The Art of Customer Engagement

Online Customer

How to break through a customer’s defensive shield and connect in today’s retail world

In today’s retail environment foot traffic into a physical store has never been scarcer, while the ability to purchase from anywhere, anytime has never been simpler. Yet, on occasion a customer will still decide to break out of their online purchasing habit and stroll into a physical retail store. So they made it in, and you as an owner or salesperson get excited! You start walking towards this person, ready to share your excitement of them coming into your store. Then, and as you get near the customer without even mumbling a word, you hear, “I’m just looking.” You wonder in silent frustration, “What did I do?!” The truth is, you’ve encountered a point of customer-to-salesperson resistance that’s all too common in a retail store.

Here’s another example: You’re changing a display, restocking a shelf or working on your iPad (NEVER your phone!), and there are two or three other salespeople in the store. Who does the customer normally approach? You, of course. Why? Because you’re busy, which makes you seem less likely to be pushy or aggressive. Customers feel they can interrupt you, get their question answered and move on unharmed. This type of customer behavior is something we have witnessed in almost every retail environment all over the world.

People need and want personal shopping freedom

Think of it as their personal space or protected area that only the trusted can enter. This is one reason Amazon and other online retailers are so successful. Wide variety, uninterrupted shopping, and instant chat when I need someone. (Forget calling on the phone). However, there are still countless opportunities to engage with a customer in person. And when given that chance, how you approach the customer can be seen as a violation of that personal space we mentioned. As you draw near to a customer, three things may happen:

  1. The customer goes off in another direction to avoid the contact.
  2. The customer gives you a reactive line such as “I’m just looking” before you even say a word.
  3. The customer tells you what he or she wants or asks you a question.

It’s important to realize that the space in front of customers is perceived as theirs, and any approach into that space is a violation. Remember, only the trusted can enter. You can cross it and say your hello, or you can walk parallel to a customer and say your hellos without entering someone’s personal space. Just try to stay out of their direct path. You may think this is all crazy talk, but after practicing the following technique, you will be a believer.


Upon making your approach, have something in your hand (product, clipboard, brochure, iPad, etc.). This gives customers the impression that you have something on your mind other than slamming them up against the wall and trying to sell them everything in the store. Looking busy has always been a key strategy in opening the sale. Examples of retailers that do this very well include furniture and jewelry stores. Topping the list of those who do this very poorly are car dealerships.

The 180-degree pass-by is the best technique we have ever developed to open the sale

Here are the simple steps:

  1. First, walk toward the customer in an indirect path that is beside them rather than directly at them.
  2. As you approach, greet them with, “Hello” or “How are you?”, and then continue walking past them as though headed to do something other than sell.
  3. Next, after taking three or four steps, turn around with a quizzical look on your face and say something like, “May I ask you a question?”

Most of the time, the customer will turn around, take a few steps toward you and say, “Sure.” Of course, the big problem is: What’s the question? Here is where you’re on your own. We couldn’t possibly give you an opening line that exactly fits you, your unique style or your industry. What works for us may not work for you. But with a little analysis and practice, we certainly could work with you or your team to come up with a very effective list.

There are many more techniques we use to structure the best initial engagement and each one is meant to move a customer along their purchasing journey. We have incorporated all of these techniques into our award-winning Gold Star Selling program, which offers a complete toolkit to engaging, increasing brand awareness, probing, overcoming concerns, closing a customer and building a lasting relationship. We have implemented this program across five continents and produced astounding sales increases for our clients, all without being pushy, rude or aggressive.

It’s possible that you just need the right tools in your toolbox. Are you ready to take your professional retail sales career to the next level? We are.

The Friedman Group are recognized experts in retail sales and management training. We develop original processes by combining our proprietary techniques with best practices from companies all over the world. Our materials are delivered through the most current channels including eLearning platforms, our own Learning Management System and our classic public and private in-person training and consulting sessions.

We can bring out the best in your employees. Contact us today and let’s bump your skills up a notch.

Written by:

Harry J. Friedman
Founder/CEO, The Friedman Group

The Friedman Group is a retail consulting and sales training company focused on improving retailers through high-quality courses. Its proven track record includes over 5 million retailers trained, more than 150,000 companies represented, and 15% to 50% sales increases in its more than 35 years in the business.

The company, led by Founder and CEO Harry J. Friedman, has worked with the biggest brands in retail like Cartier, Neiman Marcus, Nike, Diane von Furstenberg, Samsonite, and more.