3 Ways to Make Sales When Customers Are “Just Looking”

Every single business has them: customers who are “just looking”. How do you move them from the just looking aisle to the register?

First of all, maybe some people are just looking, and that’s fine. There is something to be said about the power of retail therapy. They’re in your store, they’re getting an idea of what to buy as gifts, what you have in store, and your prices. If this is the case, be polite and available. Make it a point to interact but also to leave them alone if that’s the vibe you’re getting from them.

But, still, you’re in business and you need to sell to stay in business. As a retail business owner, your job is to determine the level of “just looking” and help close the sale if a sale is to be made. This is why it’s important to figure out whether your customer is indeed “just looking” and doesn’t want to be bothered so they can take it all in or if they don’t know what they’re looking for and wouldn’t mind your help.

If it’s the latter, then you need to be sensitive to whether they still want to be left alone to figure it out on their own (because for some customers, the appeal of shopping is the hunt for the right gift) or if they would welcome your suggestions.

Here are 3 questions to ask customers after you’ve greeted them and welcomed them to your shop so you can de-code their level of “just looking”:

  • “What brings you in today?” Although you may get the “just looking” response, the open-ended question is meant to insight more than a one-word response that you’d often get with “Can I help you?” Still, if you get the just looking answer, you can respond with: “We’re glad you chose to look here. Are you looking for something for a special occasion or gift or yourself?” Again, it’s all in the approach. If it appears like you’re interrogating them, they’ll turn around and leave in a heartbeat. But if it genuinely appears that they will welcome the help, they’ll respond. Pay attention to body language.
  • Another option is to use humor. Ask them “how big” a gift they’re looking for and make a joke about it. Something along the lines of: “Is this a ‘I need to get out of jail card kind of looking’ or a ‘Let’s celebrate something exciting’ kind of looking?” The joke needs to come off as genuine and you need to gauge their attitude through body language. For all you know they’re looking for a gift to cheer someone up because that person lost a loved one. We don’t know why some people come into our place of business but they came in for a reason. Whether it’s to kill time or they need to find something, our job is to make our place hospitable and make sure they know we’re available if they need us.
  • Compliments are always welcome. You can give them as a question. Again, this can’t seem fake so if you don’t feel like you want to compliment someone, don’t. I love it when I take time to dress up and wear something nice and someone notices. If I’m wearing a beautiful hand-knit scarf or earrings and you carry those items, compliment me, ask me where I bought it and tell me how excited you are about a recent shipment of those items. You’re not selling me at this point, you’re engaging me in conversation. So even if I was “just looking,” now you’ve intrigued me with something you know I enjoy wearing.

Qualifying questions are an important part of the customer service equation. While some customers really do treasure retail therapy time, making sure customers know you’re ready to help, even if they’re not ready, will go a long way in creating a happy and loyal customer. It will also help you direct more customers from the “just looking” aisle to the cash register.


Megy Karydes is a Chicago-based freelance writer and marketing consultant. Learn more about her and her work at www.MegyKarydes.com.

One thought on “3 Ways to Make Sales When Customers Are “Just Looking”

  • I’ve also found that asking someone if they need help can be turn-off, as most people don’t want to be “helped.”

    Bruce Baker has an excellent CD on selling crafts. I highly recommend it. One thing he says is that one never says Thank you until a sale is made. For instance, when a customer says This item is really beautiful!, use it as an opening to tell them a bit of the story of the artisan that made that item. To say Thank you instead is to create a reciprocal transaction, in which case the person may unconsciously feel that they have given you something and you have accepted it and thanked them. Their job is thus done. You want to save that moment until after they have made a purchase. This all may seem manipulative, but it is the art and psychology of selling. And what we are selling is very worthwhile!

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