Professionals set stores apart

December 19, 2012

Experts on the selling floor engage customers more deeply than products alone.

The quest to differentiate escalates, because so many stores sell the same foods and beverages supermarkets do. The challenge is to imprint a store as a better place to shop—not just for lower prices or friendly staffs, which help a lot, but with insights and professionalism that can truly engage shoppers at major moments in their lives.

Consider how pharmacists can support the health of newly diagnosed diabetics or pregnant moms. How caterers can help plan backyard graduation parties. How cosmetics makeovers can make women more beautiful for special occasions. How dietitians can teach people to eat properly for a wide range of health conditions.

Individualized services may soon extend into mortgage banking. A recent survey by Carlisle & Gallagher reveals one-third of consumers would feel fine with a mortgage held by Walmart. The retail giant has long sought a path into banking. And, according to Reuters, Costco “began offering home loans online through select lenders” in late-2011.

The more professional pulls in a store, the deeper the potential relationship with shoppers. To encourage this customer dependence, Sam’s Club (which members already pay a fee to shop in) likes its pharmacists to interact with shoppers on the selling floor amid OTCs and supplements displays. More talking points engage. And in Sam’s clubs with vision centers, reports The Wall Street Journal, optometrists that fill lens prescriptions also refer customers to doctors if they spot possible eye issues.

Supermarkets could change perceptions of their stores as ongoing destinations with more professional services, we feel at The Lempert Report. So we urge retailers to consider the investments and possible payback of making more professionals available to shoppers—either in-store, via the Web or joint ventures.  The list could also include butchers, cheese mongers, bakers and deli chefs, to name a few.