Do you actually enjoy shopping?

toy stall fife parents and toddlers show onesiesHow important is it to be entertained when you go into a shop? Do bored staff make you feel uninspired about the whole experience? It’s ‘Small Business Saturday’ today (at least in the UK) so I thought I’d take a break from doing voices etc. to think about something a bit different and consider some of the reasons behind our shopping habits. I’ll apologise from the outset that what follows isn’t particularly toy related, however I’m sure we all have an opinion on this (and I’d love to hear yours).

I’ve worked in various shops over the years, some of them I’ve loved and some I’ve really not. I’m starting to notice a trend now in shops and the thing that stands out to me is that some shops I walk into make feel as though I’m entering a glorified vending machine whilst others give me the feeling that I’m valued and that they genuinely want to help me, whether I’m spending 20p or £200. Sadly there seem to be fewer of the latter.

christmas independent businessesThis gets especially obvious at Christmas when staff are stretched thin and nerves are even thinner. I’ll admit I’m generally not a fan of shopping at Christmas, mainly due to the stress, the mass of people and the generally snappy (and sometimes aggressive) atmosphere. That said, when I walk into a shop where staff at least take an interest (even if only in passing because they’re busy and strapped for time) it makes me enjoy it a bit more.

The thing that really plays on your mind as a retailer at this time of year is whether you’re a vending machine or a human being: are you helping and adding something to the experience or are you just standing there and bagging up stuff?

It makes you wonder about the multiple ‘shop local’ campaigns up and down the country and the fact that smaller stores often have more experienced (and specialised) staff, meaning that they’re typically in a much better position to help you and make your day a little easier. However, the flip side is that a lot of these stores, after years of competing with supermarket/megastore prices start to feel a bit down-trodden and the enthusiasm starts to wilt.

I’ve always enjoyed the limelight and I’ve never felt particularly uncomfortable about looking a bit ‘silly’ in front of others so perhaps I’m not the best judge on this. However, I can’t help but feel that the future of shops lies in our ability to entertain customers whilst making their shopping trip an easy one. Where I work we have no ‘sales handbook’ or items to ‘push’, and that’s very liberating. I’ve worked in stores that did have handbooks, pushed lines, and sales policies and not only are these policies patronising to both the staff and the customer, more importantly they make you feel inhibited and scared to stand out, in short they contribute to staff apathy.

fun junction independent small business local toy shopI’m allowed to have favourite toys/brands/departments at Fun Junction (we never have a particular brand that we’re forced to show to customers) and in no way does this make me lose focus on the other toys we sell. Instead it makes me more willing to try the toys and find new favourites. Anyone who knows me knows that I love my job (who wouldn’t? I get to play with toys for a living!) and this means that I can step up to the stage of the shop counter and feel completely prepared and comfortable about where I am.

I’ve always enjoyed being on stage, whether in a band or acting, I thrive on attention and I love to see people react positively to something I’m doing. Back when I was at uni I used to busk as a means of getting some extra cash and it is genuinely the most exposed I’ve ever felt but it was also invigorating. As a result of the type of things I’ve done I’m not squeamish about people’s opinions, unless of course the response I get is boredom or apathy. Perhaps that really is the biggest fear of the small retailer: that you’ll try something and no one will care, but isn’t it still worth trying?

Every weird event, every dressed up staff member, every themed day is something that bigger stores can’t do without a serious amount of planning. Even if it’s not a success at the time, even if none of your customers seem to notice it very much, it still makes you special, they’ll still remember it and when someone mentions your shop to them what will come to mind is your uniqueness and your energy. So to all the independents out there I hope you have a brilliant ‘Small Business Saturday’ and that it gives you a chance to shine.

Are there shops where you feel entertained or simply just welcomed? How differently do you feel about shopping there in comparison to less enthusiastic shops? Do you simply not shop in brick and mortar stores any more, preferring to shop online? (there’s no shame in that, we all do it) That said if you do only/mostly shop online what attracts you to a web store, what makes you keep coming back? As always thanks for stopping by and reading my blog, you can subscribe by entering your address in the box to the right, Cheers, John

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