How many times have you walked into a shop only to be greeted by “Can I help you?”

To which you reply, “No thanks, just browsing”.

And then the shop assistant walks away leaving you to your own devices. Mind you, finding someone in a large retailer who’ll help you is a rare treat, but that’s another story.

The amount of money shops leave on the table because they take “no thanks, just browsing” at face value must be incalculable.Changemaker Basel Bern Luzern Thun Winterthur Zuerich

So what could they do instead?

Here’s one answer from Barbara who as it happens had a great experience with a Free Trade store in Thun, Switzerland last week.

This is her story… Take it away, Barbara.

I needed some time out and my best friend (also Barbara) and I went to a small town, Thun, about 20 km from Interlaken where I’m staying.

Thun’s first mentioned as a settlement around 2500 BC, and is a lovely smallish town along the Aare river, with a majestic castle which dates back to the 12th century on top of a hill, overlooking the river.

It’s not been a good spring and we were spending some quality time together window shopping, on a grey and rainy day.

In my youth I spent some time in Thun, but I always felt it was a boring sleepy place with not much charm and excitement.

However, it has changed a fair bit over the years and the town planners have done an excellent job with linking the old part with the new areas.

Every Saturday, there’s a local fruit and vegetable market as well as artisan products such as fresh Italian paste, olives, breads and more.

Walking through the old part of town in the afternoon, we went in to a shop that looked somewhat different, interesting and I hadn’t seen it before.

The window showed vases, shawls, cushions and all manner of other things.

We started looking around the shop, “just browsing” we said to the shop assistant, a young women.

Her response was “that’s fine, take your time and let me know if I can help you with anything. By the way do you realise that every product on the shelf has its own story. Some of those stories are written up and put next to the product. And the ones that don’t, I’m quite happy to tell you their individual stories.”

Smart answer. She pushed my curiosity button big time and I just couldn’t resist.

Remember our brains are hard wired to storytelling and listening to stories. It’s part of humanity no matter what culture you come from. Stories evoke emotions and memories. They can bypass conscious filters and touch you deep down. And most importantly, in this context, they evoked curiosity.

It dawned on me that this shop was a “fair trade” outlet and that most of the producers of the goods were mainly women and that they would be earning a fair wage.

A concept I like to support.

Obviously I wanted to know the stories behind the products. With the shawls and other products it was reasonably obvious as I mentioned above, female weavers being paid a decent wage etc.

However there were products, like Swiss designed hand bags, made in Peru, made from old tyres. They take a lot of stretching and it appears to be physically hard work, which can only be done by men.

Foldable handbags, made from first class calf’s leather used by top designers in Paris, “stitched” together with press buttons, some big and strong enough to carry your laptop, in all the colours of the rainbow. They weren’t cheap, but that’s not really the point, no top quality leather bag is sold on the cheap.

Then the 3rd product that stood out… handbags again, made out of old postal bags, you know the bags the postie used to use to deliver the mail in some decades ago.

But the product, in my opinion anyway that took the cake are bags and other accessories made from old fire hoses. Again, a lot of preparatory work to clean theses hoses to make sure they stack up to “reincarnation”.

We were both listening to this woman with open ears and an open heart. Shopping in this outlet has become a way of feeling good about yourself, retail therapy, as well as making others feel good about their work and being able to live of their efforts and creativity.

Needless to say that our “just browsing attitude” quickly changed into “I take this, and I’ll take that” approach. The final bill came to just below CHF300.

We might have bought something anyway, who knows, but what I know is that my friend and I were more likely to buy because we emotionally connected with the shop and it’s philosophy and the stories.

However never, ever underestimate the staff member.

She did an excellent job in guiding us, showing us what there was and giving us the space to browse and ask the questions we needed to make a decision.

She was able to judge when to leave the space for us to explore as well as being there for us to answer questions and show us the products we were interested in.

A great experience for everyone concerned.

Clutching our purchases, we walked into another fair trade shop a few doors down.

The experience couldn’t have been more different.

The lady was nice and helpful, nothing to complain about. Like most sales staff she came and asked if we needed help, but that was about it.

“Just browsing” and she was happy to leave us to our own devices.

As you probably gathered we left this shop without a purchase.

My friend, Barbara and I reflected on those two experiences and Barbara made a very interesting point.

The sales assistant number two, enjoyed what she did and being a “do gooder” was happy to work for someone with a good cause.

Sales assistant number 1, in comparison, wanted to do good, but she also wanted to influence the buyer and was passionate about what it is she can achieve by consulting, educating the customer by telling a really good story.

Which sales person would you employ?

Thanks Barbara!

Wrapping up, remember the following:

Emotions drive purchasing decisions. We all buy products and brands that make us feel good about ourselves or enhance our sense of self-esteem in some particular way.

However an emotional benefit alone is not enough reason for a buyer to commit to a product. We all buy on emotion and then justify with logic based on a feature and functional benefit.

We use the logical reasons we bought on ourselves, or other people we feel we need to justify our purchasing decisions on, be it spouse, boss, peers or people at large.

Therefore not providing logical reasons (aka features), will lead to “buyer’s remorse” and unhappy customers who want their money back or at the very least, won’t recommend you or buy again.

Rashid & Barbara.

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