For over a decade as a Merchandising Specialist, I had the privilege of working with retailers one-on-one to help them strategize their advertising, create an attractive store environment, and merchandise products effectively.



This came to mind while attending the recent Color Marketing Group’s Fall International conference in Atlanta. I participated in a Trends Workshop where we discussed an emerging consumer profile; a breed of shopper we fondly labeled the “schizophrenic consumer.”  Maybe you have seen a few. It’s the consumer looking for a comfortable, sensory-rich shopping experience that suits the “chic” side of her personality. Yet at the same time, this Armani-clad shopper needs to satisfy the “bargain basement” side of her persona. Today’s retailer must know how to cater to this dual personality consumer IF you want to gain her trust and make the sale.

To pull this off, first consider the “shopping experience” your store offers. Does it truly appeal to shoppers on as many sensory levels as possible? Okay, stop laughing. You may assume that it is beyond you, but take note: your competition may be taking that suggestion quite seriously as they work to usurp your customers.   Have you considered adding fresh flowers near the entry, or maybe scented candles and potpourri? All of this will appeal to your (mostly) female customers while giving your shop a touch of class. Offering complimentary coffee is also a wonderful welcoming gesture.

Embrace those three modest suggestions and you can check off sight, smell and taste from the sensory log. Now let’s turn to two other senses: touch and hearing. The samples you pick for your showroom should satisfy “touch”-from soft-handed carpets to high-gloss marble for the floor. Watch your customer as she shops and you will see her running her fingers along these sample surfaces. Remember her when you are deciding what gets displayed in the showroom. Finally, let’s take what the consumer “hears” seriously for a moment. She does not want to hear a litany of product features. Offer an honest appraisal of how those features can benefit her (and consider adding soft background music-maybe some soft jazz or other easy-on-the-ears music that makes her feel at home). So, there you have a quick menu of suggestions to make the shopping experience a sensory delight.

So now that you have addressed the sensory elements, consider your consultative aptitude. A sure way to satisfy your customer is to possess a good working knowledge of color, design trends and style savvy. Don’t panic. It’s easier than you think, and you can set yourself apart from the competition if you’re willing to do a little legwork. A casual chat with the customer can help you ascertain her lifestyle, color and design mode preferences. This is invaluable information. How can you possibly interpret her needs if you haven’t asked any questions? You don’t need to interrogate her. Just do a brief lifestyle survey to find out enough to guide her through the selection process.

Okay, now that we have covered some of the broad strokes, let’s have some fun and consider a few “What If…” scenarios that are likely to transpire in your showroom:

WHAT IF… a customer comes in carrying a cushion from her sofa – a print done in greens, burgundy and gold. She wants you to find a carpet color that will harmonize.

ACTION: Any one of those three colors in her fabric will work as a carpet color so ask if she has a preference. Say she chooses green. The first thing you have to do is analyze the content of that particular green. Show her the paint deck you keep handy.  (And if you still don’t have a professional paint company’s fan-deck in the store for reference-GET ONE!) Then, focus on her particular shade of green and look at the “family” of similar or complementary colors included on the strip. This is a wonderful way to analyze color and makes you look like a real pro. Remember: greens can be yellow-based, blue-based, or even gray-based. The paint deck will help you decipher exactly what family of color her green belongs to. This works with any color, but be sure you are looking at the color you are trying to match in daylight, preferably, since colors can experience mutations under various light sources. WHAT IF… the shopper enters pushing twins in a baby stroller. She says she has twelve- year-old carpet in her home now that looks terrible but she’s not sure if she should replace it with hard surface or new carpet.

ACTION: Smile at the kids and go into your friendly “interview” mode. Are these two little darlings the only children she has, you ask. Does she entertain often? Does she prefer light or dark colors? Once you verify that the twins are hers (well, she could be babysitting them, right?) you have a key piece of information. They will be toddlers soon, and there may be safety issues with hard surface flooring. Let her know that carpet is not what it was twelve years ago. Stain resistant technologies, tighter constructions, and a huge array of soft-handed designs are now available. Bottom line, carpet is now engineered to perform better and look newer longer. Equally important: she would have a soft surface underfoot for toddlers learning to walk. A mix of hard to soft flooring might be just the ticket for this customer: hard surface in entry and kitchen, counter-balanced by soft surface in the rooms where most of their living takes place.

Do you see a theme emerging? You are gathering enough information to interpret her needs before you start working product into the conversation.

WHAT IF… A man wearing a very expensive suit asks to look at some “upscale” carpet. In your interview process, you learn he has three chocolate Labrador puppies and a two-year-old son at home.

ACTION: Here you have the classic “Schizophrenic Customer.” Tastes and desires are exactly opposite of his needs. An exotic wood floor in a hand-scraped finish would appeal to his classy expectations, but perhaps a laminate wood might give him the look, but with better performance features to stand up to the pets and antics of a toddler. If you can reconcile the chasm between his wants and his needs, you will make the sale.

WHAT IF… it’s a newlywed couple on a tight budget who have just moved into a 1,200 square foot town home. They can’t decide what to put on their floor. In your conversation with them they mention that they plan to live in the present home for only two to three years before moving to something nicer. By the way: they say they both love 100 percent wool carpets.

ACTION: They may want a wool carpet, but their budget does not agree. You gently nudge them toward a wonderful delustered nylon that has the look of wool, but a price tag they can afford. In addition, if they only plan to be in the home for a short while, why not wait until they settle into a bigger place before investing in wool?

Remember: satisfying their needs (aesthetic and financial) is the road to the sale. Understanding your customer is critical if you want to be a “specifier” first and a salesperson second. The difference? Specifiers are knowledgeable professionals who understand the technology of the products, but more importantly, they match those technology features to the specific needs of each customer.  Salespeople are people who try and sell stuff.

WHAT IF… you looked closely at these ideas, took an honest look at the “character” of your store and implemented these suggestions?

ACTION: You would watch your sales-and referrals-skyrocket beyond expectations.