The science behind serving a customer


Shopping bagEvery day I see retailers and staff stand around retail stores. Waiting… for something to happen as they continue to shuffle merchandise around the store. And this makes me wonder about something.

I know there is something out there that is freely available. It is easy. It costs nothing to implement. It’s proven to improve performance. Yet no one is doing it. Why?

Consider this, there are many easy  ways to implement behaviours that can improve service and increase your ability to persuade the customer to buy.

  1. Don’t stand opposite the customer. That is a confrontational position even though it feels natural to end there when you walk towards the customer. Walk around and stand next to the customer and turn your body 45 degrees towards the customer.
  2. Stay outside the customer’s personal bubble. This varies by culture, but usually about 2 feet (60cm) is acceptable to most people. Look for signals if the customer is uncomfortable.
  3. Both parties should be able to face and reach the merchandise or object of interest. Buyer and seller side by side should be able to focus their attention on the object of interest.
  4. You should stand on the right-hand side of the customer where possible. Of course sometimes the design of the store or position of the customer makes it difficult to start there, but attempt to manoeuvre that way unobtrusively if you can.
  5. Make sure there are no obstacles between you and the customer. This includes baskets, trolleys, equipment, prams, or handbags – and especially the counter.
  6. Ensure your customer is as comfortable as possible. Not too hot or too cold. If seated, make the chair comfy. (Search Google for ‘embodied cognition’ if you don’t believe me – or read this as a primer.)

There is more. From the shape of your mouth to the colour of your shirt, there are a myriad of influences that can easily be systematised to be part of how you do business – without adding any cost.

stand so close

But what these things are is not really the issue here.

Long term readers may remember this blog on Inside Retail was called Retail$mart (and so was the Ganador blog and still has that URL). That is because I have always tried to create products based on insights that are road tested practices and scientific findings. Over the last seven years I have shared many of those here and there. I don’t believe in trade secrets and I am not using this to pitch for work – feel free to create your own training by using the tips provided above.

Over the last two years neuroscience has entered the public sphere. (Along with it the obligatory pop up gurus of course, but that is another story.)

The popular accessibility of this knowledge raises a very important issue, and is the purpose of this post.

The real question at issue here is, if anyone can find these insights, and let’s face it this is not rocket science, why are people not using it?

It is freely available. It is easy. It costs nothing to implement. It’s proven to work.

Consider the six things I mentioned above.

How many of them are trained into and embedded in your business?

If not, why not? Please share in the comments… I am really curious.


Ganador: Helping you to to #thinkdifferent about your future



  1. Sarah Corris posted on August 18, 2014

    I agree with most of this except for "stand on the Right-hand side". If you get an opportunity to observe the customer, see what hand they use predominantly. Left handers are still 10% of the population and if you want a better customer service experience, approach them from the left hand side, not the right. It is always about observing your customers and providing them with an individualised service where possible. reply

  2. Ray Ciseau posted on August 18, 2014

    Agree with most of the comments however it is clear that whilst this is not exactly "rocket science" the vast majority of retail staff do not understand how to approach customers and this is not their fault, it is the fault of the employer who simply does not understand how to recruit the right staff and then arm them with the employers expectations. As for the initial customer approach I always use the well known "4 Personality Profile Matrix" if you can correctly judge the customers personality profile match before you make contact then you are able to communicate with them on a level that they understand. I have used this strategy many times with great success. If you do not know about this then your employer is at fault and is not serious about additional sales. reply

  3. Jane posted on August 18, 2014

    More thoughts on serving the customer. Size matters! Short customers, like me, cannot reach the upper rungs of double layers of clothing in stores, make an assortment at the lower level which matches the upper level. Display ALL sizes in the assortment, larger customers are sometimes embarrassed or turned off by asking for larger sizes. What the customer cannot reach or access...they will not buy....simple! reply

  4. Michael Ratner posted on August 18, 2014

    I compliment all you people on investigating all these nuances that are supposed to increase the success rate of the interaction between buyers and sellers. Yes they might work, they might even be correct. To me it sort of feels like quasi experts or gurus are trying to create business for themselves. nothing wrong with that either. So there is a new dimension we are introducing - Neuroscience. Maybe it's not a new dimension, it's just another tool in the lexicon of trying to create the perfect world. This is the cycle of retailing. We recently finished merchandising, aesthetics such as lighting and smell, Qr codes, multi channeling, and were now talking where to stand, how close to the bubble, actually I'm feeling a bit embarrassed even mentioning some of these. So it's not about brand, products, service, price for this discussion. It's about a whole lot of new excuses as to possibly why sales are not reaching the expected targets. Hey retailers, time to take your eye off the ball of the things you might be doing successfully and focus on other things. It's a smokescreen aptly proven by the sales of the majors around boxing day. Huge numbers done while people jostle each other out of the way. Who cares who stands where and in whose bubble. Lead or train by example. Be nice, considerate, walk in each others shoes, try to help and create win win situations. There ... that just BURST SOMEONES BUBBLE. Michael - Compendium reply

  5. Dennis posted on August 18, 2014

    Thanks for the input. Like your esp @Jane. The L/R brain is interesting - follow the link and you will see why I say what I do @Sarah @Michael - what can I say; we just live on different planets? If you read carefully, you will note that I DID point out there is a lot of fluff&bubble around neuroscience. That does not mean there is no insight into human behaviour possible - quite contrary. I would like to suggest that customers DO CARE where you stand - even if they don't say it or KNOW it - that is kinda the point. reply

  6. Sarah Corris posted on August 19, 2014

    No problem Dennis, I checked out the list. However as a left hander I can say if you approach me from the right, it throws me completely off. I hold my phone to my left ear and lean to the left when listening. The Study does not indicate the sample size or breakdown of left handers versus right handers so I guess what I am pointing out is that when it comes to the individual, observation and flexibility of approach are important and also being able to build rapport easily and without making someone feel uncomfortable. reply

  7. Dennis posted on August 19, 2014

    Sarah I agree with you that practicality should over-ride any 'science'. In this case being observant about customers preference (left-handed) or as is also noted, height, is an example of good customer service and common sense. That, of itself, won't make the 'message' more persuasive (which is what the post was about) but may actually be equally or more effective because it is so considerate. (Hope that makes sense) reply

Comment Manually

I have read and agree to the Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


Inside Retail Polls

Retail Outlook 2019
How are trading conditions for you in 2019?


Retailer offers attractive benefits in bid to retail talent.

3 hours ago

Sussan Group thanks customers for helping it raise $9 million for charity, helping people with issues surrounding b…

5 hours ago

Have you booked your tickets for Retail Week yet? We're excited to kick of jam-packed week of learning, experience…

7 hours ago

FREE NEWS BRIEFS Get breaking news delivered