Sunday, February 21, 2010

Freebies and First Impressions

In this tough economy we are facing right now business owners are always looking for ways to entice potential buyers to their shops. One of those methods of enticement is "the freebie". Buy one get one FREE, aka the BOGO, is one. There's the buy three get one FREE, FREE shipping when you order three or more, FREE FREE FREE! We all love freebies in tough times.

Then, there's the "coupon book" that you can purchase for X amount of dollars that has hundreds of savings offers from different stores throughout the vicinity.  Most of the time, we don't use all those coupons, but it is a great gimmick that brings potential customers to those shops in your coupon savings book.

However, it isn't enough just to offer free or reduced prices in store; since many of these customers may be "first-timers" in the store, first impressions account for a lot as to whether the shop owner will get a return customer after offering that discount or freebie.

Let me give an example from my own personal experience:
I purchased one of those coupon books with hundreds of coupons from local shop owners and proceeded to mark all the ones I planned to use right away. Many of them were stores that I already shopped in before and hadn't been back in awhile. So it was a nice way to encourage me to come back and see what things were like now and potentially purchase other items that weren't on sale or FREE. One of the first places I chose was a beauty salon offering a FREE haircut with no other strings attached, just the FREE haircut. I hadn't been there before and it was only a few miles down the road from my home, so I decided to take advantage of their FREE offer.

The moment I walked in the place and showed my FREE coupon, the store-owner took it, tossed it on the counter and scowled. "Go sit over there," she said. No please or thank yous, no smile and no eye contact. I began to get a tad bit uncomfortable. From the moment I sat in the chair to receive my FREE haircut, I got rantings and ravings from this woman about how awful that stupid coupon book was. She was so busy giving FREE haircuts, she didn't have time to make any money. She would never advertise in that coupon book ever was a sham...a waste of her return customers...

I was beginning to see why she didn't have any return customers, that was for sure!

Once I was done with my FREE haircut, I gathered my belongings as quickly as possible, snuck out the door, and never went back. I was another non-return customer on her list. I was too scared to come back!!!

Now, the point is this; I don't really recall if the haircut was actually any good or not. All I remember, and this was over 20 years ago, was that this woman was upset, angry, showed poor customer service and didn't really give me any reason to feel good about returning to her shop for another haircut.

I actually drove a half-mile further down the road to receive haircuts from a shop owner that I liked after that!

The coupon book offering freebies did not work out for that angry shop owner because she gave me a very poor first impression of her shop. Her shop was probably fine otherwise, but because of this woman's attitude, I never had a chance to see what else she would be able to offer me.

On the other hand, I used another coupon from that same book and took a chance on using it for lunch one day at a restaurant I had never been to before. It was a fairly new restaurant so I was curious about going inside. The coupon gave me the perfect opportunity to check it out. I believe it was a coupon offering FREE dessert with lunch or dinner order. Now, I didn't really need a dessert, but I love getting freebies, so it was enough to entice me.

The restaurant had a nice, cozy, 1930s feel to it. The waiters were friendly, helpful, smiled a lot and prompt. The food was good. Basic meal type stuff, nothing overly fancy, but with a few extra touches. It ultimately became my favorite place to eat because I had a good first impression and good service.

Thinking back on that coupon book, I wondered if that angry hair salon woman would've felt different if she had put a different type of offer in her coupon such as 50% off, or FREE shampoo with each haircut, or FREE styling product like mousse or gel with haircut...something like that. That way, she would have at least gotten something out of her customers without feeling used and abused, perhaps.

Being a shop owner myself, I work very hard at deciding what type of enticements to offer to bring customers to my site. I want to feel good about the offer and I want my customers to feel good about it too. Most of all, I want return customers who will want to come back because they like my product, my service and my attitude.

The moral of this story? Well, in this economy (or any economy), freebies are good because they can entice customers to stop by and get something that they will like. A shop owner that manages the freebies and specials well, will feel good about offering them. It is the shop owner's responsibility to "give it all you got" in customer service and attitude once your freebie customer enters your shop, otherwise you may be defeating the purpose of your special.

So, whatever it takes, shop folks, just SMILE, be happy, go the extra mile for your shop special shoppers. You may stand out in the crowd because of it and make all the difference whether you succeed or fail in this economy.


Celine Blacow said...

Excellent post... totally agree! The key is not to meet your customers expectations, but exceed them. You'll never do that with a scowl on your face!