CUSTOMER SERVICE, MERCHANDISING KEY TO HIGHER SALES

NEW YORK -- Approximately 85% of shoppers go into a store with no definite idea of what they intend to purchase, according to Andrew Andoniadis, president of Andoniadis Retail Services, a Portland, Ore.- based retail consultancy. Therefore, he said, customer service and merchandising is of utmost importance in accruing those critical incremental sales in the Center Store."All of those things that

NEW YORK -- Approximately 85% of shoppers go into a store with no definite idea of what they intend to purchase, according to Andrew Andoniadis, president of Andoniadis Retail Services, a Portland, Ore.- based retail consultancy. Therefore, he said, customer service and merchandising is of utmost importance in accruing those critical incremental sales in the Center Store.

"All of those things that can be brought to bear on the customer after they've crossed the threshold into the store can lead to incremental sales, meaning higher sales per customer," he said during a session at the recent National Association for the Specialty Food Trade's Fancy Food Show held at the Jacob Javits Convention Center here.

To make the most of specialty items, retailers must first cultivate an intimate knowledge of their product mix, understanding who their customers are, what they buy and the relative value of particular items.

"You've got to understand which products do what for you," Andoniadis said.

Andoniadis outlined several methods for gathering consumer information. While a strong proponent of direct consumer contact at the managerial level, he conceded to the difficulties of maintaining a solid floor presence amidst the technological hum of modems and fax machines. He offered a number of alternatives, such as exit surveys or register journals kept by store employees noting customer comments and suggestions.

Sampling is widely acknowledged as one of the most effective means toward gaining incremental sales. When conducting demos, Andoniadis recommended retailers use personnel whenever possible, as well as making use of multiple items.

"Personnel can put a positive spin on the tasting, as opposed to letting people just take things," he said.

By asking customers which item they preferred, employees can direct consumers to say something positive about the products, he explained.

Sampling is especially important to the gourmet segment, according to Trip Straub, a grocery buyer for Straub's Market, a four-store chain in St. Louis. Customers are less familiar with some of the flavors and variations within the gourmet segment, and sampling serves as an efficient introduction.

Indeed, sampling is the most effective marketing tool when launching new products, Jim Shelton, a buyer and merchandiser for the chain, told SN.

Andoniadis also emphasized the importance of suggestive selling techniques such as posting recipe cards and third-party endorsements throughout the store. Furthermore, he advised retailers to treat shopping as a tactile experience, placing product in the consumer's hand whenever possible.

Moreover, he noted the unrealized potential of slow-moving products, and warned retailers not to give up too easily. Rather, he recommended remerchandising, i.e., moving the item in question to gain a fresh perspective.

"Move it left, right, up or down -- just move it," he said.

He also touched upon the importance of presentation in the sale of high-margin products, telling retailers to create an ambiance that enhances the perceived value of the products with the use of glass shelves or additional lighting, or perhaps a rug on the floor.

According to Shelton, simply having the high-end products available enhances the perceived value of the entire selection.

"Offering a $100 bottle of balsamic vinegar makes all the rest priced at $6 or $7 or $8 seem even better," he said.