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The Fear Of Shopping

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the marketplace…

At first glance, you could easily make the mistake of thinking that everything was normal. On the surface, there appears to be a lot of activity. People are milling about, shaking hands, exchanging cards and talking business. Sometimes, one meeting leads to another and then to an invitation to send on more information or submit a proposal. But more often than not, it just leads to another meeting.

And then it hits you what’s not normal about this marketplace: It seems everyone’s a seller.

There’s a great buzz out there but it’s terribly one-sided. People are pitching like crazy but hardly anyone is buying.

If money makes the world go round, then this world has come shuddering to a halt.

And then a terrifying thought strikes with the suddenness of a great white: What if this is the new normal?

When you think about it, it’s not so surprising that buyers are in fear of shopping. Like day-trippers at the beach after a shark attack, it’s going to take something special to coax them back into the water.

Simply calling out to them to ‘Come in, the water’s beautiful’ isn’t going to do it. Not whilst the memory of the earlier carnage is still strong.

Of course, there’s not so much money floating about anymore, but it’s much more than that. There’s been a whole breakdown in trust between seller and buyer and nobody feels safe anymore. The ancient warning ‘Buyer beware’ rings out across the surface and never seemed more apt.

So what are you going to do about it?

In many ways, it’s ridiculously simple. You need to address the fears of your customers head-on. There’s no point in pretending nothing’s happened. There’s blood in the water and, as far as your customer is concerned, it’s sellers just like you who preyed on the unwary and spilt it there.

Using the same discredited language as those other sellers doesn’t help. That only confuses things further. You’ve got to find a new way to pitch your wares, a way that dispenses with the hype and rings true for your customer.

Dazzling them with science doesn’t help either. At a time when your customer doubts their own good judgement, it’s up to you to keep it plain and simple. Toss out the jargon and make your offer in layman’s terms.

As you’ll have guessed, this is no time for smoke and mirrors. When people feel safe, a certain mystery or intrigue can work wonders by adding some excitement to the mix. But in troubled times, mysterious gestures or vague promises become furtive and unsettling. Don’t be obscure or ambiguous. Instead, bring everything out into the open.

Be open too about your own motives in making the sale. When buyers have been savaged by offers that were too good to be true, there’s something powerfully reassuring about a deal that clearly adds up for both sides. Your exchange with your customer should work for you both, so don’t be coy about what’s in it for you.

Take the risk out of doing business with you for your customer wherever you can. Clearly display your terms of business and underpin your offer with a solid guarantee. Reassure your customer that you’re genuinely committed to making things work and are prepared to back that up with action.

But above all, be patient. Remember that your customer’s fear of shopping is well placed. It’s not so long since the waters turned red in a frenzy of bloodletting. Don’t rush your customer.

It’s up to you now to make those waters safe, and show them to be safe, in order that buyers can confidently take the plunge again and rediscover their love of shopping.

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Originally from Dublin, Gerard has long been fascinated with brands and how they work, rest and play. This fascination has taken him from his philosophy studies in Dublin to Asia where he worked with brands including the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Remy Martin, Cathay Pacific, Prudential, MTV and Chanel. More recently, he set up Islandbridge where his clients include Maldron Hotels, Lee Valley Clothing, Children First and Aussie Ice. Gerard is a regular contributor to discussions on branding in both Ireland and overseas and offers a Brief Word on Brands on The Persuaders radio programme and podcast. He writes regular features: The Blend on the implications of branding for hospitality and tourism and The Pitch on branding for SME’s. He is also a frequent visitor to the Irish Management Institute, Dublin City University and Dublin Institute of Technology where he presents on brand innovation.

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  • Brilliant post and analogy Gerard. Really enjoyed it. When you mentioned “It seems everyone’s a seller.” I felt like you read my mind. I’ve been feeling like this in the business networking arena, but have never managed to get the words out of my mouth, so thanks!
    For all of us that have been patient, I guess we need to be extra patient. In the meantime, my advise is: look for online tools (majority free) that will make your brand and USP more transparent and unique. Look for ways in which your customers/prospects find you based on “benefit, value” keywords (online & offline) rather than just for what your business does.

  • Anonymous

    Some great points here Gerard, and thanks for reminding me of something I was thinking the other day. Sellers also need to stop promoting depression, recession and fear. I went to a networking event last week, and all bar one of the sponsored presenters were selling on fear, rather than on benefits. Dreadful Powerpoint after turgid powerpoint was alerting us to how much it would cost if we ignored their warnings, what disasters could befall us, how many legal battles we could face and how badly most businesses (I guess that includes the audience being presented to!) handle their affairs. Even the charity appeal at the end was laced with emotional manipulation, and very mixed messages that were at odds with the positive message that I know their campaigns promote.

    This country (Ireland) will never get turned around until people start putting some positive energy in!

  • Thanks for a great post Gerard,
    Does this mean we should get into our swimsuits and head into that water, to show our customers that they are safe again?

  • Great post Gerard – and a sneaky head start on the competition too I see :). You have hit the nail on the head – everyone is a seller and buyers seem to have disappeared with the “naysayers” very much being those who’s voice is being heard.

    The duality of your proposal i.e. what’s in it for your customer, what’s in it for you and making that obvious to both, is an excellent piece of advice. It has to work both ways for your business to work. Your buyer needs to be confident in you and what you represent – it’s no longer enough just to stand up and shout out that “my product is the best”! You need to be confident in what you can do for your customer to help them progress as much as building your own business.

    Thanks for posting.

  • Anonymous

    Have found this to be true in my own practise. Like the image of the great white.

  • Liked the post Gerard. Everyone likes to buy but nobody to be sold to 🙂

  • Anonymous

    I enjoyed this Gerard. We must add value and reassure our customers that we are their to assist them with their needs. It can be difficult to do in Shark Infested waters.

    Tolerance (and patience) can lead to learning something. – Jakob Dylan

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the comment, Facundo.

    Actually, I’m not sure that we don’t like to be sold to (I’ve been on the receiving end of some highly-enjoyable sales pitches, most often in a restaurant or food market), but we certainly don’t want to be sold to in a thoughtless or clumsy way.

    I believe the buyer-seller dance can be fun for both parties, particularly when led by a skilful and considerate vendor.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for your comment, Barney.

    Shopping is part of what we do as social animals and I believe there’s a lot of frustrated shoppers out there just waiting for the right invitation to jump back in. It’s up to us to offer it.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the thought, Elaine.

    I think you’re on to something there. We do need to show by our actions that the water’s safe; probably not a bad thing for us to spread the word when we’ve had a happy time as customers.

    I’ll kick off: We enjoyed a great ‘burger experience’ at The Counter in Dundrum Shopping Centre on Mother’s Day. Fantastic food, with some really tasty healthy options which didn’t leave us feeling hard done by, speedy service and good-natured cheerful staff.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the comment, Greg.

    Over the last few months, I’ve found it useful (and much more pleasant) to actively seek out and surround myself with hard-working, ambitious and fun-to-do-business-with people. That’s led me to places like Bloggertone, Venture and BNI where I can do business with people I like and trust.

  • Anonymous

    You’re absolutely spot-on, Lewis.

    Whilst we don’t want to be happy-clappy optimists, it’s up to us as entrepreneurs to be positive in the belief that we’re making a real contribution. As I reminded a group of financial services brokers, I need to be sold the right pension, the right serious illness protection, the right income protection, the right mortgage protection. If they have the right one for me, then come sell to me.

    But if it’s not right, don’t bombard me with unwanted messages.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the comment, Fred.

    Yes, the online environment offers us great opportunities to show what we do in plain view, although there are a few sharks swimming about here too. I think we need to be especially careful in this space that we don’t promote offers or use language that smacks of ‘get-rich-quick’ scheming.

  • Hi Gerard, Love the post! Let’s listen to our customers and give them what they want rather than what we think they want. “Toss out the jargon and make your offer in layman’s terms” In the suspicious times we live this is great great advice. Cheers, Niall

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the feedback, Niall, and for the ongoing support.

    I’m afraid I’m an infrequent Bloggertoner: a binge every so often, then nothing passes my lips for weeks. I’ll aim to be a more regular contributor of both articles and comments over the next while.

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