Your knowledge of the customer buying cycle might vary depending on the type of small business you run.

But regardless of the products you sell, it’s important to understand the buying cycle of your customers. This will not only provide you with a better understanding of your patrons — their needs and wants — but with some help from your POS system, you can better optimize your sales.

Stage 1: Define the Point of Inspiration

The first stage of the customer buying cycle is the Inspiration Stage. This is the point where a consumer identifies their need to purchase an item. Your ability to identify where the inspiration stems from is crucial to drumming up new business.

That last bottle of wine you sold, how was that sale initiated? Are they a loyal customer that makes weekly visits to your store? Or were they just passing by and your window display got them thinking. Regardless of where the inspiration starts, understanding its point of origin is crucial. You need this customer experience to be the best it can be. And the sooner you reach out and make contact with them, the better. That might mean adding a call to action in your window display inviting people to a free wine tasting, creating new and engaging product displays in your store, or running a few paid social media campaigns. Regardless of where their desire starts, always keep in mind that you need to inspire customers early and often. As you are well aware, running a small business is a never-ending journey and marketing to your customer base is the wind in your sales. Taking advantage of your POS system’s email integration is one way to stay in touch with loyal customers and engage new ones.

Stage 2: Engage the Deal Hunter

The second stage of the customer buying cycle is referred to as the hunter and gatherer stage, or as we prefer: The Deal Hunter Stage. This is when a customer has decided to make a purchase but wants to make sure that they get the best deal possible. In a digital age where a cheaper deal is nearly always just a click away, and 90 percent of shoppers use their smartphones in stores to either comparison shop or search for in-store deals, keeping customers both in the store and off their phones in imperative.

A person scrolling through their phone.

So when you sense your customers going for the hunt, either on their phone or heading for the door, engage them! Ask them if there is anything you can help them with, if they have any questions, or simply how their day is going. Keeping them in the present — and in your store — is the ultimate goal here. Making a personal connection with your customers, something as simple as commenting on the weather can create a sense of familiarity. When push comes to shove and they’ve found the same item cheaper online and with free shipping, this familiarity can often make all the difference.

Stage 3: Reassure the Critical Voice

Stage three of the customer buying cycle, one of the most crucial — yet often hardest for a merchant to tap into — is the Critical Stage. This is where everything your mother said to you about buying a pair of jeans comes into play. Do they feel too tight? Can you sit in them? Yes, those aren’t just mom questions, but consumer questions. Customers will agonize over purchases for minutes, hours, sometimes even days. They want to know that they’ve gotten the best deal, best quality, and the best experience possible when making a purchase. If it’s a better price your customers are looking for, use your POS system to apply in-store discounts. Is it another color they want? Check your inventory on your POS. Anything you can do to reassure your customer’s critical voice is a win-win for both of you.

A merchant engaging a customer in a pet store.

SEE ALSO: 5 Ways to Hack Your Inventory Management Solutions

Stage 4: Join in the Happy Dance

If there is a universal merchant happy place, this is it! In this stage of the customer buying cycle — the Elated Stage — your customer has made their decision and followed through on their purchase. As excited as they are to walk out of the store with their freshly wrapped purchase, you are ecstatic! But if you think your job is complete and you can just bask in the “cha-ching” of the register, not so fast. Now is the time to join in the giddy excitement with your customer. You want them to not only feel excited, but elated. So think about what you can do to further heighten their experience. Have some coupons at the register or a flyer about upcoming promotions or events? Make sure they pick one up. Now is also the time to leverage their excitement. Using your POS system, collect their email address, or ask for feedback on their shopping experience. Happy customers are willing customers, and also customers who are more likely to return.

Smiling female customer purchasing an item at a pet store.

Bonus Stage: Rinse and Repeat

Because the customer buying cycle is never complete, learning how to nurture and encourage this process is imperative to keeping a steady stream of customers visiting and returning to your store. Learning how to address each stage of the cycle, while simultaneously looking holistically at the process, is both a challenge and a great reward when all the pieces fall into place. Remember not to feel overwhelmed if you are challenged more by one stage than another. With a never-ending process, the eventual rewards are exponential.

Sara Sugar

Sara Sugar

As Managing Editor at ShopKeep, a leading iPad Point of Sale System, Sara Sugar uses her distinguished journalism background to boil down small business and point of sale topics.