social networking – learning from shopkeepers

I took the day off today, but part of that deal is that I walk my son Connor to school. It’s a nice little stroll, so that’s OK. We take an amble down the little high street here on the way. On the way back I often pop into the bakers and buy some bread or if I’m feeling flush into the deli for something nice there. These are small, locally owned businesses, with nice people behind the counter who will chat with you about what they sell. They will tell you about new stuff they are selling, or things that are coming. Sometimes it’s just chit chat, nothing much of any depth, but it gives you a good feeling when you come out of the shop. It’s the same at the butchers, where unless it’s Saturday you can spend too long chatting. The queues on Saturday mean they don’t have time.

What these small businesses are all doing is something that comes naturally to small shopkeepers. We used to call it “passing the time of day” or even just being polite. But now of course we would call it social networking. Actually for a small shopkeeper it’s a crucial part of their business. The butcher has more time to talk in the week, fewer people come in, but he takes the time to chat even though I am sure he has a 101 things he could be doing. I wonder if that is why he is so busy on a Saturday? Everyone comes in on Saturday. You have to queue outside and up the street, even with three people serving. What this butcher knows, along with anyone who has run a shop, is that you might not sell a lot on that particular time to that person who comes in and then ends up chatting, but they will more than likely be back when they have got more money to spend.

It’s a different story down the road in the Aldi. Don’t get me wrong, they have a place in the retail market and thats OK. But their sales are mostly based on the low cost of the items they sell, and not the experience people have when they go into the store. If they based it on that they would be empty! It is a grim place really, and the staff are – well, busy. A security guard follows you around. It’s hard to believe we are at the end of the same road that I mentioned above. What Aldi have is a low cost business and that is reflected in the service. There is no conversation. Cheap food, yes.

Now I am not advocating that Aldi closes it’s stores and open corner shops, but what if..IF.. they had some way of having some kind of conversation with their customers. Obviously the people on the checkout can’t chat to everyone, the queues would be terrible. But what if they could use social networking software to have that conversation? How would that change Aldi’s business? How would it affect the way that I think about them? Would it make me want to go in there more often? If there was a name, a face, a person who could listen to people, talk, explain their point of view, would that improve the experience? How about your business?


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