A clean easy-to-navigate store layout is a welcome sight for shoppers. And by installing some of the product you sell on the floor, you help your customer visualize how it might look in her home.

A comfortable area with tables, chairs and good lighting invites your customer to relax while making her purchasing decision.
Most people agree that selling to women is different from selling to men. While men view shopping as a business transaction, women are more emotionally tied to the benefits their purchases provide. For female consumers, the total shopping experience counts. Considering women purchase as much as 93 percent of all home furnishings, it's good business to make sure that experience comes off right.

Mannington has conducted extensive research into the women's market to better understand what women want when shopping for flooring. We observe women's shopping habits in stores, visit their homes, and talk with them before and after they've made their flooring purchases. In this article, which is the first of three based on that research, women describe what for them creates an enjoyable shopping experience.

Your Store - Inside and Out

The first impression of your store is made before a woman walks through your door. Easy-to-follow directions, a visible sign, clearly posted hours, a nicely paved and well-lit parking lot, neat landscaping, and attractive window displays are just a few things a female shopper expects.

A well-maintained store exterior helps make a good first impression.
The women we consulted agreed that poor lighting, potholes and unkempt exteriors are signals that they should just drive on by.

When she does step in the door, how is she greeted? By a central welcome desk where she can find immediate assistance, by clutter and crowded product displays or by something in between?

"Both salespeople and customers told us they like a welcome desk or reception area," says Dina Keenan, a researcher with Frank About Women, a women's marketing consultancy that has conducted industry research for Mannington. "It tells customers where to start and gives salespeople an opportunity to greet and direct shoppers to the products they are most interested in."

Women prefer that salespeople be direct and ask what level of service the consumer wants. Most like to browse first and then talk with an associate when they are ready for a greater level of help.

Good lighting, a well-organized layout and visual aids are all helpful to shoppers.

There is a delicate balance between being helpful vs. coming off as annoying. Having a central area where customers know they can always find help is a useful way to let the customer set the tone.

"Women can be demanding customers. They want to be acknowledged when they enter a store and then left alone to browse," Keenan notes. "However, when they are ready to talk, they expect the salesperson to be standing by."

Cleanliness counts. A store that is clean and orderly - and that includes the restrooms - tells a woman that you care about details of your store and, therefore, will care about the details of her order. Give her plenty of room to shop. A crowded store appears cluttered and confusing to many customers.

In his book, "Why We Buy," shopping industry guru Paco Underhill writes: "You can't crowd a woman and think she is going to linger. Watch shoppers' faces...once they've been bumped a few times, they begin to look annoyed."

Stores that are free of clutter give customers the space they need to shop.

Help her visualize. Many women are willing to explore new options if they can visualize how the selection will look. They respond overwhelmingly to vignettes that demonstrate how floors will appear in a living environment.

"Women do their homework but often find few resources to help them make confident decisions about flooring," notes Bonnie Ulman, principal of Atlanta-based The Haystack Group, a marketing research company that conducted a recent study for Mannington. "Store vignettes, display floors and room-scene photography go a long way in helping them visualize what a pattern will look like when installed."

Technical Experts

Customers perceive estimators and installers as technical experts, so anything they say about the flooring carries great weight. A casual comment or a critical opinion about how the customer's selection will look or wear in the home could influence her more than the estimator or installer realizes.

Samples and displays should always be kept in order to avoid confusing the customer.

An estimator might believe he is doing you and the customer a favor. However, customers find the floor-buying process complicated and confusing. Thus, indiscreet comments can create questions and doubts that could lead to a cancelled order.

After the Sale

Most specialty retail businesses cite referrals as their No. 1 source of new business. Imagine if you could substantially boost your referrals with a few phone calls. Surprisingly, customers say that many store owners fail to follow up after the sale.

Vignettes, display floors, room scenes and a comfortable, clutter-free area will aid you in engaging your customer and, ultimately, help you to close a sale.

Mannington's research revealed that women are disappointed when they aren't contacted to make sure they're satisfied after they've made a substantial purchase. When they were contacted after the installation, they felt more valued and were more likely to recommend the store as well as the salesperson.

Women were particularly impressed with stores that stayed in touch with them every three to six months - even when they weren't ready to buy immediately.

The Payoff

It may seem like a lot of work to create a great total shopping experience, but the payoff is huge. When women find a store or product they love, they are extremely loyal and tell everyone they know about their positive experience.