Picture yourself shopping for a wedding gift at WalMart. A friendly and knowledgable salesperson instantly appears as you are looking at a set of glass bowls, and tells you about the artisan who made them. When you admit that they’d be perfect if only they were blue instead of pink, she offers to special order them in that color and promises to have them giftwrapped in your choice of paper and delivered in time for the wedding.  After quickly jotting down the necessary details, she asks if you’d like her to help you find a special card to go with the gift….

 Not a very likely scenario, is it? But substitute the an independently owned specialty shop for WalMart, and you can easily imagine that this type of personalized, customer-friendly service would be available. Customer service is one of the hallmarks that sets small retailers apart from their big box competitors, and in this difficult economy it is more important than ever to make sure your customers receive the best there is.


What does good customer service look like? It starts with a personal greeting, and extends through good product knowledge and an efficient checkout procedure. As my husband (and business partner) Dean has pointed out, good customer service also includes having the products that customers expect you to have in stock.  A warm welcome can’t overcome empty shelves.


Many of us offer customer services beyond the ordinary, such as shipping anywhere in the US — or around the world. The photo with my blog entry today comes from the Chicago Botanical Gardens, where the esthetic experience of visiting the beautiful  385 acres of gardens extends into the equally lovely shop.  


There is no end to the services you might consider offering, and all of them will make your shop more competitive.  Does anyone in your area sell tickets to local concerts?  Can you personalize your products?  Is there a way that you can take used products back in exchange for new ones and donate them to charity?  Can you deliver and install the items you sell?


Shop of the Gulls, a resort and apparel store in Charlevoix, Michigan, will do anything it can for its wedding registry couples.  When one of their registered brides ran short of housing for her guests, owner Jeannine Wallace put up the out-of-town priest in her guest room. 


The most unusual service I’ve ever provided at Orange Tree Imports was editing two plays for a customer who brought them in and asked if I’d take a look.  Try that at WalMart!  If you’ve ever done anything unique to make a customer pleased that they shopped at your store, I invite you to share it with Gift & Home Channel readers by posting it as a comment. I know that creative independents everywhere go the extra mile to give great service.  Let us know what you do!


Happy Retailing,

Carol “Orange” Schroeder