One of the most frustrating things as a customer is going to a new store and encountering an employee who doesn’t know if they carry what you’re looking for and doesn’t seem to know much about their stock in general. Equally frustrating is going into a store you’ve patronized before and finding that that product you loved is either no longer carried or unrecognizable to the employee based on your vague description.
As an employee, trust me, these types of situations are just as frustrating. It’s embarrassing to not know what’s in the store or not and to have new products cycling in so often that you more-often-than-not have no idea what is in stock or not. It puts you at risk of facing the ire of frustrated customers. And it doesn’t benefit the owners because if their employees don’t know what’s being sold in the store and can’t sell it believably, you’re losing money.
As best you can, you should take a card out of Trader Joe’s playbook.
It’s not just that “consumers want fewer choices” as Steve Tobak wrote for CBS; it’s that employees want fewer choices and businesses can benefit from them, too. Trader Joe’s “sells less than one tenth the number of products, but achieves twice the revenue per square foot versus Whole Foods,” according to Tobak.
How can this be?
Recent studies have shown overwhelmingly that having more choices makes people less happy overall, less content with any choice they do make, and less likely to ultimately make a choice. To break this down, if you have 30 types of apples, someone shopping at your store will feel so overwhelmed that they’ll likely be unhappy with any decision they do make (or less happy than they could be) or they won’t make a decision at all.
This means that Trader Joe’s, which keeps a regular, consistent stock of products at a lower number than its competitors is giving its consumers a better chance at contentment and happiness and is giving its business a better opportunity for advancement and success.
In addition to the effect on consumers, having a consistent stock that employees can memorize and get to know well, including being able to know what is in and out of stock, benefits your business tremendously. I worked for a tiny boutique shop for a while; the owner was very invested in trying out new products and bringing in new local brands constantly. This meant that from week to week some products would be there and then they would be gone, replaced by new products that may not even resemble the ones before. This meant that we as employees had no time to memorize or familiarize ourselves with the products and that consumers would ask for certain products and we either wouldn’t know them or wouldn’t know if we were getting them back.
Giving your employees a sense of control and ownership, as in knowing what is in the store definitively, gives them the confidence and minimizes their stress so that they can do a top notch job. It makes your business reliable on every level and it guarantees the satisfaction of your customer. Happy employees equal a happy business, and maximizing the chances that your consumers will confidently and happily decide to buy your products can only do good things for your company and brand!
Stocking logistically and consistently goes into how your products are displayed, as well. People shop visually before anything else. Most of the time, I am going to remember the color and shape of a container before I remember its brand or what exactly it is called. Sometimes, like with pasta, I definitely won’t remember what it’s called. In that case, I’m looking for the stuff that looks like pasta and then I’m looking at color and package type. It’s frustrating when I’m scanning a shelf and can’t spot what I’m looking for, especially if I can’t remember what it’s called. In the age of short attention spans, I’m going to give up far more quickly than is probably mature and logical; but, I probably want to be frustrated less than I want to not have pasta, so minimizing my frustration will win.
If you’re a small boutique store (and not a big grocery store with an aisle for every category) thinking about stocking like shapes with like shapes; but, also remember to stock like items with like items. One of my bosses made the world of difference in her store when she stopped stocking jars with jars and started stocking sweets/breakfast items with each other and savory items with each other. She had had a shelf of jars that went from pasta to mustard to jam, which works until you find packages of chips and cookies above and you had no idea where to look next. Drinks by the checkout as well as small items like candy bars and impulse-buys like baked goods will boost your sales for sure.
Stocking logistically is helpful for your customers and your employees. I could find a product a customer was looking for so much easier when products stayed where they had been and when they were arranged according to the type of product (as well as the shape of product). The butter tubs are with the butter tubs and the round cheeses are with the round cheeses. I know this cheese is round so it must be…ah, here it is. It makes me more efficient and less frustrated as an employee, which elevates the chance that I will give satisfactory help to your customers and they’ll have positive associations and likely buy more products, and then come back again. It’s all about boosting those positive associations. You want your employees and your customers raving about your business.
If I work at a place that makes me miserable, people can tell as soon as I start talking about it and it minimizes their desire to check it out, even if it’s an interesting space with interesting products. Likewise with your customers; word-of-mouth is one of the biggest marketing tools you have as a new, small business especially if you’re a niche market (did I mention I worked at a vegan cheese shop?). Making the shopping experience easier is akin to making it fun and that’s a guaranteed rave review and boost in profits, I promise you!