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Everyone should work retail at some point in his or her life

Improving Systems and Habits

Scott Miker is the author of several books that describe how to use systems and habits to improve.  This free blog provides articles that to help understand the principles related to building systems.  

Everyone should work retail at some point in his or her life

Scott Miker

Recently I was having a conversation with someone about her experience working at a retail store.  She talked about interaction with customers and how much she learned from this interaction.

I started to think about my own experience working in retail environments.  I started to realize that a portion of my systems and habits knowledge came from this experience. 

First, we were able to get insight into customers’ spending habits.  We realized that how we displayed merchandise affected what the customer purchased.  We learned a lot about human psychology and the way people behave.  We started to be able to identify, early in the sales process, who was just there to kill time and who was going to purchase something.  Obviously we weren’t always right but we started to pick up on little cues that would point to certain behavior.

Second, it was very interesting to learn about the associates’ systems and habits.  We knew who would go out of their way to assist someone and who just seemed to do the minimum to stay employed.  We would see who would stay an extra five minutes after their shift to help with a cleanup and who would leave as soon as they could. 

But the most important aspect of systems and habits came when we were being pushed by leadership to sign customers up for our free shopper card program.  Because it was free and gave customers gift certificates based on the customer’s purchases, leadership set very high expectations for us to sign people up. 

Initially everyone struggled to hit his or her goals.  It seemed awkward to try to get people to sign up who weren’t interested.  They would say they didn’t have time, would never use it, they don’t give out their information to stores, or a host of other reasons. 

Management focused on pressuring staff to keep pushing the cards.  They would always ask staff how many they had for the week and would find rewards and punishments based on where someone ended up.

I decided that I would try different tactics to find the best process for selling the cards.  I started to experiment with the way I presented the cards, the words I would say, and when I would talk to them about it.  I realized that several factors made a huge difference. 

As soon as they walked up to the register I would ask them if they had a card.  By asking them if they had a card to scan I could easily find out if they already had a card.  If they told me they didn’t I wouldn’t just jump into a short sales message.  I would grab the card and open it up in front of them and hand them a pen.  They would naturally grab the pen from me and look at the form (which was really only name and address).  They would see that it wouldn’t take long to complete and they already had the pen.  I would mention a few aspects of the program and they would naturally start writing. 

I continued to refine the process I used, rather than try to force myself to “sell” more.  I would make slight adjustments until it became very easy to exceed my goal.  The manager started to take notice and realized that everyone could do what I was doing.  Together we taught all of staff the process and suddenly the store was hitting its goal every month.  Eventually the district manager asked how we did it and then took the process to the other stores. 

This really enforced the idea that having a process was important.  Then continuing to refine the process until it accomplishes the goal was the key to improvement. 

This experience didn’t immediately translate into other areas of my life.  I used it in business settings all the time but it took years for me to start to explore improvement on personal habits. 

The principles of systems and habits that I used in the retail environment were surprisingly similar to personal improvement.  I learned about habits and tendencies of people, I learned how to develop a process, and I learned how to improve upon a process to increase the chance of success.  All of these are aspects that translate to our personal lives and can help us to achieve the success that often eludes us.