If selling is the art of persuasion then what’s the story that your shop is selling to customers?

This is an interesting question that all selling organisations need to ask. For obvious reasons, most businesses would prefer to operate in an environment where the customer buys what they are offering without discussing the price.

At first glance, as a retailer who sets prices for their customers and who does not haggle, you would think that you are operating in the selling space.

But few retailers in the convenience channel get to sell at a price they construct for themselves. It is a buyers’ market for most things that you sell and the price you can demand is constrained by the prices on offer at a great number of other stores a short walk from where you are located (or on the shopper’s smartphone).

Most local shops are actually negotiating with their shoppers. For most things that you sell this negotiation is passive. The shopper may not be concerned to walk across the road where product A is five pence cheaper, for example. Or the shopper is in a hurry and will accept the product at the price you charge, reminding themselves to shop elsewhere in future. And so on. You are trading convenience for the sale, which is mostly a commodity unless you are in a very favourable location with no competition.

If selling is the art of persuasion then what’s the story that your shop is selling to customers? If you work in your store, then a big part of that story is you. If you’re outgoing and friendly with a genuine interest in the welfare of your customers, this may work.

But what stops the independent across the road from being just as friendly, outgoing and engaged? And what happens when you both are?

Think of it this way. Over the past few weeks’ Asda has been running advertisements with a huge scary chocolate hen. I saw some of these ads and wondered what it was about. Then I saw the hen on top of a superstore laying chocolate eggs that rolled down on to a shelf. Bizarre, was all I could think.

Compare this with Aldi. In its ad, some product is delivered to a school and I think the story is that the parents came into the classroom and are treated to a meal by their children. Instead of a scary hen, potential customers are being told a story of parents connecting to children through cheap healthy food.

In the 1990s, Tesco’s marketing was always on the customers’ side. Supermarkets had a reputation for poor customer service and Tesco must have been delighted when the market leader, Sainsbury’s, hired John Cleese for its advertisements. Cleese marched around supermarkets shouting at people. Tesco looked like a friendly underdog.

However, today Tesco is no longer the people’s champion. Its crown has been taken by the discounters, which are growing their share of consumers’ spending day in day out.

What’s the dynamic like in your local market? Is your story still fresh and winning? Do you count your weekly transactions? Is the number going up? If you know the answer, what is the story that you are telling customers that is working?

One great thing for independents is the story gets to change from location to location.

In Britain, people genuinely like a local shop and something a little bit different. So you need to give them a great story if you are to avoid being stuck in a commoditised business where you have no pricing power. Two shops. Similar stock. Different futures. Sell. Don’t negotiate.