Customer experience is the biggest arena where small retailers can compete with big retail.

Recently my wife and I met up with a friend and master salesperson, “Linda.” Linda runs a hat shop in Manhattan – a tiny shop that manages to hold its own against both big retailers AND e-commerce stores. As I sat in Linda’s shop, waiting for her busy store to clear out, I observed her unparalleled skill as a salesperson and realized that Linda had successfully pinned down the one thing that gave her a leg up on big retailers and online sellers: customer experience.

After watching Linda assist several customers all the way through their buying journey- from greeting them as they entered, offering guidance, to packaging up their purchase with a flourish – I commented on her skillful control of customer experience.

“It’s what you have to do these days,” she said. “It’s how small retailers compete with Amazon. The show, the information, and the experience are what’s missing when you shop on the internet. So I create an experience for everybody who walks into the store.”

She was absolutely right. One of our Board of Experts members, Vanessa Nornberg, wrote about this in her own Inc. magazine column. Vanessa was targeting the death of the mall in her column, but the problems that she describes is prevalent across all the big retailers, especially the online retailers who spend a lot of time and resources trying to imitate the human connection that in store shopping enjoys.

“Malls no longer have the pull they once did–and it’s not because the mall concept has died, but rather because the retailers inside are doing three things wrong. They have strayed from their core mission, they have failed to create true value, and they have stopped serving up newness.”

The best way to grow sales is to ensure that your customers leave satisfied, and you’d be surprised at how little that satisfaction has to do with price. Feeling that they’ve been listened to, and being shown the right products that meet their needs are far more important than price. A great customer experience has to address and alleviate all of the fears and needs of a customer in a way that leaves them ready to buy and smiling over the time they spent in your shop. Retail shops have an advantage over online sellers like Amazon, because of the opportunity to interact directly with customers. Master sellers like Linda never miss this chance.

You can read my article in its original form at Inc. Magazine’s website.