to find a solution.

Here is where the independent retail channel has an advantage. You have the ability and flexibility to help find solutions to your customer’s problems and allow them to leave your store feeling good about their decision to shop with you.

In the conversation I had with Becki Melvie, the owner of Buffalo, MN- and Excelsior, MN-based The Abundant Kitchen, for her retail profile, the passion she had for solving her customer’s problems is evident. She strives to make her customer’s lives a little bit easier — whether through teaching skills in cooking classes or providing them with product that helps solve a problem.

She spoke about a customer who stopped in to one of the stores with what was supposed to be an olive platter. Melvie explained the customer, who was slightly annoyed and exasperated at that point, said she purchased it online. To her dismay, it was basically an olive platter for a mouse and not a person.

Sensing the feeling of urgency and looking to create a positive out of a negative, Melvie gave the customer a personalized, one-on-one shopping experience. She was under no obligation to make this customer feel special or to clean up a mess that an online merchant caused. But she did, willingly and happily. The probability that she now has a customer for life is pretty high.

Retail is a grueling job. It is non-stop from open to close and then some. Social media, marketing and customer service pile on top of inventory, sales goals, bills and other basic day-to-day functions. The last thing you may want to do is make an exception to a policy, bend a rule, straighten out an issue caused by another sales channel (or sales associate!), or deal with yet another slightly rude customer. But doing it anyway is the way the independent gourmet housewares channel continues to win.

People will return to places that are willing to find a solution to the problem they may be facing — whether it is an ill-fitting dress or a Dutch oven that arrived looking no bigger than a cocotte. Show off your advantage with a smile on your face. The value proposition is invaluable.



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