Turning customers into repeat buyers

October 19, 2009: 10:01 AM ET

Sales don't just wander in your front door. Here's how to cultivate up a steady stream of shoppers.

Sanjay, Huntington, N.Y.
We have a retail shop of clothing and jewelry. I sit all day waiting for the customers. How can I utilize that time on my computer, and do something that will generate extra cash for my business?

By Dinah Eng, CNNMoney.com contributing writer
If you're not selling your products online, now is the time to start -- and if you've already taken the e-commerce dive, you can use your down time to build sales-boosting buzz.

If you don't already have a Web site for your store, you can ease in by selling on established sites like Amazon.com or eBay. If you have handmade items, try Etsy.com or ArtFire.com.

Whether you're selling on your own site or an outside one, a good next step is to compile an e-mail database of your customers. Realize, though, that technology alone is not going to sell your inventory.

Paul Schneider, owner of Twist

Paul Schneider, owner of Twist

"Retail is all about relationships," says Paul Schneider, owner of Twist, which started as an artists' coop and now sells jewelry and art pieces through two stores in Portland and one in Seattle. "If you compile an e-mail database and use it to establish a line of communication, you're three-quarters of the way to making a sale."

If you have six customers a day, you could compile 36 names a week. The trick, of course, is getting people to give you their e-mail addresses.

"I try to make it fairly personal," Schneider says. "'Would you mind if I got in touch with you when we have a special promotion for our e-mail friends only?' Make it a private, exclusive club. Don't send more than one mass e-mail a month. To a small retail business, this is gold."

Schneider says he uses his Web site for personalized pitches, sending customers links to pages with items that may interest them.

To attract new customers, he suggests finding the blogs and discussion groups online that deal with what you sell, and becoming a part of the discussion.

"Talk about your products, even if you don't have your own Web site," he says. "If you sell wedding rings, get on the bridal blogs. We're starting to work with social networking, and have a fan page on Facebook now. There are search engine optimization consultants who can help you craft online ads."

Richard Eiseman, Jr., owner of Eiseman Jewels in Dallas, a high-end boutique, is now in the process of inputting a mailing list compiled over 40-plus years into a database. To entice people to register online, he sent out direct mail pieces offering a free valet parking pass at the mall and a chance to win a $5,000 store gift card.

"Find ways to get exposure by doing something unique," Eiseman suggests. "Host a charity event in your store. Have the local school sell something at your store. You have to get foot traffic in based on some expectation other than buying."

Utilize that time in between walk-ins by reaching out to customers on the phone.

"Keep a card on every person you've sold to," advises Scott Marshall, a Los Angeles consultant who specializes in retail management and e-commerce. "Write down what they like, their family information, anything you can think of. Then think of how to help them with the products you carry. If you've got trendy teen clothing coming in, and their card says they have teenage nieces, call and tell them, but do it in a way that shows you're interested in them, and not just the sale."

Marshall says men, in particular, always need help with finding the right gift for women. Have their spouse or girlfriend fill out a store "wish list," then offer to send the guys an e-mail reminder when a birthday, anniversary, or holiday is coming up -- and suggest items that the women in their lives might enjoy.

"You have to decide to be in the game," he says. "Too many people think 'I'm a small store, my customers don't have a lot of money.' Everybody wants to find a deal without searching high and low for it. To somebody, your things are expensive, and to somebody else, the items are cheap. If you're ready to just sit at the computer and do work for someone else, you've given up on your own store."

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