Stay on top of buyers' needs and preferences

The Baltimore Sun

Consumers tend to view themselves as highly informed about what constitutes quality and value. As a small business retailer, you must take steps to stay on top of your customers' needs, preferences and motivations.

In a retail environment, the customer's perception of your products and services begins with your sales personnel. Their knowledge, attentiveness and ability to communicate are the first and most lasting impressions most customers will have of your store.

Your sales and return policies should also reflect the buying habits of your customers. A no-questions-asked policy might be appropriate for some merchandise, while a store credit may be the only viable alternative for others. Make sure these policies are clear and consistent.

Successful retailers understand the need for dealing with suppliers that stand behind their merchandise. Seek out those vendors that will guarantee any item for store credit if the customer is not satisfied. It allows both of you to preserve your respective reputation for quality.

Keep up-to-date on reports about dissatisfaction with certain products or manufacturers; having reliable information can only increase your stature as someone customers can trust.

Also, keep in mind mobility of your customer base. Because people move in and out of a store's market area, you will always need to introduce yourself to someone new. Design your promotion strategy to get the attention of new customers and remind old ones that you are there when needed.

Stephen L. Rosenstein is co-chairman of the Greater Baltimore SCORE Chapter No. 3. Call 410-962-2233 to speak to a SCORE counselor or visit To send a question to SCORE, e-mail

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