Customer Education is an Important Competitive Differentiator

Amanda Ensinger

An educated consumer makes educated decisions. Seems simple enough, right? But customer education may seem daunting, especially if you’re a full-service store with hundreds of products and lots of ground to cover. But as the person who gets to directly interact with the customer, did you ever stop to consider that you — the retailer — are lucky enough to be the most important piece of the education puzzle?

Sure, there’s the internet, but that can get very rabbit hole-y and often leaves consumers with even more unanswered questions than when they started. The manufacturer provides gorgeous packaging, a compelling brand story, helpful shelf talkers and the like. But nothing, absolutely nothing, can replace a quality interaction in your store aisle as a customer intently listens to you drop facts they never saw coming!

“Retailers are the real superstars,” said Bill Bookout, president of the National Animal Supplement Council. “They are selective about what they stock, they know the products, they prioritize quality and can make great recommendations, which builds trust and leads to those coveted repeat sales.”

As you think about ways you can connect with customers through education, begin with your staff. Most manufacturers offer educational materials or training webinars your staff can attend, or you could invite brands or your distributors to host monthly or quarterly mini workshops that cover new product launches, a specific educational topic, or an entire product category. Your store will excel at customer education when you equip associates with opportunities to learn, and then demonstrate their knowledge on the sales floor.

Education specific to a product category is also important and offers an excellent opportunity for you to partner with an expert who can speak authoritatively about a class of products. For example, a holistic veterinarian can offer an in-store seminar on the science and research behind supplements and answer the clinical questions your customers may have.

“There is immense value in having a relationship with a holistic practitioner who can serve as a source of credible information for your customers,” Bookout said. “You’ll have a trusted expert in your back pocket for referrals, plus your customers walk away from in-store wellness events feeling smarter and reminded of the importance of whole-animal care.”

As you’re thinking about store layout and product displays, consider how you can use cross promotion to get customers thinking about a product category they may not normally shop. A carefully curated selection of joint support products positioned among active play toys on an end cap; a gorgeous display of your favorite grooming products sprinkled with a selection of skin and coat supplements; or a variety of snuffle mats and soother toys grouped with your most popular calming supplements. The power of suggestion will be on your side!

Finally, think about venturing beyond the front doors of your store and out into your community to either attend or host events that allow you to connect with prospective customers on an educational level. If your city has a pet expo, consider becoming an exhibitor so you can experience quality one-on-one interactions with pet owners who might not normally wander into your store. Or think about partnering with like-minded businesses in your neighborhood to host your own fun event with an educational goal that appeals to all ages.

“There are so many ways retailers can inexpensively promote not only their business, but also their commitment to the people of their community by getting out there and having a presence at a cat show or a pet fair or a farmer’s market,” Bookout said. “Nothing can replace meeting people at the granular level and having intimate conversations, however brief. People love to talk about their pets, and they are going to remember that you showed up, you talked to them, and you cared.”