11 ways to improve retail sales at your small business

Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes

Encouraging people to venture inside your shop or eatery for a closer look is a top priority for every small business owner…but it’s not always easy. How many times have you watched people approach your business and then continue on their way?

Whether you use an appealing window display, a witty message on an exterior sign or the enticing smell of fresh coffee, chances are you’re already doing something to attract attention. But once potential customers are in the door, how do you avoid them taking a quick look around and then walking out empty handed? Here, we’ll cover 11 ways you can improve retail sales at your small business.

11 ways to improve retail sales:

  1. Offer your expertise.
  2. Let customers try before they buy.
  3. Understand customer movement.
  4. Create an engaging environment.
  5. Encourage recommendations.
  6. Stock up on what sells.
  1. Optimize your counter space.
  2. Make sure your business is easy to find online.
  3. Tell an authentic brand story.
  4. Host an event.
  5. Ask for feedback.

1. Let customers try before they buy.

Remember the last time you were at an ice cream shop? As we all do, you went in with the intention of just getting one scoop…until you tried a spoonful of a new limited-edition flavor. Before you knew it, one scoop led to two. Without dwelling on the indulgence too much, there’s a valuable lesson that can be learned. Letting customers try before they buy is a powerful way to up-sell and get feedback on a new product.

Vista worked with Kate Nightingale, a consumer psychologist, to learn more about subtle cues shoppers take that result in increased spending. One of her suggestions is giving customers a sample when they walk through your doors – you’ll immediately boost their mood and earn some generosity points. It can also cause shoppers to feel like they need to return the favor, whether with a purchase or a positive review.

Whether you’re an ice cream parlor, juice bar, candy shop or specialty hot sauce store, start giving out samples. For very little investment and effort, you can gauge customer opinion, ask for their feedback and convince customers to buy the product they just tried.

2. Understand customer movement.

It’s important to understand how customers will move through your store. Design it in a way that will grab customer attention. If you’ve just recently opened your business, track the path customers take through your space and make adjustments as needed. The layout and distribution of products may make perfect sense to you, but you’ll only be able to tell if things are laid out effectively from seeing customers move around your store and interact with the products. If they can’t find what they’re after, they can’t buy it, either.

Also, don’t be afraid to ask customers for practical feedback about the layout of your shop and the way items are displayed. Gathered early, this kind of feedback can help you create a relaxing and inviting space that puts clients at ease.

Vistaprint Tip

Make your shop’s layout even clearer with marked walkways – stick decals to the floor or hang posters to provide direction.

3. Create an engaging environment.

Your shop should be a place customers feel comfortable in, whether through music, lighting, decor or even scent. Kate recommends using dim and warm-colored light, whether in your physical space or in your website images – this can help activate shoppers’ desires and result in impulsive spending. If you have a brick and mortar business, Kate also suggests choosing a signature scent for your space. Using the same scent consistently throughout your store (and even spritzed onto brochures and postcards!) can increase sales by 32%. You’ll build a subconscious connection with your customer and help them better remember your business.

4. Encourage recommendations.

A common tactic used by small businesses to widen their audience is to offer existing customers referral incentives to get others through the door. These are becoming more and more commonplace, and function particularly well when both your customer and the person they refer have something to gain. As a business owner, consider creating a loyalty program that rewards frequent purchases but also gives shoppers an incentive for referring friends and family to your business. You could do this via social media or with a ‘share with a friend’ loyalty card – print it on the back of your business card or one side of a postcard.

After all, how many times have you tried something on and decided it wasn’t for you but that it would look great on a friend or family member? Or, maybe you had a great experience at a nail salon and want to give your friend a reason to visit?

5. Stock up on what sells.

Even if you don’t have multiple sizes of a garment on the shelves, it’s important that the top selling items are well stocked, and the customer is clear that there are other sizes and colors available if they ask. A simple message somewhere in the store mentioning that there are more options in the storeroom should do the trick. Out of an item a shopper is looking for? Use this to collect a customer’s email address or phone number to alert them later when the item becomes available. Or, give them a discount when they pay for the item now, and you can deliver it once it arrives.

6. Offer your expertise.

If you sell products like clothing and gifts which aren’t unique to your business, consider your space as a showroom. As shoppers, we’ve become accustomed to visiting physical shops to research a product before comparing prices online. Though many may consider this an unfair advantage for online retailers, it gives you an opportunity to position yourself as a trusted expert.

If you sell a niche product, then chances are the people coming to your shop are well informed before visiting you. Nothing says professional more than an encyclopaedic knowledge of your product range and the comparable benefits of similar items. As consumers, we love to hear from people more knowledgeable than ourselves. It also helps us dispel or confirm any doubts we have about a product. But this is something you only really get when buying locally and in person.

If you can demonstrate added value by offering expert help to people browsing in your shop, you’re much more likely to convert them to buyers – and less likely to lose them to online competition.

Vistaprint Tip

Create a welcoming sitting area where shoppers will feel comfortable chatting with sales associates and asking for your expertise. Kate suggests adding this kind of soft seating to help open customers up and make your business seem friendly and approachable.

7. Optimize your counter area.

What would be an appropriate impulse buy at your shop? Decorated cookies to-go in a café, on-trend scarves in a boutique or optical lens cleaning products at a sunglasses shop are just some examples. If only 20% of all your customers pick up an extra item at the end – it all adds to your bottom line. Consider products that complement your top selling items and solve a problem. Keep the price point low for these items so customers won’t think twice about adding them to their purchase.

8. Make sure your business is easy to find online.

Whether you run a brick and mortar business or an online shop, it’s critical that potential customers can find you online. Aside from making sure the information about your business is up-to-date (think: business hours, shipping policies and contact information), take time to make sure that your website is optimized for search results. You can do this by integrating keywords into the language on your site, whether front and center on your ‘About’ page or added to the bottom of your homepage. And aside from your own website, make sure your Google My Business page is up-to-date so you appear in search results.

9. Tell an authentic brand story.

As a small business owner, your brand story is what sets you apart and gives customers more insight into you and your work. And when customers know more about you and your story, they’ll feel an emotional connection to your business and be more compelled to make a purchase. Include your story on your ‘About’ page on your small business website, or on marketing collateral like postcards, brochures and flyers.

10. Host an event.

What better way is there to get customers through your doors than an event? Whether you hold a special sale or studio workshop, get people excited (and through your doors!) with the promise of a unique event. And make it even more irresistible with raffles, giveaways or other freebies – maybe you reward customers with a raffle entry for each purchase they make.

Once you’ve decided on the type of event you want to host, spread the word on your social channels. Create an event that customers can RSVP to on Facebook, create a video for TikTok to get people excited or share a reminder post on Instagram. Don’t forget to snap photos during the event, too, so you can share afterwards and build excitement for your next one.

Vistaprint Tip

Create a playlist for your event – and choose some less popular music. According to Kate Nightingale’s study, playing lesser-known music can result in customers lingering longer and spending up to 20% more.

11. Ask for feedback.

A surefire way to increase retail sales as you plan for the future is to ask for feedback. You could use a physical comment card or send out a survey via email to collect thoughts and opinions on anything from store design to product selection to customer experience. Beyond gaining valuable insight, you’ll show your customers that you value their opinion and want to make them happy.