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You're Welcome (and Other Good Vibes from a Retail Tour)

By Sue Dowd
  • Retail
  • You're Welcome (and Other Good Vibes from a Retail Tour)

Coinciding with RetailX last month, I was lucky enough to wear the hat of fearless guide for Miller Zell’s Chicago Discovery Tour. No, this was not one of those grand architectural dinner cruises up the Chicago River but rather a walking Discovery Tour, where we visited shops, sites and venues in the retail, services and healthcare verticals.

As with all of our now-famous tours, we had preselected places of interest, destinations with stories to tell – good, bad or indifferent.

After visiting these spots multiple times in preparation for the tour and, of course, during the tours themselves, patterns and impressions bubbled to the surface. Each site was so disparate in what it offered customers (T-Mobile vs. Foxtrot vs. Starbucks Roastery, as examples), yet an overarching theme began to emerge. The takeaways?



All Are Welcome

Stop after stop, it became increasingly apparent shoppers, tourists, browsers and even folks just looking for directions to The Bean… heck, everyone was welcome.

Every stop on the tour went out of their way to welcome us, albeit in different but authentic ways. Here’s just a taste of what we experienced.

Prioritizing the Customer Over the Pitch

As soon as we walked through their showroom doors, Tesla invited us (in a genuine way) to sit behind the wheel of their newest Model Y.

The “sales” people didn’t seem bothered that we were sitting in their white bucket seats while sipping the Starbucks Roastery coffees we picked up at our previous stop. They offered test drives and let us spend as much time browsing as we wanted. And when we finally left the building, they didn’t chase us down the street to remind us we left without purchasing a car.

The lesson? Great associates improve your customer experience, even when they don’t make a sale.


Syncing Your Experience with Shopper Behavior Patterns

The brand ambassadors at the Peloton micro-store on North Michigan Ave. were not only eager to tell us their brand story, they also were well versed in the role of their store layout and how it allows prospective customers to freely flow in and out of the small space, whether they have an appointment or not.

They knew that not all customers shop the same way, and that some prefer to casually drop in and saddle up for a trial spin rather than feeling committed to hearing a formal sales pitch.


Keeping it Real: Every Visitor is a Potential Customer

Most surprising may have been the RealReal.

A reseller showcasing authenticated luxury goods, the RealReal got it right with how they engage customers to learn about their end-to-end resale experience and the life cycle of upscale fashion.

With a backdrop dripping with Hermes, Versace and Louis Vuitton goods for sale, the associates donned simple, unassuming RealReal T-shirts. They were incredibly warm and down to earth. They didn’t try to one-up the customers or overshadow the wares they were selling by showboating their own wardrobe. They didn’t look us up and down or check out what labels we may or may not have been wearing that day.

And, yes, on the last day of tours, I succumbed to the immersive RealReal experience and purchased a pair of Rick Owens leather slides that NEEDED to be in my closet. The next surprise? A personally drafted email in my inbox the very next day from the associate who helped me.


Great Associates + Great Stores = Great Customer Experiences

Why were these places so welcoming and inclusive?

I’m not sure if it was a Midwest hospitality thing, a hangover from the pandemic or perhaps a byproduct of the social equity movement. Maybe a combination of all three. But the bottom line is that retailers appear to have woken up to the fact that making customers feel welcome and valuable is a GOOD thing.



A longtime retail strategist, Sue uses her deep experience with financial institutions and retail environments to help her clients express their brands in their physical spaces, considering the customer experience at every touchpoint.