To be a great retail merchandiser educate the buyer

To merchandise successfully, educate the buyer. But first, who is a merchandiser and what is merchandising? Well, when that lady (it’s almost always a lady) in the supermarket invited you to try her company’s cereal (or other product), that was different from the one you intended to buy, you experienced merchandising. At least the type I want to talk about today. Typically found in FMCG selling, correctly done, merchandising in retail can radically transform the shopper’s preference and therefore your sales fortunes for the better. Such are the benefits and purpose of merchandising. And a great retail merchandiser will educate the buyer

The importance of merchandising

Ponder this. Besides at a shop (kiosk for instance), merchandising is the only other point of contact where buyers of FCMG products can be sold to, in person, by a sales person. Think about that for a moment. It’s deep. Now how that engagement unfolds is where the rubber meets the road; and many merchandisers unfortunately slide off it. The vast majority of merchandisers do not come through as confident enough nor sufficiently knowledgeable. Their skills are wanting.  I’ll give them the benefit of doubt and put that down to poor (or lack of) training.

Qualities of an effective merchandiser

Successful merchandisers are few and far between; successful merchandisers educate the shopper. Typically, the average merchandiser smiles, looks pretty and does little beyond the meet and greet to get you to buy or try what she is ‘selling’. And right there is the problem. The default setting of merchandisers is to market not sell. Understandably so, because traditional selling can be a disadvantage to merchandising; it may come out as aggressive, irritating and intruding to the shopper, and therefore, supermarket or store.

However, successful merchandisers sell way more through marketing than their mediocre counterparts do because of four reasons, or principles, if you like. They know their product but share only what is necessary; they know their competitor’s products; also, they understand the industry, their customer, and are prepared to educate him towards making a purchase decision. One that is not wholly dependent on, “Buy this one and we’ll give you two others for free.”

How to be a good or better merchandiser in retail

Now the calibre of merchandiser that can engage a shopper is not one whose biggest (arguably, only) asset is to smile, look pretty and say, for example, “Hi, would you like to try our soap?” No. The successful one starts with deliberately opening the sale to invite, by making the opening about the buyer. “Hi! You have a keen eye seeing the soap you are buying (assuming it’s the competitors). May I ask what you like about it?” Or, “Being in the industry, may I share with you something about soaps you may find of interest?” No sales pitch, no commitment sought, use of permission selling to disarm, and curiosity peaking choice statement (..”…what may be of interest to you?”). Now it’s highly likely the shopper will say, yes.

great retail merchandiser educate

Great retail merchandiser educate

And this is where the capacity to educate comes in. “Cereals are generally good for pulsating energy throughput the day. Depending on the activity one wants to engage in, that would inform their cereal intake. For instance, physically demanding activities like hiking or professions like being a cook, barber or even merchandiser like me, where you are on your feet throughout the day may need this kind of cereal (pointing at it, even if it’s a competitor’s).

“What would you be looking for in a cereal?” Quite possibly, the shopper will drop a blank. She’s never stopped to think about that. She just buys because the advert, her parents, or her children conditioned her thus. And suddenly she sees you as an authority; the way a patient does a doctor who’s just revealed what is causing the pain in the chest. The resulting amicable question and answer session between buyer and seller will lead to educating them genuinely to the cereal (hopefully yours) that’ll suit their purpose. This makes you a stellar merchandiser. And, yes, it’s OK to send them to the competition, if they don’t buy from you because you don’t have what they need and the competition does. In any case, your product has limitations too.

The role of the merchandiser-share your number

In addition to sending them to the competition, give away your number too. Remember a great retail merchandiser will educate the shopper. And continue doing so remotely too. Anything for a continued connection and inevitable sale. Here’s how.

The seller warmly opens with, “Hi! May I ask what you like about this pet food?” (The one the shopper is staring at). “Oh, I don’t know,” the shopper responds. “I was just referred to it by a friend and have been using it since, for my dog.” “Oh, what’s his or her name? How old is she?” Buyer’s eyes light up. “Zeus is 3. Male.” “Is there anything in particular you look for in Zeus’s meal? Being in the industry I can share a tip or two with you for your consideration.…”

And so the education begins, which quite likely may end with, “Tell me about your pet food.” Will it take time to educate? Yes. Is it worth it? Absolutely YES! He may end up buying your food for Zeus’ lifetime from just that one encounter. In fact, I challenge such a merchandizer, whether the shopper buys or not. to end with, “Here’s my contact. Call me whenever you have a query about pet food.” Having established yourself as a trusted pet food advisor, occasional chats outside the supermarket about pet food for Zeus or the neighbour’s cat are bridges towards potential future sales. Who knows? You may get yourself invited into a pet owners WhatsApp group. (And please don’t start selling when there. Keep educating!)

The dummies guide to merchandizing

Now then. A great retail merchandiser will educate the shopper. It is not a merchandising taboo to do so. The belief that shoppers do not have time to stop and chat is just that. A belief. We all want value for our money and if the merchandiser is sufficiently engaging, we will stop to chat. Beyond approachability and exchanging niceties, business should also invest in training their merchandisers on the necessary content and way to educate shoppers about it. The importance of merchandising cannot be gainsaid. Neither can the key skills of educating the buyer for increased sustainable sales.

You may like to read: Why not sell at FMCG experiential marketing event


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