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If one runs a local shop, some potential customers come in order to get advice or a product recommendation but then buy the respective product online where it typically is cheaper. How can potential customers be encouraged to buy in the shop when they make use of the given advice? One possibility would be to charge for the advice and then provide a respective discount if they decide to buy. However, this will discourage many potential customers to even get advice / come to the shop. Are there better strategies?

closed as too broad by gnat, Thomas Owens, mag, Dmitry Grigoryev, virolino Oct 14 at 12:59

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    what research have you done into this really happening and percentage of potential customers just there for free advice – Kilisi Oct 13 at 11:38
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    I have the opposite problem in computer stores. Computer sales people tend to ignore an overweight woman with grey hair. I do much better with on-line searches. – Patricia Shanahan Oct 13 at 15:45
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    Counter story on charging for advice: When my employer offered to buy equipment for me but let me choose what, I did some research online. However, I was still unsure what was best for my needs, so I went to the shop where I buy all my electronics to have a look and ask for advice. I was upfront that I was not going to buy anything, but the staff person who advised me was nonetheless super helpful and professional, and this only reinforced my positive impression I have of the store. – Llewellyn Oct 13 at 16:27
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    I often go the other way. I am in a local shop using their free wifi to hit amazon for reviews, but the thing leaves in my hands today because I don't want to wait. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Oct 13 at 23:22
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    Is this question really on-topic? This site is supposed to be about workplace issues involving employees, not business policies. – Barmar Oct 14 at 7:02
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My wife bought a camera at a local camera store just yesterday. I would have researched cameras online and ordered one from Amazon. Her experience was amazing.

The owner of the store asked her lots of questions about how she intended to use the camera and what mattered and didn't matter to her. He walked her through several cameras and showed her what features they had and the advantages and disadvantages. He explained trade-offs around price, features, size, durability, and so on. She found the perfect camera.

He explained to her that by buying at his store, she would get up to 30 minutes free instructions on the camera after she had used it for awhile to ask any questions that came up. She could attend one photography course for free (one was going on in the back of the store at the time and it looked like fun). He offered her all kinds of discounts on their in store printing services and even explained archival services for old video tapes, film, and slides.

He helped her pick out the perfect case and the appropriate accessories. There was no hard sell, just a friendly store owner.

The price seemed kind of high, but I didn't say anything. Later, I researched the price because I was curious, and it was about the same price as Amazon, within about 3%. And we had the camera that moment, all set up and ready to go.

I hope she doesn't find this answer because I'm going to have to say it -- she was right.

So give your customers a great experience and charge a reasonable price. They'll come back.

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    +1 for the discussion about creating incentives for people to purchase at your store. Providing the customer with additional value (a photography course, future discounts, etc.) might compel them to stay local – bunnies Oct 14 at 1:36
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    @solarflare it wouldn't actually, but it'll create a completely different market. The main reason why brick-and-mortar is dying because the experience is terrible. Any place that is commissions based you get up-sold to death. Any place that isn't they just don't give a damn. I don't know how to find stores like this... – Nelson Oct 14 at 7:36
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    That sounds like an amazing store! Unfortunately, these kind of experiences are rare. – miva2 Oct 14 at 9:30
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    Agreed, I would almost always prefer to make this kind of purchase from a real store, so I have somewhere I can go if there are issues. However, if it's apparent to me that the employees don't care to help (unless they're on commission and then won't leave me alone) or don't have the knowledge to help, then I'll look for the next differentiating selling point, which is going to be price. Stores should be competing on service quality, but they too often cut the service quality in pursuit of lower prices, which is an arena they can't hope to compete in. – delinear Oct 14 at 10:11
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    Important detail to notice that the price was about the same as in the online shop. Much probably, the camera was roughly the same price while accessories has bigger mark-ups. The salesman working hours, the course administrators, the shelf time and the support are not free, and are more expensive than the online store value chain. So either he is compressing his margins (which is unhealthy) or he is making his profit on some other secondary item. – Mefitico Oct 14 at 12:19
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You need to offer a shopping experience that Amazon or Walmart don't and that's valuable and tailored to your specific customers. You can't compete on price or variety so it has to be quality of the experience & service and/or the curation and quality or your goods.

You need to create a clear identity of what you are and what you are not and then consistently implement this. A friend of my wife does this really well: she runs an art gallery, has build long-term relationships with many customers, makes sure that browsing customers always are made feel welcome and not pressured, has trained her staff on how to interact with customers and help them make decisions etc.

Of course many people walk out without buying anything or buying somewhere else or online. But in aggregate: if people have a good time in the store and feel welcome and valued they are more likely to come back and will also tell their friends about it.

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    I believe it's good advice. However unlike most shops, if you see a piece of art in a gallery, you probably can't go buy it online, even if you wanted to. – Mark Oct 14 at 7:01
  • Exactly: The primary difference between an online store and a physical one is the service. Play on that, offer some amount of repair and mainenance for products bought at your store for free, and the same service for other items for a fee – ThisIsMe Oct 14 at 7:56
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It definitely depends on the type of shop. Strategies for a store that sells digital cameras would probably differ significantly from strategies for a store that sells gourmet meats and cheeses. In general, though, I think the best strategy is to create a positive customer experience from the moment they walk in until the moment they leave and charging for advice runs counter to that. There will always be penny-pinchers who refuse to pay more than the lowest price on the market but there are also those who value the experience and these people tend to be loyal customers. (Obviously, if your prices are outrageous, people won't buy from you no matter how good the experience is.)

There was a small health food boutique in the neighborhood where I used to live. I liked it because I could easily ride my bike there to grab fresh ingredients every few days. Everyone who worked there was helpful and courteous and I got to know all of them on a first name basis. I probably could've gotten all the same products at Whole Foods for a lot cheaper but it would've been out of my way and instead of an enjoyable experience, it would've been a chore.

So, my advice would be, instead of trying to avoid people coming in just for free advice, encourage as many people as possible to come in and to keep coming back.

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This may not be appropriate for your situation, but I've seen places that will charge for e.g. "Professional Ski-Shoe fitting", which is then redeemable against the cost of purchase for said item.

That way, a process which may take considerable time and expertise is paid for, and the customer is encouraged to buy in-store with the cost offset.

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    To be honest, a shop that doesn't provide such services is indeed only shifting boxes, and that's a game you're going to lose from Amazon. – MSalters Oct 14 at 7:25
  • @MSalters I think the point is that they charge for it if you don't buy from them. – Josef Oct 14 at 12:02
  • I have to say, I have only encountered such a policy in one shop so far, and the only reason I shopped there was because they were the only ones who had the specific product I wanted to try. I will never go there again and would instead go to the shop where I got free advice even though they didn't have the specific product I wanted. – Nobody Oct 14 at 13:19
  • I prefaced it with "may not be appropriate" for a reason - but OP was light on details, so I thought I'd post the answer anyway. I agree that it's not suitable for all shops, sure. But something like fitting ski shoes is a niche market. It's not just "expert advice", but "expert service" that takes time, and seems reasonable that the store is reimbursed for that when people would otherwise just turn around and buy them online. – Zac Faragher Oct 15 at 0:17
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How to avoid

You can't, so you balance the advice judgement calls against likelihood to buy in the shop.

With the advice, it's a good customer relations to give solid honest advice. Whether they then buy from you is the only issue. That's an unavoidable risk you take having a shop and loss of customers should be negligible everything else being equal. Of course you push your line of goods where you can. But most people will buy at the shop if they've taken the time to go there and it's not overpriced.

Buying online is only cheap if you do everything online or you get your advice over the phone, otherwise it's an expense to go and get advice, shipping headaches etc,.. Most people who don't buy in the shop after talking are either shopping around for a better price locally or not going to buy anyway.

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In addition to JPI's excellent answer, I've seen stores providing services related to the product they are selling. For example, a plumbing supplies store may team up with a local plumber to provide a fitting service

Can you find something that is related to the product you sell, that needs face-to-face interaction?

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  1. Avoiding visits of such potentials will lead to more crisis and towards the closure of a business. If you have identified that they buy online just because of the price factor then you must try improving your offering price to get near or beat the online price PLUS your advantage is that you have a real product in stock to see/touch/feel and carry out with them.

  2. Many stores are facing this problem even throughout the world. So you should look forward to establishing your own online portal to offer the convenience of online purchase to your potentials. An online presence will become mandatory for businesses soon or later.

  3. Try engaging with such online portals (like sell on amazon or whatever) your potentials are buying instead of you and establish your presence there.

  4. It is true that the use of knowledgeable salesperson costs money regardless of prospects buy from your or not. However, you can make use of technology like make your videos on youtube (and other platforms) to reduce human efforts.

  5. You shall also try taking feedback from prospects to analyse their preferences and reasons to buy or not buy from you after given genuine advice on their required products/services. This will help you decide and improve your marketing/business strategies.

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    If you don't have the buying power to purchase and store tens or hundreds of thousands of items then you will not get to purchase at the cheaper prices offered to the "big" supermarkets so you won't be able to sell at their prices... – Solar Mike Oct 13 at 12:22
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    Also, employing knowledgeable salespeople who can answer questions and give advice is expensive. – Patricia Shanahan Oct 13 at 12:25
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How about opening your very own online shop, branded the same as your physical one? It depends on what you sell, but I have seen a lot of local shops doing that.

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