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What’s your customer’s first impression?

First impressions mean everything in the c-retail business. Have you ever walked into a convenience store and been assaulted with a very unpleasant odour, went to purchase a product that you needed and found it covered with dust or arrived at a gas station to fill up your car to find the pumps were dirty, rusty or broken?

How did these experiences make you feel as a customer and what impression did you have of the operator of that site and the quality of the products they were selling?

We are all customers at various times and we are all influenced by “first Impressions” and conditions that impact our senses. As consumers, we tend to buy those brand name products that we know, trust and like, and we similarly shop at retail stores where we believe they care about us, the quality of products that they sell, and where we believe we get good value.

With all of the shopping choices available today to purchase fuel and convenience products why would you shop at a place that gave you a bad impression?

Often the quality of the products isn’t obvious, so consumers make their purchase decision based on impressions of the environment.

  • If you are purchasing gasoline for your car that you can’t touch, smell, feel or taste, how do you make a buying decision? You make that decision based on the brand name that you know and believe in, the price, and the condition of the station and the pumps. If the station is decrepit or in poor repair, and the pumps are rusty and dirty, what does that tell you about the quality of the gasoline you are going to put in your car?

Can you really trust it or would you rather buy your gas at a station that is newer, well cared for and where the retailer seems to care about their equipment and the quality of the products that they sell?

  • If you walk into a store to buy a chocolate bar and the store is very hot or the bars are messy and dirty, what does that tell you about the condition of the brand name bar inside the wrapper? Has the chocolate turned white because of the heat or has the poor housekeeping caused a bug infestation that has affected the product?
  • If you really want a good cup of coffee but you smell the aroma of burnt coffee from a pot that has been left on the burner too long, the coffee remaining in the pot looks more like sludge than fluid, or the counters are sticky and dirty, are you really likely to buy the coffee or any other “fresh” food or snacks that the store might offer?
  • If you need to purchase milk for the family but when you go to the coolers the doors and shelves are dirty and when you open the door your nose smells an unpleasant odour, are you really going to be comfortable spending your money even if the milk appears to be within the expiry date?
  • You have a craving for that special treat you like, you are out of cigarettes and need your “nicotine fix”, or you are thirsty for your favourite beverage only to find that the store is out of stock. Do you care why or are you just disappointed because your “need’ is not satisfied, you have wasted precious time, and you now have to find somewhere else to shop.
  • When you go to pay for the favourite snack you have selected you are surprised at the high price you are charged. Rather than “creating a scene” however you quietly pay the price, but are you left with the feeling you have been “ripped off”.
  • When paying for your purchases, you find that the cash desk is dirty and disorganized, there is hardly any room for you to set your purchase down on the counter, or the staff member behind the counter has a grumpy disposition and gives you the impression that they are doing you a favour by taking your money, do you leave vowing to find somewhere else to shop?

In all of these situations, the retailer has not only squandered the opportunity to make a positive impression on their customers but they have probably forced their customers to think about all of the other choices available of places where they could shop and not be disappointed.

As a retailer, you regularly need to put on your “customer hat” and objectively and critically look at what kind of a “first impression” you are giving your customers.  In that process, you must separate out all of the reasons that might have caused the poor impression, (i.e. a staff member was sick, the truck broke down, the weather was bad, we were busier than expected, etc.) none of which your customers cares about, and focus on making that important “first Impression”. It’s that positive impression that will affect your customers shopping patterns and your business both today and tomorrow.

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