TDmonthly Magazine!
September 2015 | Vol. XIV - No. 9


How To Reach Retail Customers In Spite Of Their Cocoons

Let's admit it, we are now a society of individual planets.

We've created our own worlds by letting in just what we want to...

Trump smackdown videos...yes




People who like X...yes

People who believe in

We have surrounded ourselves with images, content, and opinions to protect ourselves from the fear of the outside world.

Actually, we haven't created worlds as much as we have created cocoons.

Photo credit: teejaybee/Flickr

With every new friend we add, video we share or product we like, the web shapes itself more closely around our cocoon.

App developers have discovered that people trust a machine more if it has a personality, especially a sense of humor, and not just the ability to answer a question correctly.

This NYT article details how the app designers for Siri and its siblings give them more personality by scouring the billions of conversations taking place on the web to learn how to replicate some of that natural banter.

It seems humor with a natural banter can break the cocoon.

Same with your retail customers.

Like the time I heard about a woman shopper who walked into a store, held up her hand and said in response to a friendly greeting, "I'm not buying anything today, I'm just looking."

The professional retail saleswoman, seeing the need to engage simply said, "Well that's good to know, then let's just play!"

The shopper ended up buying.

Or another time when I heard a salesman use a Window of Contact with a customer who casually mentioned she had a 3-year old as she walked by.

"I have a 3-year old too! Would you like to see a picture?" he asked.

She replied, "Sure." He then pulled out his smartphone and proudly presented a picture of his Great Dane, and the customer burst out laughing.

And the woman ended up buying.

Or many years ago, as I was closing a big sale by showing the customer how the luxury items he'd picked out matched what he had been searching for high and low. He stopped, looked up at me, and asked rather strongly, "You're not trying to sell me, are you?"

I replied, "Let's get the cast of characters right - you're the customer who wants to buy; I'm the salesman who's here to help you buy."

He let out a laugh and simply said, "OK, I'll take it all."

On The Other Hand

Many working in brick and mortar stores would approach these three scenarios very differently.

To the woman who said she wasn't buying, most clerks would accept her at her word, added their own narrative about what a b**ch she was, and go pout behind the register.

To the woman who shared she had a young daughter, most would simply say how nice and wait silently for the customer to pick an item - or leave.

In my case, most clerks would run as quickly as possible from ever saying they were indeed trying to sell something. They would apologize, trip all over themselves, and say, "Oh no, I'm not trying to sell you something," then leave the customer without pushing through to the other side.

So many salespeople are so unsure of their abilities that if a customer says something to put them off - to keep themselves in their own cocoon - those employees take it as a purposeful building of an impermeable wall.

But more often than not, it should be taken as an opportunity to find something funny to share to crack the cocoon.

Humor goes a long way in letting the butterfly of the shopper out. Otherwise, they'll walk. And you need to coax that butterfly out of the cocoon...especially if you sell luxury items.

A sales professional helps a customer see everything they've wanted is on the other side of fear.

What to do

You want to sell more, to give better customer service?
  • Get your employees to talk about their travels to other cities, cultures and countries with their customers.
  • Get them to talk about what excites them.
  • Get them to mimic better conversations than they text.
  • Get them to explain, with a few details, what they are feeling or seeing or doing.
  • Get a copy of 30 Days To A More Powerful Vocabulary, and have them use a new word each day.
In Sum

We are becoming illiterate of humanity at an alarming rate.

We don't know how to talk to each other face-to-face.

The NYT article concluded, "As voice-activated assistants become more prevalent, moving from our smartphones into our cars, living rooms and television sets, they will need to be more articulate and, most of all, funnier."

I would modify it for retail to say, "As cocooned shoppers enter into our stores and boutiques, our salespeople will need to be more articulate and, most of all, funnier."

Rather than robotically pushing messages on a smartphone - discounts usually - to consumers, retailers need to pull shoppers into their stores through exceptional experiences they can't find anywhere...

Humans meeting other humans.

And that takes retail sales training to get past shoppers' cocoons.

Bob PhibbsWriter's Bio: Bob Phibbs is the Retail Doctor®, a best-selling author and speaker who has helped thousands of independent businesses compete. His new book, The Retail Doctor’s Guide to Growing Your Business has received praise from both Inc. magazine and USA Today and can be found at your local bookstore or ordered at He and his work have been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and Entrepreneur magazine. Questions? Contact Bob at This article was reprinted with permission of the author, Bob Phibbs, aka The Retail Doctor®. Read more articles by this author


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